Q: Can the Jesus Prayer be dangerous?
A: Everything can be dangerous: it all depends on the user. Thus television can be used to broadcast spiritual programmes or else scenes of debauchery and violence; computers can be used to establish a gambling addiction or else to provide Church information websites. So too the Prayer of the Heart (miscalled by some the Jesus Prayer – a purely Non-Patristic term) can be dangerous.
If the Prayer is used with the imagination and mental images, as a form of meditation or contemplation as Roman Catholics do, which is strictly forbidden by Orthodoxy, it leads to a state of delusion. Thus, if someone repeats ‘the Jesus Prayer’ over and over again as a mere technique, without love for others, with a cold heart, because he thinks he will go heaven in this way, without seeing anything except his ‘prayer’ and his own selfish and narcissistic ‘spirituality’, this leads to spiritual death. He sees and loves only himself and his own speculations, reflections of his own sinful mind, not God, only his imagination of God. This is the definition of spiritual illusion (plani/illusio/prelest). This is an illusion because such prayer has no humility, no heart, it is merely an intellectual desire. This is precisely NOT the prayer of the heart, but the prayer of the head, accompanied by delusional emotions. I have seen very many who have fallen in this way. They always end up by lapsing from the Church, because in their insanity the think they are too good for the Church, above others.
In other words, if you want to get to heaven by yourself, by pride, you will meet the Devil, the Deceiver. We can only get to heaven with God, with humility. That is the only way. In prayer, we must pay no attention to feelings, thoughts and mental images, especially if they give us a feeling of sweetness and make us ‘feel good’ or feel relaxed. They are all there to distract us.
The key to all this is humility. If prayer makes you humble then it is good. Others will let you know about this, whether in a monastery or in your family – listen to them and their frank opinions. If you feel insulted and offended by them, then you are in a state of pride, spiritual delusion. If ‘prayer’ makes you feel superior to, better than, others, and you cannot possibly go to their ‘inferior’ churches, then that is not prayer, but the thought of yourself, not of God.
This is why there is no meditation in Orthodoxy. For Orthodox it leads to sin. Self-concentration and focusing on your internal abilities only increases pride. But we seek humility. This difference is a result of the different theology or understanding of how the Holy Spirit comes to us. For Orthodox it is directly from God the Father, for Roman Catholics through some human mediation, thought (contemplation or meditation), study or manipulation. This is why for Orthodox there is no difference between action and contemplation. All is one.