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The Jesus Prayer (Part 3)

December 29, 2007

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THE JESUS PRAYER

In order to enter more deeply into the life of prayer and to come to grips with St. Paul’s challenge to pray unceasingly, the Orthodox Tradition offers the Jesus Prayer, which is sometimes called the prayer of the heart. The Jesus Prayer is offered as a means of concentration, as a focal point for our inner life. Though there are both longer and shorter versions, the most frequently used form of the Jesus Prayer is: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer, in its simplicity and clarity, is rooted in the Scriptures and the new life granted by the Holy Spirit. It is first and foremost a prayer of the Spirit because of the fact that the prayer addresses Jesus as Lord, Christ and Son of God; and as St. Paul tells us, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).

THE SCRIPTURAL ROOTS OF THE JESUS PRAYER

The Scriptures give the Jesus Prayer both its concrete form and its theological content. It is rooted in the Scriptures in four ways:

1. In its brevity and simplicity, it is the fulfillment of Jesus’ command that “in praying” we are “not to heap up empty phrases as the heathen do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them . . . (Matt. 6:7-8).

2 The Jesus Prayer is rooted in the Name of the Lord. In the Scriptures, the power and glory of God are present in his Name. In the Old Testament to deliberately and attentively invoke God’s Name was to place oneself in his Presence. Jesus, whose name in Hebrew means God saves, is the living Word addressed to humanity. Jesus is the final Name of God. Jesus is “the Name which is above all other names” and it is written that “all beings should bend the knee at the Name of Jesus” (Phil. 2:9-10). In this Name devils are cast out (Luke 10:17), prayers are answered (John 14:13 14) and the lame are healed (Acts 3:6-7). The Name of Jesus is unbridled spiritual power.

3. The words of the Jesus Prayer are themselves based on Scriptural texts: the cry of the blind man sitting at the side of the road near Jericho, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (Luke 18:38); the ten lepers who “called to him, Jesus, Master, take pity on us’ ” (Luke 17:13); and the cry for mercy of the publican, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:14).

4. It is a prayer in which the first step of the spiritual journey is taken: the recognition of our own sinfulness, our essential estrangement from God and the people around us. The Jesus Prayer is a prayer in which we admit our desperate need of a Saviour. For “if we say we have no sin in us, we are deceiving ourselves and refusing to admit the truth” (1 John 1:8).

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