From On the Prayer of Jesus: The Classic Guide to the Practice of Unceasing Prayer as Found in The Way of the Pilgrim
Among the mysterious, wonderful properties of the name of Jesus is the power and property of expelling demons. This property was disclosed by the Lord himself. He said that those who believe in him, in his name they will cast out demons. (Mark 16:17) Special attention must be paid to this property of the name of Jesus, because it is of the greatest importance for those practicing the Prayer of Jesus. First of all a few words must be said concerning the dwelling of demons in human beings. This occurs in two ways: one can be called sensible, the other moral. Satan dwells sensibly in a man when with his being he occupies the man’s body, and tortures body and soul. In this way it is possible for one devil to live in a man, and it is also possible for many devils to live in the same man. Then a man is called possessed or a demoniac. From the Gospel we see that our Lord healed people possessed with devils. The Lord’s disciples also healed them; they expelled demons from people by the name of the Lord.
Satan dwells morally in a man when the man becomes a doer of the devil’s will. It was in this way that Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, (John 13:27), that is, he controlled his reason and will, and became one with him in spirit. All nonbelievers in Christ were and are in this state, as the holy apostle Paul says to Christians who had been converted to Christianity from paganism: And you he made alive, when you were dead through your trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of the flesh and the mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3) In this state more or less, according to the degree of their sinfulness, are those who have been baptized into Christ but who have become estranged from him by sin. That is how the holy Fathers understand Christ’s words regarding the return of the devil with seven other more evil spirits to the temple of the soul from which it had been expelled by the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 12:43-45) When spirits enter in this way, they can be driven out again by the Prayer of Jesus, accompanied by a life of constant and diligent penitence.
Let us take up this neglected work so directly concerned with our salvation! Let us do all in our power to expel demons that have entered us through our negligence by the Prayer of Jesus. It has the property of reviving those deadened by sin, and it has the property of driving out devils. I am the resurrection and the life, said the Savior. He who believes in me, even though he dies, will live. (John 11:25) These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons. (Mark 16:17) The Prayer of Jesus both reveals the presence of demons in a man, and drives them out of the man. Herein is accomplished something like what took place when the Lord expelled the demon from the possessed boy after his transfiguration. When the lad saw the Lord coming, the spirit convulsed the boy and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. (Mark 9:20) When the Lord commanded the evil spirit to leave its victim, out of malice and wickedness as it came out it shrieked out and violently convulsed the boy so that it seemed as if he were dead.
The power of Satan, which dwells in a man as a result of his dissolute life unnoticed and unrealized, when it hears the name of the Lord Jesus invoked in prayer, becomes agitated and confused. It stirs up all the passions and by this means reduced the whole man to a terrible state of agitation and produces in the body various strange maladies. It was in this connection that Saint John the Prophet said: “It only remains for us weak creatures to have recourse to the name of Jesus, for the passions are demons and depart at the invocation of this name.” That means that the action of the passions and demons is a combined action; the demons act by means of the passions. When we see a special disturbance and excitement of the passions accompanying the Prayer of Jesus, let us not be dejected or perplexed by it. On the contrary, let us take courage and prepare ourselves for the struggle and for the most diligent prayer in the name of Jesus as having received a clear sign that the Prayer of Jesus has begun to produce its proper effect in us.
Saint John Chrysostom says:
The remembrance of the name of Jesus rouses the enemy to battle. For a soul that forces itself to pray the Prayer of Jesus can find anything by this prayer, both good and evil. First it can see evil in the recesses of its own heart, and afterwards good. This prayer can stir the snake to action, and this prayer can lay it low. This prayer can expose the sin that is living in us, and this prayer can eradicate it. This prayer can stir up in the heart all the power of the enemy, and this prayer can conquer it can gradually root it out. The name of the Lord Jesus Christ, as it descends into the depths of the heart, will subdue the snake which controls its ranges, and will save and quicken the soul. Continue constantly in the name of the Lord Jesus that the heart may swallow the Lord and the Lord the heart, and that these two may be one. However, this is not accomplished in a single day, nor in two days, but requires many years and much time. Much time and labor are needed in order to expel the enemy and instate Christ.
