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February 3, 2021

Is the Jesus Prayer Not a Complete Prayer? A Brief Response to Metropolitan Sotirios of Toronto

It was recently brought to my attention that Metropolitan Sotirios of Toronto, in a sermon recorded for YouTube on 24 January 2021, made the following comments:

"Sometimes I am disappointed, because some people forget the three basic things that prayer should have. I repeat: thankfulness, glorification (doxology) and petition. And sometimes some of us are doing this mistake: Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Monks, ELDERS. And some say we should pray always with a little prayer: 'Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner'. Nothing wrong with this. It's a good prayer, but it's not a complete prayer. It forgets to thank the Lord and glorify Him. That is why I think better it is that if we don't pray with the Lord's Prayer [the Our Father], we should pray with the following prayer: 'I thank You, I glorify You, have mercy on me'."

The Metropolitan bases his argument on an alleged quote of Saint Paisios the Athonite which basically says that it is better to just say one "Lord have mercy" and instead to say ninety-nine "I thank and glorify You My Lord". He goes on to say regarding this: "The true Elders of the Church know what to do."

As far as the quote of Saint Paisios is concerned, I'm not exactly sure of the source to look up the context, but I am sure if it is an accurate quote the context would not be what the Metropolitan is proposing. No one would deny that we should constantly glorify the Lord and be thankful towards Him. I recall one of the most beautiful things I ever heard in my life was an old woman in my parish who could barely walk, as she was walking up some stairs with some difficulty with a cane to go to church, with each step she took she would say in Greek: "Doxa Soi O Theos!" ("Glory to You O God!"). Would the Metropolitan say this is not a complete prayer because it does not contain a petition?

Metropolitan Sotirios says that a more complete prayer that we should say instead of the Jesus Prayer is "I thank You, I glorify You, have mercy on me." It's a good prayer. I would also agree it is a complete prayer. Is it a better and more complete prayer than the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner"? I would argue emphatically no. In fact, I would argue that the Jesus Prayer is the most superior prayer an Orthodox Christian can say. Why? There are many reasons I won't get into right here, but it is certainly superior as a continuous prayer to the rationalized prayer proposed by the Metropolitan for one very important reason - in the Jesus Prayer we constantly have the name of the Lord on our lips and in our minds and we try to bring it into our hearts and our entire being. This is where the power of the Jesus Prayer lies to transform us.

You don't believe me. Fine. This is what Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki says:

"This  divine  prayer,  which  consists  of  the  invocation  of  the  name  of  our Savior Jesus Christ, specifically 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on  me,'  is  simultaneously  a  prayer,  a  devotion,  and  a  confession  of  faith.  This prayer  bestows  the  Holy  Spirit,  it  transmits  divine  gifts,  it  purifies  the  heart,  it banishes  the  demons,  it  makes  Jesus  Christ  dwell  within  us,  it  is  a  source  of spiritual understanding and divine awareness, it liberates us from sins, it is a cure for  both  our  souls  and  bodies,  it  imparts  divine  enlightenment,  it  is  a  fountain gushing  forth  God’s  mercy,  and  it  confers  divine  revelations  and  secret knowledge  of  God  to  them  who  have  humility.  It  is  the  only  thing  that  affords salvation,  because  it  contains  the  salvific  name  of  our  God,  which  is  the  only name  that  has  been  given  to  us  [for  salvation],  that  is  the  name  of  Jesus  Christ the Son of God, and it is not possible for us to be saved through any other name, as  the Apostle  Peter  indicates: 'Nor  is  there  salvation  in  any  other,  for  there is  no  other  name  under  heaven  given  among  men  by  which  we  must  be saved' (Acts 4:12)."

Based on this, I would say the Jesus Prayer is a pretty powerful prayer. But for some reason, Metropolitan Sotirios doesn't think it is complete enough, because it does not thank and glorify the Lord. Well, let's see what Saint Nicholas Cabasilas says about that. Commenting on why we pray during the Divine Liturgy after each petition "Lord have mercy", Saint Nicholas writes:

"Why is this the sole cry the faithful send forth to God? In the first place, as we have said earlier, it is because this prayer implies both gratitude and confession. Secondly, to beg God's mercy is to ask for His kingdom ... Because of this, this prayer is sufficient for the faithful, since its application is general."

Note here exactly what Saint Nicholas Cabasilas is saying. By the faithful saying "Lord have mercy", we are showing gratitude, or thankfulness, to God, we are confessing that God is the Lord, which alone can be seen as a glorification, and we are asking for God's kingdom, as Saint Nicholas elaborates on in the complete passage. Thus, because it contains in one short phrase all that the faithful need to say, it is "sufficient".

Many Saints and Elders elaborate on the fact that the Jesus Prayer contains all we need to say in a prayer. I won't give a bunch of quotes to prove my point, which I could do. I will just end this with one explanation given by Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra, based off of a text written by Saint Mark of Ephesus. Hopefully Metropolitan Sotirios will read these words and correct his understanding of the Jesus Prayer, and avoid scandalizing the faithful in the future with such carelessness in his words:

Elder Aimilianos, following the patristic tradition of the Orthodox Church through the ages, writes:

"The prayer of Mount Athos, who does not recognize it?  It is comprised of one small phrase, of measured words.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

With the loud cry Lord, we glorify God, His glorious majesty, the King of Israel, the Creator of visible and invisible creation, Whom Seraphim and Cherubim tremble before.

With the sweet invocation and summons Jesus, we witness that Christ is present, our Savior, and we gratefully thank Him, because He has prepared for us life eternal.

With the third word Christ, we theologically confess that Christ is the Son of God and God.  No man saved us, nor angel, but Jesus Christ, the true God.

There follows the intimate petition have mercy, and we venerate and entreat that God would be propitious, fulfilling our salvation's demands, the desires and needs of our hearts.

That on me, what range it has!  It is not only myself, it is everyone admitted to citizenship in the state of Christ, in the holy Church; it is all those who are members of the body of the Bridegroom.

And finally, so that our prayer be full of life, we close with the word a sinner, confessing -- since we are all sinners -- as all the Saints confess and become through this sound sons of light and of the day.

Through this we understand, that this prayer involves:

and Confession."