Desert stillness centres on the Jesus Prayer, which is the fulcrum of blessing and mercy. The rabbis had invoked the Name as blessing and mercy, so when Jews acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, when they began invoking the Name of Jesus, which contained the divine Name YAH, they were invoking God’s Name of blessing and mercy. Like jewish liturgy, Christian liturgy centres on the Name of blessing and mercy, which may include elements of promise, bestowal and of praise. Promise guarantees future blessing, bestowal sustains present blessing, and praise blesses God, who blesses those who bless him. The Jesus Prayer is promise, bestowal and praise which blesses all who pray in the Name of Jesus. The desert has always treasured the Prayer of Jesus as prayer of the Name of blessing and mercy, a prayer that unites both testaments in the Covenant of the Name. Elders are one with patriarchs and prophets as they unite with apostles and saints in the Jesus Prayer, bearing witness to the glory of grace that blesses all who bless God in his Name. The Covenant presupposes a profound reciprocity between the Name and God’s presence, a reciprocity which is handed down as blessing from elders to saints in generation after generation. The disciple in the desert is handed a prayer rope at his or her tonsure, the knots or beads of which are bids or bidding prayers, prayers of the Name that bless the bidder with abundance of grace and mercy. The Lord’s Prayer surrounds the Jesus Prayer with Name hallowing that blesses, with the Kingdom, all who are obedient to the divine will.
The Jesus Prayer appears to be a fixed formula but it is not prayed in a formulaic, fixated manner, but in a spirit of praise which rejoices in the overflowing abundance of blessing which stems from grace. God blesses saints in the Name of Jesus with ineffable abundance and their spontaneous response is thanksgiving and praise. It is not that praise earns blessing with its frenzied striving and stressing, although degeneration in the desert is not unknown and the mechanics of effort and reward is to be found whenever the wisdom of grace is disdained. Grace and gratitude preserve the desert from these degenerations, as does the transmission of wisdom and blessing. When wisdom blesses God by Name, the Name blesses the deified with wisdom. This infallible circular motion in God, from God to God, was well recognised in the desert, as the writings of Saint Denys and Saint Gregory Palamas prove. The Name is invoked in the temple of the heart, which turns out to be the temple of Christ’s heart, which turns into being the heart of the Father in which the Spirit abides through the Son. The Jesus Prayer is not the narrow penitential self-obsession that some inexperienced ascetics think it is. It is the glory of abundant grace that extinguishes self-concern with its boundless blessing. The abundance fills all sense of lack to overflowing, extinguishing its compulsive mind-set of deprivation and it is this abundance which lies at the heart of true blessing.
It is in the temple of the heart that the Name is secretly pronounced and it is in the Holy of Holies of the heart that union with God is experienced in the Name. It is not our effort but the Spirit’s unceasing prayer in the midst that opens heavens beyond heavens in the mysteries of glorification. If glorification were the work of self-centred effort, there would be no end to the strain and stress that usurps grace and drives away blessing. Every day is a Day of Atonement for desert seers. Every day is the Last Day when the Great High Priest, Christ himself, invokes the Holy Name of God in the heart. But nobody notices this until the Spirit whispers it is so in the heart, naming the Name and invoking ‘ABBA’ in the midst, unveiling glory to wisdom in the Bridal Chamber. Invocation of the Name in the heart is itself what transforms the heart into God’s sanctuary. The Prayer of Jesus yields up its unfathomable secrets in the Spirit, opening glory to wisdom as enlightening grace. Christ in the midst is the Great High Priest invoking the Name on the Day of Atonement, turning the heart into the sanctuary of his all-embracing at-onement. This means that there is now nowhere that lies outside the temple, because in Christ, the temple is everywhere, as he is. To confess Jesus is Lord is to say Jesus is ‘I AM,’ the atoning Name, the Word that names the Name to heal all worlds.
Desert elders pray the Prayer of the Name of Jesus, fully conscious that this prayer contains the Name of God twice over, once as the Name of God, Lord, which substitutes for the Name YHWH, and once as the name Jesus, which contains the divine Name YAH and says what it does, namely, it saves, YAH SHUAH. The Jesus Prayer is certainly not just a prayer to Jesus, as if Jesus was merely a man from Nazareth who was slain by the Romans and nothing more. It is the invocation of God’s hallowing Name that ensures the Kingdom comes. Angels and saints invoke the Name of Jesus fully aware that the heart is God’s temple sanctuary and that it was once forbidden to invoke the Name outside the temple. This prohibition retains a relative symbolic validity because in Christ the temple was rebuilt in three days and through his resurrection, is now the heart where Christ is present in the midst. The river of uncreated fire protects this paradise from profane scrutiny. The Name needs no exterior protection anymore because it is its own protection, remaining impenetrable to sight that refuses to turn, inaccessible to vainglory when it refuses the insight that wisdom grants, rejecting the purity of heart that beholds God in his Kingdom of glory. Desert elders pray the Prayer of the Name of Jesus as the invocation of enlightening presence and the revelation of deifying glory, which means that presence of wisdom indwells those who indwell presence of glory, ensuring the Name is never taken in vain. The Jesus Prayer blesses all who invoke its mercy, summoning wisdom to unite with glory, Christ’s wisdom with the glory of his Name, in God’s temple sanctuary at centre in the midst.