Evidently here is described that activity of which Saint Macarius the Great speaks and to which he invites people in his First Word, with a clear indication as to the weapon of that warfare:
Force your way in, whoever you are, through the thoughts that incessantly rise up within you, to that prisoner of war and slave of sin – your soul – and look to the very bottom of your mind and examine the depth of your thoughts, and you will see nestling and creeping in the inner recesses of your soul the snake which killed you by poisoning the vital parts of your soul. The heart is an unfathomable abyss. If you kill that snake, glory in your purity before God. But if not, humble yourself as one who is weak and sinful, and pray to God for deliverance from your secret sins.
The same great servant of God says:
The kingdom of darkness, that is, the evil prince of spirits, having taken man captive at the beginning, enveloped and clothed his soul in the power of darkness. This evil ruler clothed the soul and all its substance with sin. He defiled it all and brought it all into captivity to his kingdom. He did not leave one member of it free from slavery to himself – neither the thoughts, nor the understanding, nor the body; he clothed it all with the purple of darkness. This evil enemy has defiled and disfigured the entire man, soul and body. He has clothed man in “the old man,” defiled, unclean, hostile to God, insubmissive to God’s law. (Romans 8:7) That is, he has clothed him in sin itself, so that man may no longer see as he wishes, but may see passionately, and hear passionately, and have feet prone to evil deeds, hands to commit sin, and a heart inclined to evil thoughts. But let us implore God to put off the old man from us, since he alone can take away sin from us. For those that have taken us captive and that detain us in their kingdom are too mighty for us. But he has promised to deliver us from this slavery.
On the basis of these ideas the holy Fathers give to those who pray the Prayer of Jesus the following instructions:
Unless the soul suffers greatly over the importunacy of sin, it cannot rejoice abundantly over the goodness of justice. Whoever wishes to purify his heart, let him burn it out continually with the remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ, making this his one unceasing meditation and work. Those who desire to renounce their old nature must not sometimes pray and sometimes not, but must unceasingly devote themselves to prayer with watchfulness of mind, even when they are outside temples of prayer. Those who intend to purify gold, if even for a short time they allow the fire to go out in the furnace, they produce hardening again in the material that is being purified. Similarly he who sometimes remembers God and sometimes forgets him ruins by sloth what he thinks to acquire by prayer. It is the part of a virtue-loving man constantly to root out earthliness of heart by the remembrance of God, so that in this way evil may be gradually consumed by the fire of the remembrance of good and the soul may be perfectly restored to its natural brightness with greater glory. Thus by remaining in the heart, the mind prays purely and without delusion, as the same saint (Diadochus) has said: ‘Prayer is true and free from delusion when the mind keeps watch over the heart at the time that it prays.’
Let us not be scared, practicers of the Prayer of Jesus, either by winds or waves! By winds I mean diabolic thoughts and imaginings, and by waves the revolt of the passions aroused by thoughts and reveries. From the midst of the most furious storm, with perseverance, courage, and weeping, you will cry to the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will rebuke the winds and waves. And having learned from experience the omnipotence of Jesus, we shall render to him due adoration, saying: Thou art indeed the son of God. (Matthew 14:33)
We are fighting for our salvation. On our victory or defeat depends our eternal destiny. “Then, says Saint Symeon the New Theologian (i.e., during the practice of the Prayer of Jesus):
There is a battle. The evil spirits fight with great confusion and produce by means of the passions a storm and rebellion in the heart; but by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ they are consumed and destroyed like wax by fire. Yet when they are repulsed and retreat from the heart, they do not abandon the struggle, but they disturb the mind from without through the exterior senses. For this reason the mind does not very soon begin to experience calm and quiet within itself; because when the demons have not the power to disturb the mind in its depths, they disturb it from without by phantasies. And therefore it is impossible to be completely free from conflict and not to be attacked by evil spirits. That belongs only to the perfect and to those who are completely detached from everything and whose attention remains constantly in the heart.
At first the practice of the Prayer of Jesus appears to be extraordinarily dry and seems to promise no fruit. As the mind strives to unite with the heart, it meets at first with impenetrable darkness and gloom, hardness and deadness of the heart, which is not quickly aroused to sympathy with the mind. This should not cause despondency and cowardice; it is mentioned here since to be forewarned is to be forearmed. The patient and diligent worker will not fail to be satisfied and consoled; he will rejoice at an infinite abundance of spiritual fruits such as he can form no conception of in his carnal and natural state.
