The Prayer of the Heart,
by Mgr Yvan Jacques, abbas of the Monastery Mariakluizen
also known as the Prayer of Jesus, has a long history.
It has its roots in the New Testament and became a ladder to climb to spiritual heights for many hermits, monks but also for many laics that used it to reach higher.
The Prayer of Jesus has seen its heights and its depths but found a new height in the 18th century, more specific in Russia.
The “Story of a Russian Pilgrim” and the “Philocaleia” were published in the language of the people.
The “Philocaleia” is a compilation of proverbs and texts about the Prayer of Jesus expressed by the desert fathers.
So the Prayer of Jesus that leads to the Prayer of the Heart has its roots a long time ago.
The history of the Prayer of Jesus has its origin in the Old Testament. Jesus, a faithful Jew, also prayed starting from the Old Testament.
For the Hebrews the name of God was holy and unspeakable, they formed the tetragram ‘IHVH’.
Once a year, on the day of ‘Yom Kippur’, the high priest pronounced in secret the name of God in the most holy place of the temple.
It was the most touching moment in the history of Jewish spirituality.
The unspeakable name Name-of-God indeed brought that day remission of all sins, preceded by penitence and Lent.
For many people, a name has its meaning. By receiving a name, a person becomes a reality. Who has no name, does not exist.
“A man without a name is nothing” Job 30.8
Giving a name is to exist but the name is also the double of a person. Apocalypse 3.5 says :
“He that shall overcome, shall thus be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” Where is the name, there is the person.
In the Temple lives the Divine Name, says Deuteronomium 12.5 :
“But unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation, shall you seek, and there you must come.”
For the Jews however the Name was so near that they did not dare to speak out the Name of Yahweh. They got round the Name with titles.
They spoke of Shaddai, i.e. the Mighty, the Prominent, or Adonai, i.e. Lord, the Holy of Israel, the Redeemer, the Saviour, or they linked the Name to a person, e.g. the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or to a nation, e.g. the God of Israel, God of the Hebrews.
But the personal Name of God in the Old Testament was : IHVH.
This Name was disclosed to Moses and had to be surrounded with respect and should not be spoken out in vain.
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain ; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain.” Exodus 20.7
In the New Testament Jesus completes the disclosure of this Name. The Name that approximates most the mystery of God is “Abba”, which means “daddy”.
In the Gospel of John, 20.17 we read :
“Jesus said to her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father : but go to my brothers, and say to them, I ascend to my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”
The New Testament however always maintains the respect by the Old Testament for the Name IHVH that is always replaced by “Lord”.
The term “the Name” points to God but can also be applied to Jesus who has received from God a Name that is “above all names” : “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.” (Philippians, 2.10-11 )
We will speak about this Name that is above all names for in the same letter we read :
“that we should pray day and night, incessantly and invoke the Holy Name of Jesus.”
Mgr. Yvan Jacques
Midi "Praying for Bree" is
used with permission
and is copyright © 2001 Bruce DeBoer