By Father James Meena – Word Magazine, September 1982
When we feel cut off from the source of our inner strength and power as though that bond between us and God has somehow been short-circuited, it is necessary for us to find a way to get connected again. The early Fathers of the Church discovered a method as simple as putting your hand in the hand of one stronger than yourself. They call it the Prayer of the Heart, the inner prayer of Jesus, “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” A short prayer but very meaningful, having all the elements necessary to prayer.
The first two words, “O Lord”, are words of submission and indicate our willingness to bend the stiff necks of our heart before our Master and Savior and to humble ourselves before Him who is our Redeemer. We do not and will not ascribe lordship to one who is our equal, nor even to one who is just a little bit better than we are. By the word, “Lord”, we ascribe to Him Who is so far above us that even the thought of Him humbles us and reduces our spirit to a childlikeness that He calls upon us to retain at all times. “O Lord,” the first words of the Jesus Prayer are words of submission.
“Jesus Christ”, are words of historic acknowledgment. They attribute to Him what He is, the Anointed Savior. We call him by the names by which God called Him “His name shall be called Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins,” (St. Matthew, 1:21). “Son of God.” A confession of faith. As though we were reciting the whole Creed from the beginning to the end. “Son of God.” “The hour is coming and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and they that hear shall live,” (St. John, 5:25).
What have we? “O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God.” Submission, acknowledgement, confession of faith. “It shall be that whosoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” (Acts, 1:21). “For God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. Who believes in Him is not condemned but has everlasting life. He who does not believe is condemned already because he does not believe in the name of the only Son of God,” (St. John 3:17-18).
While you and I are all children of God yet is there but One Begotten Son and when we call upon Him, “O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God,” we call upon Him as the only begotten, as co-eternal with His Father, as co-creator and Redeemer of the universe.
“Have mercy upon me.” A supplication that comes right out of the heart of the Old Testament, “Have mercy upon me O God according to thy great goodness, according to the multitude of thy tender mercy blot out all my iniquities,” (Psalm 50- “51”). “O Lord, Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me,” and the final statement, the statement of contrition and penitence, “a sinner.” Sinners are we all and sinners we remain even though we struggle against the corruption that would drag us down to the depths of hell and even though we, by the grace of God, overcome one sin after another, yet we remain sinners and until and unless we continually acknowledge this can we have no humility before Him, no humbleness of spirit, for our pride prevents us from acknowledging our own corruptible and sinful state.
Thus the Fathers of the Church have given us an eternal link of prayer in this simple statement, “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” and they learned very early in the life of the Church that the pious person offering this simple prayer of the heart over and over again somehow establishes a connection with God that gives solace, strength, reassurance and comfort. St. Paul said, “Pray without ceasing,” (I Thess. 5:17). Never stop praying. The early Fathers of the church, in their desire to fulfill that admonition discovered the prayer of the heart, and they found by offering that prayer continuously that they had a link with God that was real and vital and invigorating.
I have used the prayer of the heart for more than 25 years now, nowhere near as faithfully as I should but I tell you I use it everywhere, in the shower, in my car, in the bedroom, in my office, in Church. Whenever I feel confused and angry and frustrated, whenever I know that I have reached the limits of my own resourcefulness I call out the name of the Lord and I know that the Lord will hear and redeem me.
Have you ever been in a crowded public place and observed a little child, a toddler, walking along full of self confidence, getting into all kinds of things and then suddenly realizing that he or she has been separated from his or her parents? In that moment there comes a look of fear into the eye of the child until it sees the face of the parent and reaches up its hand, takes the hand of its father or mother and feels safe again and secure. So it is with the Jesus prayer. It is our childlike hands of innocent faith being extended upwards to our heavenly Lord and saying: Lead me, protect me and guide me, and never leave me alone.
I use the Jesus Prayer mostly at night in those lonely hours in the darkness between midnight and morning when every person is alone, when nearly every person thinks about the end of his own life, when almost every person sometimes wakes up in a cold sweat and realizes that he has a remembrance of his own end. I am then like that little toddler having stumbled into everything, suddenly realizing that I am alone and that there is no one to help me and protect me until I call upon the name of my Lord, Jesus Christ, and reach my hand up to Him and he always takes it in His and gives me the comfort and the assurance that I need.
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Troparion Tone 4
Incarnate Angel and summit of the Prophets, second forerunner of the coming of Christ, glorious Elijah sent down grace from on high to the Prophet Elisha. He heals diseases and cleanses the leprous. He pours healings on all who honour him.
Kontakion Tone 2
O great Prophet Elijah, seer of God's mighty works, who didst halt the torrential rain by thy word, pray for us to the Lover of Mankind.