The Practice of the Holy Name

The shortest, easiest, and most powerful of prayers



During a prayerful vigil one night in fourteenth-century England, the hermit Blessed Richard Rolle was disturbed by the sudden apparition of a demon. The frightened monk began to call out the Name of Jesus, and the demon immediately disappeared. Shaken by this apparition and dreading its re-appearance, Blessed Richard spent the rest of the night repeating the Holy Name over and over until dawn. Thus was born his lifelong devotion to the Holy Name: "I appeal to you to love this name JESUS and meditate on it in your heart so that you never forget it wherever you are. And, assuredly, I promise you that you will find great joy and strength in it; and because of the love with which you love Jesus so tenderly and as such an intimate friend, you will be filled with grace on this earth...This is because nothing pleases God so much as true devotion to the name of Jesus."

Our time has its own share of "demonic apparitions" -- just read the headlines. So now is the perfect time to benefit from Blessed Richard's example of taking refuge in the Holy Name of Jesus.

From apostolic times to the present day, Christians throughout the world have experienced for themselves the blessing, protection, and presence of Christ that can be found through repeated invocation of Holy Name of Jesus. It has been the center of the spiritual lives of countless saints, and "is suitable for all people of God, without exception, whether monks or lay people. It is a safe way for beginners, that is open to all" (Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov).

The 19th century Russian priest Saint John of Kronstadt wrote: "The Name of God is God Himself.... As the Lord is the most incomplex Being, the most incomplex Spirit, He is wholly contained in one word, in one thought, being at the same time wholly everywhere-in all creatures. This is why, if you only call upon the Name of the Lord, you call upon the Lord Himself, the Savior of those who believe, and you shall be saved."

How to do it - Part 1 - seated in prayer

How is it done?

In utter simplicity.

Sit quietly and comfortably. There is no recommended posture. You sit, rather than lie down, simply to avoid falling asleep.

Relaxation is the key to awareness. Close your eyes. Let go. Take a few deep breaths and relax, letting them out fully, breathing out your tensions.

Then become aware of your breathing: in and out. Gently, peacefully. Let it be natural without forcing or controlling.

Then gently and peacefully begin mentally repeating the Name of Jesus three times with each inhalation and each exhalation: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus/Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Fit the repetition to the breath, not the breath to the repetition.

The holy Name is said in groups of three to establish a rhythmic pattern that leads quickly to a silencing of the mind. Try it, and you will find this to be true. Also, a most effective practice-one that can make all the difference in our attempt to pray undistractedly-is to mentally intone, or "sing" the holy Name on a single note (not a melody).

Hold no visual images, feelings, or thoughts whatsoever in the mind-just be intent on repeating the Name of Jesus.

Allow your mind to melt, to merge, to relax into the sounding of the Name of Jesus. No concepts need be held. The Name is sufficient, for it is the Name in which all is done (Colossians 3:17); the Name by which the lame walk (Acts 3:16; 4:10); the Name which works wonders (Acts 4:29-30); the Name which casts out evil (Mark 16:17); the Name which conquers all (Philippians 2:10); the Name in which all petitions are fulfilled (John 14:13-14; 16:23); the Name in which we are justified (I Corinthians 6:11). For it is the Name above all names (Philippians 2:9); the Name whereby we are saved (Acts 4:12).

Have no concern over wayward thoughts that may intrude, or memories, or visual impressions; neither invite nor attempt to dispel "distractions." Do not be bothered by fluctuations in the depth of your level of awareness and quiet. Care for nothing. Be the "weaned child"-content to just sit quietly on the Mother's lap (Psalms 131:2). Keep to the Name of Jesus. And not with effort or concentration, but with relaxation and confident peace.

It will be most helpful to your practice if you can have a special place exclusively for your practice of the Holy Name, for your mind will begin to associate that place with prayer and will more easily enter a quiet, prayerful state when you go there. It is very good to have some icons there, for wherever they are, there also are the spiritual presences of those who are depicted thereon.

How to do it - Part 2 - throughout the day

You will get great benefit by remembering to invoke the Name of Jesus in your daily activities. As Saint John Chrysostom says: whether we are sitting, or walking, or standing, or eating, or lying down, or studying, mentally repeat the holy Name of Jesus. And as Father Sullivan wrote in this classic Wonders of the Holy Name, "We must get into the habit of saying [the Holy Name] devoutly, frequently, hundreds and hundreds of times every day. Far from being a burden, it will be an immense joy and consolation...Who then can be so negligent or foolish as not acquire the habit of repeating 'Jesus, Jesus, Jesus' constantly. It robs us of no time, presents no difficulty, and is an infallible remedy for every evil."

We encourage you to try it for yourself and see. As contemporary author Frederica Mathews-Green wrote: "When you see everything alongside that best of friends, Jesus Christ, your encounters with the world and everyone and everything in it are transformed."

"The Name of Jesus is the shortest, the easiest, and the most powerful of prayers. Everyone can say it, even in the midst of their daily work. God cannot refuse to hear it." (Father Edward Sullivan, The Wonders of the Holy Name)