John Chrysostom on the Jesus Prayer

In a Letter to Monks (PG 60, p. 753), John Chrysostom shares the following thoughts on the Jesus Prayer:

The remembrance of the name of Jesus rouses the enemy to battle. For a soul that forces itself to pray the Prayer of Jesus can find anything by this prayer, both good and evil.

First it can see evil in the recesses of its own heart, and afterwards good. This prayer can stir the snake to action, and this prayer can lay it low.

This prayer can expose the sin that is living in us, and this prayer can eradicate it. This prayer can stir up in the heart all the power of the enemy, and this prayer can conquer it and gradually root it out.

The name of the Lord Jesus Christ, as it descends into the depths of the heart, will subdue the snake which controls its ranges, and will save and quicken the soul.

Continue constantly in the name of the Lord Jesus that the heart may swallow the Lord and the Lord the heart, and that these two may be one.

However, this is not accomplished in a single day, nor in two days, but requires many years and much time. Much time and labor are needed in order to expel the enemy and instate Christ. (1)   

There are a number of things I really like about what Chrysostom shares here. First, he reminds us that meditative prayer is a powerful means of grace. On the one hand, it searches our hearts and reveals to us its contents, both good and bad. And on the other, it gives us the grace to overcome the bad and grow in the good.

Second, part of why meditative prayer is such a powerful means of grace is because it leads to such close communion with God. I love the way Chrysostom phrases this: “that the heart may swallow the Lord and the Lord the heart, and that these two may be one.”

The goal of prayer is perfect oneness with God. Undisturbed communion. And as we pray, especially in meditative prayer like the Jesus Prayer, we are “swallowed” by God. We are enveloped. We are drawn into God’s goodness, and likewise, God is drawn into us. And the effect of that kind of communion lingers with us ever after.

Third, this type of prayer is not an instant fix. So much of our world is all about the instant fix. Even in church. I call it “microwave holiness.” We want some form of spirituality that we can pop in our microwave for five minutes and voilà! – instant holiness.

Only, that’s not how things tend to work. For most of us, holiness takes more time than that. A lot more time. It takes daily soaking in God’s presence in prayer and in God’s Word through prayerful reading.

Chrysostom is very clear that this kind of prayer takes time. So, don’t expect instant results. Instead, commit to daily prayer. For the long haul. And if we will, over time the Jesus Prayer will change us. After all, that’s what happens when you invite Jesus to come into your heart through prayer.

Not bad for a guy who died around 407 AD.



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