Home ΘΡΗΣΚΕΥΤΙΚΑ How and Why the Jesus Prayer?

How and Why the Jesus Prayer?

136

“Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”

Demetrios Georgiou

The “Jesus Prayer,” loved and practiced by many, misunderstood and discouraged by others, has been widely taught and discussed throughout the history of the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church has a great many beautiful and important prayers for numerous needs and occasions. However, the Jesus Prayer, often repeated continually, has gained high esteem by many saints and spiritual fathers as a way of learning to “pray without ceasing,” a practice which cleanses and opens up, first the mind and then the heart. Those who diligently practice the Prayer first acquire the Prayer of the Mind or the Noetic Prayer (Νοερά Προσευχή) and then the Prayer of the Heart (Καρδιακή Προσευχή). The Prayer of the Heart is considered to be the Unceasing Prayer that the Apostle Paul advocates in the New Testament, when he says “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

According to Wikipedia, the origin of the Jesus Prayer is probably the Egyptian desert, which was settled in the 5th century by the monastic Desert Fathers (such as St. Anthony the Great) and Desert Mothers (such as Saints Syncletica and Theodora of Alexandria). A formula similar to the standard form of the Jesus Prayer is found in a letter written by Saint John Chrysostom (347 – 407 AD). This letter speaks of “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy” and “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on us” being used as ceaseless prayer.

Possibly the earliest explicit reference to the Jesus Prayer in today’s fuller form, can be found in Discourse on Abba Philimon from the Philokalia.  Philimon, who lived around 600 AD, cited, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me.”

Why, of all the prayers known to us, has the Jesus Prayer entered our Holy Tradition as the unceasing Prayer of the Heart; and why not the prayer “I thank you, I glorify you, lord, have mercy on me,”which was recently innovated and recommended by Archbishop Sotirios on January 24, 2021?  What is the difference between these two prayers?

First, Saint Theophan regarded the Jesus Prayer stronger than all other prayers by virtue of the power of the Holy Name of Jesus. When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” He got several answers from them, including John the Baptist, Elijah and one of the prophets. However, when He asked, “but whom do you say that I am?” Simon Peter jumped up with “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Then Jesus replied, “Blessed are you Simon…for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood but by My Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-18) “(For)…no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)

By this we see that the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Holy Trinity, speaks through us when we confess Jesus as the Messiah, and as the Son of the Living God, for the Son is the second Person of the Holy Trinity (i.e. God, Himself), and not some dead (false) god, for there are many false gods that people worship and refer to as “lord.” Therefore, when we say Lord (i.e. God), Jesus Christ (the anointed one), Son of God…” we are witnessing that Jesus is the Messiah (the anointed one) and God. The name of Jesus in the proper context carries so much power, that the Desert Fathers and Mothers who were sorely tempted by the demons in the wilderness used this prayer to strengthen themselves in their spiritual struggles against the dark forces of Satan. We, too, as we live our lives in the spiritual wilderness of today’s world, can use the Jesus prayer to protect ourselves from the daily temptations of the evil one.

“I thank you, I glorify you, lord, have mercy on me,” is a prayer which does not mention the name of Jesus, the Saviour of the world, nor does it acknowledge Him as God. It is, therefore, a weak prayer with which to do battle with demons who tremble at the name of Jesus.

Second, the Jesus Prayer actually dates back even further than Wikipedia indicates, for it is not a mere or random invention of the 5th century Elders (Γεροντάδες) of our Church. As we see below, it originates as far back as the first century, for it combines three Bible verses found in Holy Scripture:

(i)  The Christological hymn of St. Paul: “…being in the form of God, He (Jesus) thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and…as a man, He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. For this reason, God has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phillipians 2:6-11)

(ii)  The Annunciation: “And the angel said…fear not, Mary, for you have found favour with God; and behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son and shall call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give to him the throne of his father David; and he shall reign…for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end…The Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you. Therefore, that Holy Thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:30-35)

(iii)  The Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (sinful tax collector) spoken by Jesus, Himself: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Here we see that Jesus, Himself, teaches the Jesus Prayer and He completes it with the words, “a sinner.” Notice Jesus does not correct the prayer of the tax collector. He does not say the tax collector should have said “I thank you, I glorify you, lord have mercy on me.”Instead, He says the tax collector went home justified; whereas the Pharisee, who did thank God, but did so, proudly boasting of his good works, was not justified. This means that the Jesus Prayer has not only great power against demons because of the name of Jesus, but also the power to save us from sin because of the great humility and repentance found in the words of confession, “have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Third, there are many other Biblical references in which Jesus, Himself, endorses the Jesus Prayer. Consider the cleansing of the ten lepers. “… as Jesus entered a certain village, there met Him ten lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:12-13) Note how they called him by his name, Jesus. They also said Master, meaning Lord or God. They approached Him for the miracle because they first acknowledged that Jesus is God. This was their public declaration of faith. Jesus healed them all of their leprosy and note that He did not correct the way they addressed Him. He did not say, “No, don’t say, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,’ but rather say, ‘We thank you, we glorify you, lord have mercy on us’, because that is more correct.” He did not say that at all! He healed them straightaway, but He did expect them all to thank God after they were healed. 

