Mental imagery in Eastern Orthodox private devotion
Father Sergei Sveshnikov contributed to a recent book titled Imagine That… : Mental Imagery in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Private Devotion. He writes:
Eastern Orthodoxy displays a great degree of uniformity in following a path of stillness of thought and silence of mind to achieve the prayer of heart in private devotion. Saint John Climacus writes in The Ladder that “the beginning of prayer consists in chasing away invading thoughts…” The mind is to be freed from all thoughts and images and focused on the words of prayer. Further in the chapter on prayer, St. John instructs not to accept any sensual images during prayer, lest the mind falls into insanity; and not to gaze upon even necessary and spiritual things.
Unlike some forms of Roman Catholic spirituality, the Orthodox Tradition does not encourage the use of mental imagery. In fact, it almost appears to forbid sensory imagination during prayer altogether.