Lesson 14: Seeing Jesus
This lesson is also about the Jesus prayer (we will conclude this topic in lesson 15). In this lesson I’d like to talk about an icon to illustrate our continued exploration.
14.1 Icon of the Holy Trinity
I want to take you further into the world of the Jesus prayer through a religious image, or icon. Icons play an important role in Eastern Orthodoxy. They are not images to worship, but windows that let the light of God’s reality through.
Under you see The Holy Trinity Icon or The Troitsa (also called The Hospitality of Abraham) created by the well-known Russian painter Andrei Rublev (around 1430) and the most famous of all Russian icons.
The icon depicts the story of Genesis 18, where Abraham meets three men and welcomes them hospitably. Since the early beginnings the church recognized the holy Trinity in those three men, or angels: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In the center we can see the Son: Jesus Christ. The brown color signifies his earthly humanity, the blue His divine being. On the right, we see the Holy Spirit. The green refers to his reviving work. The Spirit and the Son both focus on the angel on the left, representing the Father. The somewhat indeterminate color of his dress may allude to Him being unobservable.
Now take some time and attentively look at the icon and open yourself to be touched by what you see.
14.2 Jesus prayer in icon form
The monk Benoît Standaert, mentioned earlier, discovered while looking at this icon that the Jesus prayer can be recognized in it. The flow going through this icon matches the flow of the Jesus prayer. Lord Jesus Christ. Only by the Spirit can we say Jesus is Lord. We must start with the Spirit. Initially, looking at this painting, our attention is drawn to the angel on the right of the picture, representing the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is focused on the angel in the middle: Jesus Christ. He is central to this icon.
Son of God. Jesus Himself is focused on the Father, the angel on the left. John 1:18: No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. God the Father is the source of all life.
Have mercy on me. Ultimately, we fix our attention on the (empty) space in the middle of this icon. I am invited to participate in the connectedness that exists between Father, Son, and Spirit. There we see a cup that refers to Jesus’ suffering, through which He made us see and experience God’s mercy.
14.3 Breathing Christ
The expression ‘respirare Christus’ can be found in the old ecclesiastical tradition. It means to breathe Christ. At the heart of the Jesus prayer, which evidently has a Trinitarian significance, is Christ. His name, Jesus, is the essence of this prayer. Therefore, the Jesus prayer can simply be the breathing of the name of Jesus.
Years ago a gravely ill woman said to me: I can no longer pray. She was no longer able to properly formulate her thoughts, and feared praying had thus become impossible. I shared with her this simple observation: even merely mentioning the name Jesus is to pray. Everything we need can be found in His name: grace, safety, faith, love, strength, presence, healing, forgiveness, freedom, redemption. Breathing Jesus. Ultimately, that is the core of the Jesus prayer. We live only by the breath of his voice.
1. What do you see when you look at the icon? What do you notice? What strikes you?
2. In regards to your prayer life, has this lesson (or previous ones) changed your view on the role of breath in prayer?
For this lesson, again take the time to practice praying the Jesus prayer (or another prayer phrase). Determine how much time you want to spend on this and use the timer.
Choose your ’timer’:
You can also do a lectio divina exercise, for instance with Isaiah 44:3
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
Prior to this you can calm down by listening with utmost attention to the beautiful music of Agnus Dei by Michael W Smith and Amy Grant.
A nice quote from E. Stanley Jones this time:
When man listens, God speaks.
When man obeys, God acts.
When man prays, God gives strength.