In last week’s contemplative profile, we looked at two sources on the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner. Historically, this prayer has been thought to be a response to Paul’s instructions to “pray continually.”
St. John Chrysostom also advises the Christian to pray constantly because prayer vanquishes our enemy. The Jesus Prayer sounds so gentle; yet many of the Church Fathers speak of prayer as a weapon. In fact, they often use a violent imagery that has mostly fallen out of favor today. If nothing else, this imagery impresses on us the efficacy of prayer in our lives. Chrysostom says:
Prayer is the cause of salvation, the source of immortality, the indestructible wall of the Church, the unassailable fortress, which terrifies the demons and protects us in the work of righteousness… Prayer is a great weapon, a great protection. Zealous prayer is the light of mind and soul, a constant, inextinguishable light. Therefore during prayer our bitter enemy floods our mind and drenches our soul with a measureless filth of thoughts and collects together qualities of things which had never entered our heads…
By this remembrance (the Jesus Prayer) a soul forcing itself to this practice can discover everything which is within, both good and bad. First it will see within, in the heart, what is bad — and later — what is good. This remembrance is for rousing the serpent, and this remembrance is for subduing it. This remembrance can reveal the sin living is us, and this remembrance can destroy it. This remembrance can arouse all the enemy hosts in the heart, and little by little this remembrance can conquer and uproot them. The name of the Lord Jesus Christ, descending into the depths of the heart, will subdue the serpent holding sway over the pastures of the heart, and will save our soul and bring it to life. Thus abide constantly with the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that the heart swallows the Lord and the Lord the heart, and the two become one.
Reflection: Have you ever thought of prayer in the forceful and passionate terms of St. John Chrysostom?