On The Jesus Prayer

by St. John Chrysostom

Our father among the saints, John (347-407), Archbishop of Constantinople, was a notable Christian bishop and preacher from the fourth and fifth centuries in Syria and Constantinople. He is famous for eloquence in public speaking and his denunciation of abuse of authority in the Church and in the Roman Empire of the time. He had notable ascetic sensibilities.

St. John Chrysostom wrote the following 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.

–  Letter to Monks (PG 60, p. 753).

St. John also wrote the following on the value of the Jesus Prayer:

…constantly call: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me!” in order that this remembrance of the Name of our Lord Jesus should incite you to battle with the enemy. By this remembrance, a soul forcing itself to do 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 the remembrance is for subduing it. This remembrance can reveal the sin living in 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 our 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. But this work is not done in one or two days; it needs many years and a long time. For great and prolonged labor is needed to cast out the foe so that Christ dwells in us….

For this great work demands great forcing, since “straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). And only those who force themselves enter the Kingdom of Heaven, for the “violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). I implore you therefore not to withdraw your hearts from God, but to watch them and guard them by constant remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ, until the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is deeply rooted in your heart and you cease to think of aught but glorifying the Lord in you.

— From The Publicans Prayer Book, pp. 564-565.

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