Pope Francis and the Jesus Prayer

This photo of Pope Francis has been doing the rounds today. It shows the Pope with an Orthodox prayer rope around his wrist. Called a chotki, it is used for the recitation of the Jesus Prayer. No other devotional practice goes more deeply to the heart of the Eastern Churches way of holiness, and so it has caused something of a stir.

What is of perhaps more significance is that this is not something new for Francis. Here is another photo where you can clearly see him wearing it on his wrist, this time on the left hand. What is more, it is during a celebration of an Byzantine Catholic liturgy, while bishop of Buenos Aires. The Archbishop is wearing Byzantine vestments, apart from his Latin Rite Mitre.

The Jesus Prayer is very, very simple: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner." It is repeated until it settles into the heart, and bubbles like a fresh stream, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. It is a humble way of prayer, and takes us to the very depths of theosis. For more, see 'The Way of the Pilgrim'. 

It is one of the saddest things that much of the Roman Catholic Church remains ignorant of the richness and variety of rites and Churches with whom they are actually in Communion. For most Latin Rite Catholic the eastern Churches are simply unknown, and where they are often viewed as a sort of cultural novelty, and hardly ever as an evangelistic resource. That Pope Francis has this living knowledge of the East is a great sign of hope.

Take a quick look at these statistics: http://www.cnewa.org/source-images/Roberson-eastcath-statistics/eastcatholic-stat13.pdf. These show the various officially constituted churches in Communion with Rome, apart from the Latins. Most of them show fantastic growth, and many are ancient communities reaching back to the apostolic era. For that alone they deserve our respect. However, they also are part of the living richness of Christ's Body on earth, and a suffering and prophetic part which perhaps is laying the way for the reunion of all the Churches of the east and west. 

Sadly these churches have not been seen as treasuries of faith out of which the much larger Latin Church can learn and adapt. Originally limited to Western Europe, and then gradually expanding along with Spanish and Portuguese conquests, the Latin Church now spreads far beyond Europe and is indeed the Church of 'the West', the dominant world culture. As this has taken place the Latin Church has adapted and sought to be 'inculturated' from Papua New Guinea to Alaska. Thus the Papacy has come to exercise a truly world wide direct jurisdiction, and its claims to a universal and immediate pastoral mandate are in many ways a very practical reality. 

When the world was spread across oceans and communications could take months or years, papal jurisdiction was very different in practice to what takes place today, with instant communications via email, the telephone etc. That we now have a  non-European pope is another sign of the way the Latin Communion is being transformed as we speak, transformed to enable the charism of the papacy to live. However, in this global village it is perhaps not enough for the Vatican to be wedded to the Latin Church, and perhaps time that it served the fullness of the Church in all its rites and theological and spiritual richness, becoming a place where the richness of the whole Church can be mutually enriching, not based on size or wealth or other wordly attributes but on the authenticity of its apostolic and spiritual life. 

And lest it be thought I think this is a one way process,I would point to the photo below, another which has been doing the rounds this week. What a grand train, and how much a relic of the glorious past of national pride. It made me think of Pope Francis' call for a humble Church, a poor Church. I think it speaks for itself, and the dangers for the Church in Russia...


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