On 17 October the opening lecture of the Autumn series of Faith Matters talks was given by Father Robin Gibbons, a lecturer on the Liturgy and Eastern Christianity at Oxford University.
The lecture, which is part of a series based on prayer, considered the complementary traditions of prayer in East and West, with special reference to monasticism. Fr Robin explained how prayer had developed from the earliest days of Christianity and how some of its characteristics had crossed over to other religions such as Islam and how early Christian art has informed us about how prayer has changed.
Father Robin, a Greek-Melkite Catholic chaplain, used images from early catacombs to show the physical positions of prayer adopted in the first few centuries during the spread of Christianity across the Middle East in Europe, such as images found on the tomb of an early Roman martyr named Priscilla, dating back to the first century where Christians are depicted with outstretched arms looking up to God. He also showed us images from the fourth century found in Lullingstone in Kent where early worshippers are praying together with the same pose seen in Priscilla’s tomb.
As well as showing us prayer positions, he gave us an introduction to St. Anthony and the beginnings of monasticism in Egypt where the movement was born in the fourth century. He explained how this style of retreat from the world to complete isolation in prayer drew followers of Christ who joined him and thus began the monastic way of life. Father Robin told us about his own experience in a monastery in America where the isolation can play tricks on the mind and make us question the deepest parts of our psyche, something we may find difficult to do.
His discussion on monasticism moved onto the monastic style of prayer, especially Lectio Divina and prayer to icons. Father explained how both had come about and were formulated by time and repetition until they reached the form we recognise them as today.
Faith Matters are lectures organised by the Diocese of Westminster Agency for Evangelisation in partnership with Mount Street Jesuit Centre. To attend the lectures please visit www.rcdow.org.uk/faith/faith-matters. Previous lectures are available at the Diocese of Westminster Vimeo account and at Premier Christian Radio Heart to Heart.