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St Isaac sand

‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner’ – so goes the Orthodox ‘Jesus Prayer’, which I, like many Orthodox, pray using a prayer-rope. It is shorter than the Rosary, but it serves a not dissimilar purpose – it quietens the mind and helps one meditate on God. I prayed it a lot on Monday evening, and one of the Sisters, interested in what I was doing, asked me why it was I prayed it as well as the Rosary – was the ‘Jesus prayer’ not ‘foreign’ to our tradition in the West?

I had to say that I’d no idea. Chalcedon introduced me to it many years ago, and it has long been part of my practice. During my illness, when I was too weak to pray the Rosary, I used to hold on to my prayer-rope and just chant the prayer. It seemed very appropriate to say it to mark the start of the ‘Year of Mercy’ proclaimed by Pope Francis.

As I am not a Roman Catholic, I don’t propose to enter into the whys and wherefores of Pope Francis. From outside the Church of Rome it seems to me that he’s a holy man who loves God and who wants us to talk more about love than about sin. I understand why some will be made uneasy by all of this – it isn’t, after all, as though our society exactly majors on ‘sin’, and I can share an unease about where the balance lies. That said, is there really a balance with God? As I understand what Geoffrey has been saying to us in his posts on Monday and yesterday, it is that God’s Mercy is quite unbalanced. In this he reflects something written by my beloved St Isaac the Syrian, which is quoted here by one of my all-time favourite bloggers, Fr Aidan Kimel

“Mercy is opposed to justice” …

Mercy and justice in one soul is like a man who worships God and the idols in one house. Mercy is opposed to justice. Justice is the equality of the even scale, for it gives to each as he deserves; and when it makes recompense, it does not incline to one side or show respect of persons. Mercy, on the other hand, is a sorrow and pity stirred up by goodness, and it compassionately inclines a man in the direction of all; it does not requite a man who is deserving of evil, and to him who is deserving of good it gives a double portion. If, therefore, it is evident that mercy belongs to the portion of righteousness, then justice belongs to the portion of wickedness. As grass and fire cannot co-exist in one place, so justice and mercy cannot abide in one soul. As a grain of sand cannot counterbalance a great quantity of gold, so in comparison God’s use of justice cannot counterbalance His mercy. (Ascetical Homilies I.51. p. 379)

Do read the whole of Fr Aidan’s post, which seems to me to be suffused with the love of God. He quotes what is probably the most provocative statement in the whole of the Patristic canon: “Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you” Hyperbole? Read what Fr Aidan writes and make your own mind up.

Justice would be for me to be condemned. I think even though I try to be good and to do as God tells me, I am not good all the time and I fail, not only in the things I do, but in those I fail to do. But God tells me I am saved because of the Resurrected Word Incarnate, who has taken away my sins – and my sin. I think I draw a distinction, but perhaps err? Any way, I thought I would share these thoughts with you for the ‘Year of Mercy’.