This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

The example of Hesychasm

We repeat again the command of the New Testament: “in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.”

On the basis of this command an entire method has been elaborated, finding its fullest Christian expression in Hesychasm, which is summarized St. John Damascene:

We must learn to invoke God’s Name more often than we breath, at all times and everywhere and during all our labors. The Apostle says: Pray without ceasing, which is to say that we must remember God all the time, wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

And again:

The most important means in the life of prayer is the Name of God invoked in prayer. Ascetics and all who lead a life of prayer from the anchorites of the Egyptian desert to the Hesychasts of Mount Athos…insist above all on the importance of the Name of God. Apart from the Offices there exists for all the Orthodox a “rule of prayer,” composed of psalms and different orisons; for monks it is much more considerable. But the most important thing in prayer, the thing that constitutes its very heart, is what is named the Prayer of Jesus: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have pity on me, a sinner.” The repetition of this prayer hundreds of times, and even indefinitely, is the essential element of every monastic rule of prayer. It can, if necessary, replace the Offices and all the other prayers, since its value is universal. The power of the prayer does not reside in its content. which is simple and clear (it is the prayer of the tax;. gatherer). but in the sweet Name of Jesus. The ascetics bear witness that this Name contains the power of the Presence of God. Not only is God invoked by this Name-He is already present in the invocation. This can certainly be said of every Name of God: but it is true above all of the Divine and human Name of Jesus. which is the proper Name of God and of man. In short. the Name of Jesus present in the human heart communicates to it the power of deification accorded to us by the Redeemer.

The Name of Jesus is not only light. It is also nourishment. All food is too dry to be assimilated by the soul if it is not first sweetened by this condiment it is too insipid unless this salt seasons its tastelessness. I have no taste for thy writings if l cannot read this Name there: no taste for thy discourse if I do not hear it resounding therein. It is honey for my mouth, melody for my ears, joy for my heart, but it is also a medicine. Does any one among you feel overcome with sadness? Let him then taste Jesus in his mouth and heart, and behold how before the light of His Name all clouds vanish and the sky again becomes serene. Has one among you allowed himself to be led into a fault, and is he experiencing the temptation of despair? Let him invoke the Name of the Life and the Life will restore him.[1]

The power of the Hesychast doctrine is in the invocation of the Divine Name, which is not like the repetition of any other name. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2666):

The name “Jesus” contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation. To pray “Jesus” is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies.

We find the same principle in the following Amidist texts, which emphasize the ‘bhaktic’ nature of Christianity in addition to the power of the Divine Name:

The invocation of the holy Name must be accompanied by an absolute sincerity of heart and the most complete faith in the goodness of Amida. whose will it is that all creatures should be saved. In place of virtues. in place of knowledge, Amida, taking pity on the men of the ··Latter Days,” has allowed that there be substituted faith in the redemptive value of His Grace, in order that they may be delivered from the sufferings of the world We are all equal by the effect of our common faith and of our confidence in the Grace of Amida Buddha Every creature, however great a sinner he may be, is certain of being saved and enfolded in the light of Amida and of obtaining a place in the eternal and imperishable Land of Happiness. if only he believes in the Name of Amida Buddha and abandoning the present and future cares of the world takes refuge in the liberating Hands so mercifully stretched out toward all creatures. reciting His Name with an entire sincerity of heart We know the Name of Amida through the preaching of Shakyamuni. and we know that included in this Name is the strength of Amida’s desire to save all creatures. To hear this Name is to hear the voice of Salvation saying. ··Have confidence in Me and I shall surely save you.” words that Amida addresses to us directly. This meaning is contained in the Name “Amida.” Whereas all our other actions are more or less stained with impurity, the repetition of the Namu-Amida is an act devoid of all impurity, for it is not we who recite it but Amida Himself who, giving us His own Name, makes us repeat It When once belief in our salvation by Am ida has been awakened and strengthened our destiny is fixed: we shall be reborn in the Pure Land and shall become Buddhas. Then. it is said we shall be entirely enfolded in the Light of Amida and living under His loving direction. our life will be filled with joy unspeakable, gift of the Buddha.[2]

And again,

The original vow of Amida is to receive in his Land of Felicity whoever shall pronounce His Name with absolute confidence: happy then are those who pronounce His Name! A man may possess faith, but if he does not pronounce the Name his faith will be of no use to him. Another may pronounce the Name while thinking of that alone, but if his faith is not sufficiently deep, his re-birth will not take place. But he who believes firmly in re-birth as the goal of nembutsu [invocation) and who pronounces the Name, the same will without any doubt be reborn in the Land of Reward.[3]

Although Amida Buddhism emphasizes the most clearly, the same teaching is present throughout the Buddhist world.

Since, according to most Traditions, the central ‘organ of the spirit’ is the heart, rather than the mind, the repetition of the Divine Name should not be taken as an attempt to fixate on an idea, but rather to create a kind of inner focusing of the will as well, with the ultimate goal of union and identity with the Divine name being uttered.

The formula for the Hesychast practice is usually: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” In meditation, the first half of the phrase would be timed during inhaling through the nose, while the second half would come while exhaling through the mouth.

Since the Name of the Lord is identical to the Lord Himself, to invoke it is a supernatural act. That is why it is said that the Prayer of Jesus surpasses all the virtues in excellence.

We can summarize by citing St. John Chrysostom’s Epistle to Monachos:

Persevere unceasingly in the Name of our Lord Jesus that thy heart may drink the Lord and the Lord may drink thy heart, to the end that in this manner the two may become one.

The supreme state toward which the Jesus Prayer guides us is the ‘Holy Silence,’ which corresponds to the nirvana of the Hindus and Buddhists as well as the Sufic fana, both of these latter terms meaning ‘extinction,’ which is appropriate since it is the extinction of the superficial self that is in question when we become identified with the true Self.

[1] Sermons on the Canticle of Canticles, 15.

[2] E. Steinilber-Oberlin and Kuni Matsuo in Les Sectes bouddhiques japonaises.

[3] D.T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism.

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