"More interior than the lips and the tongue": John of Apamea and silent prayer in late antiquity

Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


As scholars have observed, silent prayer was not a common mode of prayer in antiquity, and it was usually regarded with considerable suspicion as an anomalous practice. This essay explores the experience of the silent praying self in late antiquity, a world deficient in established and explicit typologies of prayer. It deals with the emergence of the concept of silent prayer in eastern Christianity, which is deserving of more scholarly attention than it has so far received. The first part provides an overview of the idea of silent prayer in late antiquity and serves not so much to trace the overall development of the topic as to argue that a new religious sensibility was emerging within Syriac Christianity, revealing the delicate balance between transformation and rupture with regard to the notion of "converse" with God, not only with non-Christian traditions but also with the Christian past itself. This notion is demonstrated in the second part of the paper through the fascinating treatise On Prayer written by the early fifth century Syriac author John of Apamea. I argue that John developed an innovative theory and cultivated a distinctive pattern of the silent praying self, one profoundly grounded in his perception of God as silence and his theology of incarnation. Placing John of Apamea's theory of silent prayer in the broader context of late antique phenomenology and theology of prayer suggests that his concept was far removed from neoplatonic vocabulary and thought, and that there is no clear adherence to Evagrius's teaching on pure prayer. Rather, John is representative of a unique moment in Syriac spirituality-just before it was affected by the Evagriana Syriaca and reshaped by the concept of pure prayer.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)303-331
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Early Christian Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2012


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