prayer of Jesus and the New Testament
Part 2 by brother Yvan Jacques
Invoking the Holy Name has crystallized in the origin of the prayer of Jesus. Jesus himself emphasizes the power of His Name to be used at any circumstances.
In John, 14, 13-14 He says :
“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it… Whatever you will ask the Father in my name, He will give it to you. Until now, you have never asked anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your happiness will be complete.”
The gospel of Luke often describes Jesus while He is praying : at His baptism, in the desert, on the mountain Tabor, before he teaches. Jesus himself invites to continuous prayer :
“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” ( Luke, 18, 1-7 ).
He also told the parable of the woman that was not heard by the judge for what she was entitled to. Finally she is heard by the judge :
“'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming.”
And Jesus goes on : “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night ?”
Luke 18 shows the original formula of the prayer of Jesus. This is the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector where the Tax Collector stood still at a distance, did not dare to raise his eyes to heaven and penitently beat his breast, saying :
“God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” ( Luke, 18, 13 ).
A violent contrast to the Pharisee who said :
“God, I thank you that I am not like other men.” ( Luke, 18, 11 ).
The story of the blind man of Jericho who shouted to Jesus :
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me !" ( Mark, 10, 47 ).
It is the “Kyrie Eleison” in our confession of guilt that has become the original formula to indicate the continuous prayer.
Saint Paul invites us to continuous prayer. In his letter to the Thessalonians , he exhortatively says :
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.” ( 1 Thessalonians, 5, 16-24 ).
Through the Name of Jesus the Kingdom of God comes into our heart for the Kingdom of God, although it is not of this world, comes into our heart when we invoke the Name of Jesus. Luke says :
“The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." ( Luke, 17, 20-21 ).
So it is not a material thing in grounds or castles, but something people grow in their hearts. In the apocryphal gospel of Thomas, copied in Edessa about 140 after Christ, Jesus says :
“If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you.
When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty." ( Gospel of Thomas, 3 ).
We know little about the way the first Christians prayed.
They probably recited by heart texts coming out of their own Jewish culture. But indications about reciting the prayer of Jesus are found only after the 4th century.
Only after the origin of Christian monasticism, we find indications about their way of praying.
At the end of the 3rd century and the beginning of the 4th century, when Christianity became state-religion, one could see a huge flight of people into the desert. They fled namely from the sinfulness in the cities. Probably the most famous person is saint Anthony, the hermit.
The bishop of Alexandria, saint Athanasius, has written about his life. He did know him, for in his introduction he writes :
“I often visited him and spent a lot of time at his side, I poured water over his hands.”
Anthony became the spiritual father of countless monastic colonies, of which those of Nitria and Scethis in Egypt are the most famous.
Thousands of people retreated in hermitages to pray in the segregation of the desert to God, that the infertile ground of the desert would change into a glorious garden.
Among them were many holy men and women who could tell things, who appeased the spiritual hunger of many people. Through their way of living they gave themselves as food for many. Many of them who visited the desert fathers, wrote down the texts and the thoughts of these holy men and women that had sprung from their heart to the opened heart of their audience.
What they said, was food for their hearts. The collected proverbs and phrases are called “Proverbs of the Fathers” or “Apophthegmata”.
In these writings we learn how these retreated monks practised the thought of God, how they tried, by trial and error, to pray continuously and to find in God rest for the ever seeking heart.
Midi "Praying for Bree" is
used with permission
and is copyright © 2001 Bruce DeBoer