The Jesus Prayer
“Rejoice always, never cease praying, render constant thanks; such is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18].
The Jesus Prayer is the briefest meditation in the Eastern Church’s tradition. It was developed within the monastic community as an answer to the biblical admonishment to “pray without ceasing.” Though brief, it is all inclusive: confessional, in that Christ is acknowledged to be the true Son of God; petitional, in that mercy is asked of the Lord; penitential, in that one’s sinfulness is recognized.
The power of the Jesus Prayer is rooted in a conviction that God’s presence is transformative. This prayer centers on the Holy Name itself. It may be said in its entirety: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”; it may be changed to “us sinners” or to other persons named, or it may be shortened. The power lies in the name of Jesus; thus “Jesus” alone, may fulfill the whole need of the one who prays.
The word “mercy” joins Jesus and us in the Jesus Prayer. In this prayer we ask Christ to pour His oil of healing, of love, of forgiveness upon us. The Jesus Prayer is like a balm, a salve which heals the broken soul.
The Jesus Prayer can be used for worship and petition; as intercession, invocation, adoration, and as thanksgiving. It is a means of communion with God and with all those who pray. The goal is to make it so that your breath becomes a pray in itself. The prayer will become automatic, to the point that whenever you are in silence you will just find yourself in prayer via the your natural breathing. You will begin to pray without ceasing, “Prayer of the heart” is when the Jesus Prayer is sunk so deeply in our hearts that it moves on its own. The fact that we can train our hearts to go on praying even when we sleep, keeps us uninterruptedly within the community of prayer.
We can work on saying this prayer with each breath: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, as we breathe in, have mercy on me, a sinner, as we breathe out. We can say this aloud, silently with the words on our lips, or silently in our hearts. This prayer should be repeated quietly, unhurriedly, thoughtfully. Each thought should be concentrated on Jesus, forgetting all else, both joys and sorrows. Any stray thought, however good or pious, can become an obstacle. St. John of the Ladder counsels that the mind should be locked into the words of the prayer and should be forced back each time it departs from it.
THE SCRIPTURAL ROOTS OF THE JESUS PRAYER:
The words of the Jesus Prayer are themselves based on Scriptural texts: the cry of the blind man sitting at the side of the road near Jericho, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (Luke 18:38); the ten lepers who “called to him, Jesus, Master, take pity on us’ ” (Luke 17:13); and the cry for mercy of the publican, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:14).
THE THREE LEVELS OF PRAYER:
1. It begins as oral prayer or prayer of the lips, prayerful gestures and bodily posture. This includes the sign of the cross, prostrations, kneeling, standing, and prayerful folding our hands. Although very important, this level of prayer is still external to us and thus only the first step, for “the essence or soul of prayer is within a man’s mind and heart.”
2. As we enter more deeply into prayer, we reach a level at which we begin to pray without distraction.
3. The third and final level is prayer of the heart. At this stage prayer is no longer something we do but who we are. Such prayer is a gift of the Spirit.
THE FRUITS OF THE JESUS PRAYER:
1.This return to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit is the goal of all Christian spirituality.
“When I prayed in my heart, everything around me seemed delightful and marvelous. The trees, the grass, the birds, the air, the light seemed to be telling me that they existed for man’s sake, that they witnessed to the love of God for man, that all things prayed to God and sang his praise.”
2. The Prayer transfigures our relationship to our fellow human beings.
“Again I started off on my wanderings. But now I did not walk along as before, filled with care. The invocation of the Name of Jesus gladdened my way. Everybody was kind to me. If anyone harms me I have only to think, ‘How sweet is the Prayer of Jesus!’ and the injury and the anger alike pass away and I forget it all.”
3. Endless Growth: “Growth in prayer has no end; if this growth ceases, it means that life ceases.” The way of the heart is endless because the God whom we seek is infinite in the depths of his glory. The Jesus Prayer is a signpost along the spiritual journey, a journey that all of us must take.
Chotky or the prayer rope is used to focus one’s thoughts on the “Jesus Prayer” or “Prayer of the Heart”. When not in use the chotky can be wrapped around the left wrist like a bracelet, never as a decoration, but as a reminder to pray without ceasing.
Adapted with appreciation from:
The Jesus Prayer by Father Andrew Wach
Fr. Steven Peter Tsichlis: The Jesus Prayer at https://www.goarch.org/-/the-jesus-prayer