In part 1, Kallistos Ware prepared us to consider the Jesus prayer by walking us through a meditative reflection on Exodus 3. Now he turns to the Jesus Prayer a one way of growing in our relationship with God. I have edited the material to capture the salient points, but hopefully it’s not too choppy!
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
Now, the Invocation of the Holy Name—the Jesus Prayer—is a way in, a prayer that can enable us to take off our shoes, to wake up, to realize that we are standing on holy ground, to be gathered into God’s presence here and now at this very moment. Notice I say that it is a way in. It is not the only way. Prayer is personal, a person-to-person conversation, a dialogue, between one specific subject—me—and another specific subject—God, the Holy Trinity.
. . . The center and heart of the Jesus Prayer is the holy name “Jesus” itself. The name given to the Son of God at his human birth in Bethlehem by Mary his virgin mother, by his foster father Joseph. So it is a name that sums up the double reality of Christ, that he is fully and truly God and fully and truly man. And the name “Jesus” means more particularly “Savior.” As the angel says to Joseph, Matthew 1:21, “You are to name him ‘Jesus’ for he will save his people from their sins.”
So meaning, as it does, “salvation,” the name “Jesus” speaks to us not only of our Lord’s incarnation but also of his death and resurrection. In the Old Testament, the divine name is felt as a source of grace and power. And so also it is with the name “Jesus” in the New Testament. Through the holy name, devils are cast out. Miracles are brought to pass. In the words of a second-century text, The Shepherd of Hermas, the name of the Son of God is great and boundless and it upholds the whole world.
So for us Orthodox, the Jesus Prayer, containing as it does this great and boundless holy name, is felt to transmit to us the grace and power of Jesus the Savior himself. It has a sacramental value. It is an outward and visible sign of an inner and spiritual grace.
There are two ways in which the Jesus Prayer can be used. First, what we may call the free use during all the passing moments of the day that might otherwise be wasted, once or several times as we are busy with our regular daily tasks we can recite the Jesus Prayer. And then there is what we may call the fixed use, when we say the Jesus Prayer as part of our regular prayer time in conditions of external quiet, when we are seeking solely to pray and are not engaged in any other activity. And it is possible to use the Jesus Prayer in the first way, in the free way, without necessarily using it as part of our regular prayer time in the fixed way. Now the aim of the free use of the Jesus Prayer can be summed up in the words “Find Christ everywhere.” And the aim of the fixed use could be summed up in the phrase “Create silence.”
Do you have any experience praying this prayer? It has been helpful to me at various times of my life, and it is good to keep it in the toolbox for situations when it can be particularly helpful. It seems very personal and gospel-centered.
I never thought of this prayer in terms of the two maxims, “Find Christ everywhere,” and “Create silence,” but I really think those are helpful distinctions. These have to do with the “free” and “fixed” use which we will look at next.