The purpose of the Jesus Prayer, then, is to help us to discover directly and vividly how, by virtue of Baptism, we are Christ-bearers, sharing in his death and resurrection, and at the same time Spirit-bearers, aflame with the fire of Pentecost. What Gregory of Sinai said about the Jesus Prayer as a revelation of baptismal grace he applied also to the Eucharist. Through the Jesus Prayer we perform an ‘inner liturgy’, whereby we “offer up the Lamb of God upon the altar of the soul and partake of Him in communion”. The Jesus Prayer ‘internalises’ the Eucharist. But this ‘spiritual communion’ cannot exist unless we are also partaking outwardly in the sacrament.
Another text that sets the Jesus Prayer firmly in a sacramental context is Directions to Hesychasts by St Kallistos and St Ignatios Xanthopoulos (late 14th century). This provides a synoptic view of the Jesus Prayer. It is a concise manual on its practical use that can be warmly recommended to all who seek to follow ‘the way of the Name’. The two Xanthopouloi begin by speaking about Baptism. Following the teaching of Gregory of Sinai, they state that our aim in prayer and ascetic life is to return “to that perfect spiritual re-creation and renewal by grace that was given to us freely from on high at the beginning in the sacred font”. Then, after giving detailed instructions about the practice of the Jesus Prayer, they end by discussing Holy Communion. This, they say, is to be “continual”, and if possible daily. Thus, in the work of the Xanthopouloi, the Jesus Prayer is ‘sandwiched’ between the primary Christian mysteries of Baptism and Eucharist.
From the writings of the Sinaite and the Xanthopouloi, it is evident that the Jesus Prayer enriches the sacramental life but does not replace it. The invocation of the Name exists, not in isolation, but in an ecclesial and mysterial context. It presupposes membership of the Church and participation in the Church’s sacraments.
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (d. 2022)