Consider also the blind man who was begging by the roadside near Jericho. When he heard that Jesus was passing by, he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Thosewho led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and asked him,“What do you want Me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,”… Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God.” (Luke 18:35-43)

Note that Jesus did not correct the blind man who called out to Him in this manner, and also called Him Son of David, which, according to Old Testament prophecy, is the Messiah (the anointed Christ). The blind man did not call Jesus, ‘son of Joseph’ as had some others, who did not believe He was the Messiah. “Then they scoffed, isn’t this the carpenter’s son?…and they took offense at Him.” (Matthew 13:54-58) Instead, the blind man called Him “Son of David.” Despite being blind and unable to read, even the blind man knew that “Son of David” is a Messianic title which originates in the Old Testament, because God promised King David that one of his descendants would rule forever. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the City of David, and according to his earthly genealogy and Mosaic Law, He was understood as the son of Joseph, the carpenter, whose ancestor was King David. In Matthew’s Gospel, there are six instances where Jesus is called “Son of David.”

There are many more Biblical references which name Jesus and confirm His Divinity. Let us examine some of these:

(i)   As soon as Nathaniel, the Disciple, met Jesus, he cried out, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49) and Jesus did not correct him, because there was nothing to correct.

(ii)   St. Paul, the Apostle to the Nations, writes: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17)

(iii)   St. Peter, the Apostle, said to the lame beggar, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6)

(iv)   The Evangelists write: “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord (Jesus), even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ (Luke 10:17) “And whenever the unclean spirits saw him (Jesus), they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’” (Mark 3:11) Also, “…a man with an unclean spirit…cried out, “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!…” (Mark 1:21-28)

(v)   Jesus, Himself, said: (i) “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58) thereby affirming that He is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the triune God, Who existed before time began. (ii) He also promised, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13) (iii) He likewise prophesied,And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mark 16:17-18)

Therefore, dear reader, not only is the Jesus Prayer correct, but there are no other words which can substitute for the divinely inspired words, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” With these words, we confess our faith that Jesus is the Master of all (Lord); that He is the anointed Messiah (Christ) who came to redeem the world from sin; that He is begotten of the father (Son of God) and is therefore of the same essence as the Father, meaning Divine. Furthermore, by uttering His human name, Jesus, we also acknowledge His dual nature as God and Man, or the God-Man, who was born of the Virgin Mary so that he could live, suffer and die like a man, to save mankind. As the only perfect and sinless human, He became High Priest for us, offering Himself on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice to make atonement for our sins and re-unite us with the Father. He alone became the Offerοr and the Offering. All of this was accomplished by none other than Jesus.

“Jesus Christ the faithful witness, (is) the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. (He) has freed us from our sins by His blood.” (Revelation 1:5) “For there is one God, and there is one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5) “Since then we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” (Hebrews 4:14)

Our confession is the Jesus Prayer, which is supported by reams of Holy Scripture, contains volumes of Orthodox theology and great power. It was not just any “lord,” not Mohammad, not Allah, not Buddha, not Brahma, or any other deity who died for us and shattered the gates of Hell. Only the crucified Lord Jesus destroyed the power of Sin and Death and Satan’s hold on mankind. This is why the demons tremble at the name of Jesus. This is why the elders (Γεροντάδες) of our Holy Orthodox Church ceaselessly pray the Jesus Prayer – to ward off demonic temptations and spiritual attacks, by exercising humility and ceaselessly calling on the name of Jesus. 

To remove the name of Jesus, keeping only the unassigned word “lord,” enables several threats to erode our Orthodox faith and identity and to jeopardize our salvation:

First, the newly innovated prayer advances pagan and polytheistic Ecumenism, which for years, has been focusing only on “common ground” to promote a type of “love” that ignores differences and Truth. “I thank you, I glorify you, lord, have mercy on me,” is a non-denominational prayer that can be comfortably spoken by any Jain, any Jew, any Hindu, any Sikh, any Zoroastrian, any Muslim, even any idol or Luciferian worshipper. This prayer is not only un-Orthodox, it is even un-Christian.

Second, removing the name of Jesus replaces a Confession of Faith with a Denial of Faith. Are we suddenly afraid or ashamed to identify as Christians by saying the name of Jesus? A denial of faith threatens our salvation! Jesus said, “…whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in Heaven.  But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in Heaven.” (Matthew 10:33-34)

Third, by removing the name of Jesus, thousands of years of sacred prophecies, Biblical teachings and Patristic dogma become discounted and overturned, arbitrarily and for no good reason. This is unacceptable if we wish to maintain an Orthodox identity. On judgment day, when everyone rises from the dead, including all those who lived before us, it will be difficult to justify in the presence of God and His martyrs, any disobedience to the words of St. Paul, “Do not get carried away by various and strange teachings,” (Hebrews 13:9) even if the strange teachings came from someone that has the title of a bishop. Let us not forget that historically, the majority of heresies battled by the Orthodox Church, came from wayward bishops!

The more one utters the proposed innovated prayer, instead of the Jesus Prayer, the further away one drifts from Jesus, the Orthodox ethos and ecclesial consciousness, and the closer one draws towards heresy. “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light…Their end will correspond to their deeds.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

I hope and pray that the innovated prayer was an unintended error in judgment on the part of his Eminence Sotirios, and not another assault against those who adhere to Patristic Holy Orthodox Tradition. Those who are not interested in Orthodox Tradition are free to leave and join other jurisdictions anytime they wish; but we, the faithful, will not follow them…

Top of Form

Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!

Bottom of Form