The Rev. Stephen Hrycyniak, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church pastor, right, meets on Wednesday evenings with members of the church who have formed a group focused on the ancient Orthodox method of contemplation known as The Jesus Prayer. ( BRIAN PASSINO )
‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ — The Jesus Prayer
BY KAREN MAHONEY
Kenosha News correspondent
Raised to believe that God spoke only through burning bushes, some people struggle to maintain their faith through what they perceive as God’s silences.
Despite those periods of drought, Father Stephen Hrycyniak, pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, believes the beauty of the Holy Spirit often is found in silence.
Above the din of traffic and raucous sporting events, employment anxiety, the information-packed Internet and the brash sounds of television, it is possible to hear God in both the noise and the silence and ultimately emerge from any spiritual desert.
For the past few months, Hrycyniak has shared the value of quiet meditative prayer to a group of adults on Wednesday evenings at St. Nicholas Church, 4313 18th Ave. For many of today’s Christians, the quest for intimacy with God seems outwardly unobtainable, but with prayer, an opening occurs.
Hrycyniak believes that God dwells in each of us, although the awareness can be fleeting for some and effort is needed to maintain continuous awareness. Early Christians tried to remove distractions and discipline the body with fasting and vigils to come as close to communion with God as possible on earth. It is from this spiritual tradition that The Jesus Prayer, or Prayer of the Heart, developed.
The prayer is: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Hrycyniak said it’s a prayer that’s intention is the result of St. Paul’s injunction to pray continuously.
He added that the St. Nicholas prayer group was started at the request of some interested church members, and they decided to open it to anyone interested in centering prayer in general.
“The group meets for about an hour, and people can stick around afterward for questions and can meet one on one if they desire,” he said.
Learning through prayer
The format is the same each week. Hrycyniak begins by reading from a book on The Jesus Prayer by Frederica Matthewes-Green for 10 minutes. After the reading, he recites The Jesus Prayer three times, leaving a 20 to 25 minute quiet time for reflection.
“After this time, people are invited to share their experiences on how it went for them, if the experience spoke to their hearts or if they had a difficult time,” Hrycyniak said.
As a college senior and recent convert to Orthodox Christianity, Kenosha resident Benjamin Czadzeck, a member of St. Nicholas Church, was looking for a way to grow closer to God and to learn more about his faith. Attending the prayer group was a leap of faith for the young man whose protestant upbringing was quite unlike Orthodox Christianity.
“My experience at first was one of I would say awkward bungling,” he acknowledged. “I came from a background completely radical from Orthodoxy and its teachings and the ways it reaches out to people. Once I began to engage in the contemplative meditative prayer, I have learned of an inner peace that I had never known to exist in my life.”
A quiet place
The Jesus Prayer is Biblically rooted in the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, in which the Pharisee demonstrates the improper way to pray by exclaiming, “Thank you Lord that I am not like the Publican.” While the Publican in humility prays correctly, “Lord have mercy on me, the sinner.”
“This prayer is rooted in tradition, and I think we have tapped a nerve,” Hrycyniak said. “It is life giving and nurturing and offers an opportunity to share in an experience that speaks to the heart and builds community.
“There is an aspect of the shared silence experience that brings respite and renewal in our media-and-noise-saturated existence. We are coming together in quiet place. There are people hungry for silence who want to experience solitude with divine presence. My experience is that the place is pregnant with divine presence and really drawing others in.”
If you go
What: The Jesus Prayer Contemplative Prayer Group
When: Wednesday evenings, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Where: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, 4313 18th Ave.
Other: All faiths welcome to attend
For more information: Contact the Rev. Stephen Hrycyniak at firstname.lastname@example.org