The Power of the Name
Friends, with Christmas this past week I was unable to write something for this week’s bulletin. But, as January 1 is the feast of the Circumcision of our Lord - and as that was the day of the naming of the child Jesus - I thought this piece from Met. Kallistos Ware appropriate.
God’s richest blessings in the new year.
~ Fr John
"The Name of the Son of God is great and boundless, and upholds the entire universe." (The Shepherd of Hermas) We shall not appreciate the role of the Jesus Prayer in Orthodox spirituality unless we sense some of the intrinsic power and virtue of the divine Name. If the Prayer is more effective than other invocations, this is because it contains the Name of God.
In the Old Testament, as in other ancient cultures, there is a virtual identity between a man's soul and his or her name. One's whole personality, with all its peculiarities and all its energy, is present in one's name. To know a person's name is to gain a definite insight into someone's nature, thereby acquiring an established relationship—even, perhaps, a certain control over another. That is why the mysterious messenger who wrestles with Jacob at the ford Jabbok refuses to disclose his name (Gen. 32:29). The same attitude is reflected in the reply of the angel to Manoah, "Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret?" (Judges 13:18). A change of name indicates a decisive change in a man's life, as when Abram becomes Abraham (Gen. 17:5), or Jacob becomes Israel (Gen. 32:28). After his conversion, Saul becomes Paul (Acts 13:9); and a monk at his profession is given a new name, usually not of his own choosing, to indicate the radical renewal he is undergoing.
In the Hebrew tradition, to do a thing in the name of another, or to invoke and call upon his name, are acts of the utmost weight and potency. To invoke a person's name is to make that person effectively present….
All that can be said of human names is true to an incomparably higher degree of the divine Name, in which His power and glory of God are present and active. The Name of God is numen praesens, God with us. Attentively and deliberately to invoke God's Name is to place oneself in His presence, to open oneself to His energy, to offer oneself as an instrument and a living sacrifice in His hands. So keen was the sense of the majesty of the divine Name in later Judaism that the tetragrammaton was not pronounced aloud in the worship of the synagogue: the Name of the Most High was considered too devastating to be spoken.
Similarly, in the New Testament, devils are cast out and men are healed through the Name of Jesus, for the Name is power. Once this potency is properly appreciated, many familiar passages acquire a fuller meaning and force: "Hallowed be Thy Name"; "Whatever you shall ask the Father in My Name, He will give it you"; "Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19); St. Peter's proclamation that there is salvation only in "the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth" (Acts 4:10- 12); the words of St. Paul, "At the Name of Jesus every knee should bow" (Phil. 2:10); the new and secret name written on the white stone, that is given to us in the Age to Come (Revelation 2:17).
It is this Biblical reverence for the Name that forms the basis and foundation of the Jesus Prayer. God's Name is essentially linked with His Person, and so the Invocation of the divine Name possesses a genuinely sacramental character, serving as an effective sign of His invisible presence and action. For the believing Christian today, as in apostolic times, the Name of Jesus is power. In the words of the two Elders of Gaza, Sts. Varsanuphius and John (6th century), "The remembrance of the Name of God utterly destroys all that is evil." "Flog your enemies with the Name of Jesus," urges St. John Climacus, "for there is no weapon more powerful in heaven or on earth. . . . Let the remembrance of Jesus be united to your every breath, and then you will know the value of stillness."
The Name is power: but a purely mechanical repetition will by itself achieve nothing. The Jesus Prayer is not a magic talisman. As in all sacramental operations, an individual is required to co-operate with God through active faith and ascetic effort. We are called to invoke the Name with recollection and inward vigilance, confining our minds within the words of the Prayer, conscious of whom we are addressing and who responds to us in our heart.
Such strenuous prayer is never easy in the initial stages, and is described by the Fathers as a hidden martyrdom….
This patient perseverance takes the form, above all, of attentive and frequent repetition. Christ told His disciples not to use "vain repetitions" (Matt. 6:7), but the repetition of the Jesus Prayer, when performed with inward sincerity and concentration, is most emphatically not "vain": it makes our prayer more unified and at the same time more inward.
~from Kallistos Ware, “The Power of the Name”