A Homily on the Jesus Prayer by Saint Mark of Ephesus
of our holy Father
ST. MARK OF EPHESUS (EUGENIKOS) (+1444 A.D.)
on the words of the divine prayer,
“LORD, JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, HAVE MERCY ON ME.”
How much power the prayer has and what its gifts are to those who use it and to what state it brings them, we cannot say. What we can say, however, is that the words it consists of were initially found by our holy Fathers, not by their own invention, but were inspired long ago by Holy Scripture itself and by the leading disciples of Christ. Or, more precisely, they received them as a patrimony, and handed them down to us.
From this it is shown to those who have not learned from experience, that this sacred prayer is something godlike, a sacred oracle, because we believe that all that Christ spoke when He was in their midst and which He gave to the holy Apostles to say or write are divine oracles and spiritual revelations and words of God.
Thus, the most divine Paul, crying out to us from the height of the third heaven, says: “No one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed” (1 Cor. 12:3). With the apophatic “no one” [οὐδεὶς], he wondrously reveals that the invocation of Lord Jesus is something very lofty and superior to all.
Likewise, the great Apostle John, who proclaimed spiritual things with thunder, begins with the word that Paul ends with and gives us the continuation of the prayer as follows: “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God” (1 John 4:2).
He certainly used an affirmation here, but like Paul, he attributes the invocation and confession of Jesus Christ to the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Let Peter, the ultimate pinnacle of theologians, now come third to give us the rest of the prayer. When the Lord asked the Disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” the fiery disciple, leaping ahead of the others, as he often did, said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:15-16), having received this revelation, according to the testimony of the Savior Himself, from the heavenly Father, or, which is to say the same, from the Holy Spirit.
Now pay attention to how these three holy Apostles follow each other as in a circle, taking from each other these divine words so that the end of the speech of the previous becomes the beginning of the next.
That is, one says “Lord Jesus”, the other “Jesus Christ”, the third “Christ, Son of God”, and the end concludes at the beginning, like a circle as we said, for it makes no difference whether one says “Lord” or “of God” because they both reveal the divinity of the only-begotten Son and show Him to be consubstantial and equal in honor with the Father.
This is what these blessed Apostles handed down to us that we may invoke and confess in Spirit the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God. These three are more reliable than all, since, according to Holy Scripture, every word is confirmed by three witnesses (cf. Mt. 18:16 and 2 Cor. 13:1).
Also, the sequence of the Apostles who said them is not without significance: from Paul, the last of the Disciples, begins the mystical tradition of the prayer; then through the middle one, John; and proceeds to the first, Peter, who approached Jesus with more love than the others. I think this order correctly symbolizes our progress and our ascent and union with God in love through praxis [action] and theoria [vision of the divine]. Of course, Paul is an image of praxis, as he himself said: “I labored more than all the rest” (1 Cor. 15:10); and John of theoria; and Peter of love, for the Lord himself testifies about him that he loved more than the others.
Beyond this, one can see that the divine words of the prayer convey the correct dogma of our Faith and reject every heresy of the false believers: With “Lord”, divine nature is revealed – expelled are those who think that the Lord is only human. With “Jesus”, human nature is revealed – driven off are those who consider Him only God who by illusion pretended to be man. With “Christ”, that He contains two natures – thwarted are those who believe Him to be God and man but with two separate hypostases. Finally, “Son of God” shuts the mouths of those who dare to teach that the two natures are not distinct, because it reveals that the divine nature of Christ is not confused with His human nature, even after their union.
Thus, these four words, as God’s spiritual scalpels, remove two groups of heresies, which, while both evil and diametrically opposite each other, are equally irreverent. “Lord” overthrows the followers of Paul of Samosata, “Jesus” overthrows the followers of Peter the Fuller, “Christ” the Nestorians, and “Son of God” the Monophysites, followers of Eftychis and Dioscorus.