There are degrees of the action of the Prayer of Jesus. At first it acts only on the mind, leading it into a state of calm and attention. Afterwards it begins to penetrate to the heart, arousing it from the sleep of death and making its revival known by the manifestation within it of feelings of compunction and sorrow. As it goes still deeper, it gradually begins to act upon all the members of the soul and body and to expel sin from every part, and everywhere to destroy the dominion, influence, and poison of the demons. For this reason at the first actions of the Prayer of Jesus, “there occurs unutterable contrition and unspeakable pain of soul,” says Saint Gregory the Sinaite. The soul suffers like a sick man or a woman in travail, as scripture says (Ecclesiastes 48:21.) For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, that is Jesus, and pierces to the division of the soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart, (Hebrews 4:12), eradicating sinfulness from all parts of the soul and the body.
When the seventy lesser apostles, whom the Lord sent on a preaching tour, returned to him after carrying out their appointed ministry, they told the Lord with joy: Lord, even the devils are subject to us in thy name. (Luke 10:17) O, how just was that joy! How reasonable it was! For more than five thousand years the devil had ruled over men, making them his slaves and relatives by means of sin. And now he hears the name of Jesus – and is subject to men who have hitherto been subject to him, is bound by those whom he had bound, is trampled on by those whom he had trampled on. In reply to the disciples who were rejoicing over the conquest of the power of the devils over men and the obtaining by men of power over the demons, the Lord said: Behold, I give you power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. (Luke 10:19) The power was given, but freedom was reserved to use the power and trample on snakes and scorpions, or to despise the gift and voluntarily be subject to them. Under the names of snakes the holy Fathers understand openly sinful undertakings, and by scorpions they understand things camouflaged with an exterior of innocence and even goodness.
The power given by the Lord to his seventy disciples is given to all Christians. (Mark 16:17) Use it, Christian! With the name of Jesus cut off their heads, that is the first appearances of sin in our thoughts, fancies, and feelings. Destroy within you the devil’s rule over you; destroy all his influence over you; acquire spiritual freedom. The foundation for your struggle is the grace of holy baptism; your weapon is prayer in the name of Jesus.
Having given his disciples power to trample on snakes and scorpions, the Lord added: But yet rejoice not in this, that spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in Heaven. (Luke 10:20) “Rejoice,” says Blessed Theophylact, “not so much over the fact that devils are subject to you, as over the fact that your names are written in Heaven, not with ink, but by divine grace and the remembrance of God,” through the Prayer of Jesus. Such is the property of the Prayer of Jesus – it leads its practicer from Earth to Heaven, and places him among the celestial inhabitants. Dwelling with the mind and heart in Heaven and in God – that is the chief fruit, that is the end of prayer. The repulsion and defeat of the enemies which oppose the attainment of this end is a secondary matter; it should not deflect to itself all our attention lest the realization and consideration of victory should give entry to pride and self-confidence of victory should give entry to pride and self-confidence and we suffer a crushing defeat through our very victory.
Further on the Gospel relates: In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit and said: ‘I thank thee, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to babes. Yes, Father, for such was thy gracious will. And turning to the disciples he said: All things have been delivered to me by my father. (Luke 10:21) The Lord rejoices with the incomprehensible joy of God at the success of men. He declares that the mysteries of the Christian faith are revealed not to the wise and exalted of the world, but to those who are children as regards civil affairs, such as were the Lord’s disciples, taken from among the simple people, unlearned, illiterate. In order to become a disciple of the Lord we must become infants, and with childlike simplicity and love accept his teaching. To those who have become his disciples the Lord explains his most mystical teaching; he reveals that the son, in spite of his assuming humanity, remains above the comprehension of all rational creatures. Above their comprehension also is his most holy name. With the simplicity and trust of children let us receive the teaching on prayer in the name of Jesus. With the simplicity and trust of children let us approach the practice of this prayer. God who alone fully knows the secret of it will give it us in a degree accessible to us. Let us give joy to God by our labors and progress in the service which he has taught and commanded us.