John Main bigraphy, stories - English Priest & monk

John Main : biography

1926 - 1982

John Main OSB (1926–1982) was a Roman Catholic Benedictine monk and priest who presented a way of Christian meditation which utilized a prayer-phrase or mantra. In 1975 Main began Christian meditation groups which met at Ealing Abbey, his monastery in West London, England and, later, in Montreal, Canada. These were the origins of the ecumenical network of Christian meditation groups which have become the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM).


John Main was born in London as Douglas Main. He was the fourth of six children of David and Eileen Main. His siblings were Kathleen (Kitty), David John (Ian), Yvonne, Diane and Patrick Alan. In the late 1940s he joined the Canons Regular of the Lateran and studied at the diocesan seminary of St Edmund's College, Ware in England before being chosen to pursue theology studies at the Pontifical Athenaeum Angelicum in Rome. He then began to doubt his vocation to the priesthood and decided to leave his order to go to Dublin (where his family then lived). In Dublin, he studied law at Trinity College. He graduated in 1954 and joined the British Colonial Service.

Main was assigned to Kuala Lumpur in Malaya, where he met Swami Satyananda, who taught him meditation using a mantra as the means to arrive at meditative stillness. The swami taught Main to meditate by giving him a Christian mantra.

In 1956 Main returned to Dublin and taught law at Trinity College. In 1959 he decided to join the Benedictines at Ealing Abbey in London. He took the name of John, in honour of St John the Apostle. He was ordained a priest in 1963. Following his ordination he taught at St Benedict's School, Ealing, which is governed by the monastic community of Ealing Abbey.

In 1970 Main was appointed the headmaster of St. Anselm's Abbey School in Washington, D.C.. It was here that he began to study seriously the writings of the desert father John Cassian for the first time. Main saw parallels between the spiritual practice taught by Cassian and the meditative practice he had been taught by the swami in Kuala Lumpur.

In 1974 Main left Saint Anselm's Abbey in Washington and returned to Ealing Abbey in London, where he began Christian meditation groups at an old house on the monastery grounds. He was assisted in this work by Laurence Freeman, also a monk of Ealing Abbey. In 1977 Main and Freeman were sent to establish a new Benedictine monastery in Montreal. Here too, they taught Christian meditation groups.

Main died of cancer in 1982. Freeman continued Main's work, travelling widely to establish Christian meditation groups across the world. In 1991 these Christian meditation groups were networked together into the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM). Each year the WCCM hosts the John Main Seminar, which has been led by Mary McAleese, Huston Smith, the Dalai Lama, Charles Taylor, Father William Johnston, Father Richard Rohr, O.F.M., Sister Joan Chittister OSB, Anglican archbishop Rowan Williams, Greek Orthodox bishop Kallistos Ware, Abbot Thomas Keating, Dom Bede Griffiths OSB Cam and others.


Main's teaching was simple: sit still and upright for a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 30 minutes, close your eyes and silently recite the prayer-phrase (mantra). The prayer-phrase is a sacred word or phrase which is repeated continually.

Both Main and Freeman recommended using the prayer-phrase Maranatha, which is Aramaic for "Come, Lord", as in I Corinthians 16:22 and Revelation 22:20.

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