And thus, these divine words have been handed down to us, words which one would be right in calling a monument of prayer and orthodoxy. These words alone are sufficient for those who have reached maturity in Christ and who have attained spiritual perfection. They embrace each of these divine words separately, as given by the holy Apostles: Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, sometimes even the sweetest name “Jesus” alone, embracing it as a complete work of prayer. With it, they are filled with ineffable spiritual joy, transcend the flesh and the world, and become worthy of receiving divine gifts. The initiated know, they say.
For the infants in Christ and those who are imperfect in virtue, “have mercy on me” was given as a suitable addition, which shows them that they are aware of their spiritual stature and that they are in need of much mercy from God. Thus, they imitate the blind man who, longing to gain his sight, cried out to the Lord as He passed by: “Jesus, have mercy on me!” (Mk. 10:47).
Still others exhibit greater love by expressing the prayer in the plural, saying: “Lord, Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us.” This is because they know that love is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Rom. 13:10), as it contains and sums up every commandment and spiritual practice. At the same time, out of love, they take their brothers with them, in a communion of prayer, and move God more in mercy by recognizing Him as the common God of all and asking from Him common mercy for all.
And, of course, the mercy of God comes to us by having correct faith in doctrines and by fulfilling the commandments, which, as we have shown, this short verse of prayer contains both.
These divine names [Lord, Jesus, Christ] by which we were given the precision of the doctrines, it can be found, appeared in time in this order, and we also recite them as they appeared from the beginning. For in the Old Testament, the Lord, God’s Logos, is proclaimed everywhere, both before and after the giving of the Law, as when it says: “The Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord” (Gen. 19:24), and “The Lord said to my Lord” (Ps. 110[109 LXX]:1).
And in the New Testament, at His incarnation, the Angel is present to give His name, saying to the Virgin: “You will call His name Jesus” (Lk. 1:31), which he was called, as the holy Evangelist Luke says. Because as God and Lord of all, He wanted to become, through His incarnation, our Savior (for this reveals the meaning of the name “Jesus”).
As for the name “Christ”, which reveals the deification of the human nature that He assumed, He himself did not permit the Disciples to pronounce it to anyone before the Passion, but after the Passion and Resurrection, Peter spoke openly: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36), and this justly, for our human nature which was assumed by God the Logos was anointed at once by His divinity, but it also became the very thing that anointed it, that is, one with God, after my Jesus was glorified by the Passion and rose from the dead. Then it was time for the name “Christ” to show forth, that is, when He not only benefited us, as when He created us in the beginning, or when after our fall He regenerated us and saved us, but also when he elevated our human nature to heaven, glorified it with Himself and made it worthy to sit at the right hand of the Father. It was precisely then that “Son of God” and “God” began to be proclaimed by the Apostles, to whom earlier, at the beginning of their preaching, this name was awe-inspiring and seldom used, but then it was preached openly, “over the rooftops”, as the Savior Himself had foretold (Mt. 10:27).
Therefore the divine words of the prayer were placed in an order corresponding to the chronological emergence of the faith. From all angles, the divine wisdom of those who wrote it and passed it on to us is clearly evident from the fact that they follow exactly the apostolic confessions and traditions, from the fact that they draw attention to the orthodox doctrine of our Faith and from the fact that they remind us of those times when the economy of God was manifested for us in various ways, leading us to godliness with appropriate names each time.
But we have offered these words about the prayer as someone gathering flowers from a large and beautiful tree since they were within reach, but let others gather and store up the fruit, that is, those who through years of study and asceticism have been given this, becoming those who have passed through the sea and draw near to God.
This text was handed down to us as an anonymous work. However, after it was researched by the Serbian monk Irinej Bulov (the current Bishop of Novi Sad and Bačka), he discovered that it is by St. Mark of Ephesus (Eugenikos). The text was first published in the magazine “Κληρονομία” (Inheritance), no. 7 (1975), pp. 345-352, and was later included in a modern Greek translation in “Philokalia of the Neptic Fathers”, vol. 5, pp. 284-288, by “To Perivoli tis Panagias”, Thessaloniki, 1984. [Note by Ioannis Litinas]