I recently bought a Orthodox prayer rope and have started praying the Jesus Prayer. I’ve been praying it every day for about a month now and through it am discovering a new-found intimacy with our Lord.
In this blog I will explain what the Jesus Prayer is and then offer 3 reasons you should consider incorporating it into your spiritual life.
The Jesus Prayer (sometimes called the Prayer of the Heart or the Prayer of a Single Thought) involves repeating the simple mantra, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” This is done often with the aid of a prayer rope. I bought mine here, but of course you could just use regular rosary beads. Oh, and those different colored beads that you see on the rope are just to track how many times you’ve said the prayer. They don’t indicate, as they do on the rosary, that a different prayer is to be said.
The History of the Prayer
The history of the Jesus Prayer goes back, as far as we know, to the early fifth or sixth century, with Diadochos of Photiki, who taught that repetition of the prayer leads to inner stillness. In his work, A Century on Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination, he wrote:
“Grace at first conceals its presence in those who have been baptized, waiting to see which way the soul inclines, but when the whole man has turned towards the Lord, it then reveals to the heart its presence and there, with the feeling which words cannot express, if then a man begins to make progress in keeping the commandments and calls ceaselessly upon the Lord Jesus, the fire of God’s grace spreads even to the heart’s most outward organs of perception, consciously burning up the tares in the field of the soul.” (85)
Just an Eastern Thing?
I know what some of you are thinking: But isn’t this just an eastern thing? Are we allowed to pray it as Catholics? Think about that for a second. You’re asking, “am I allowed to repeat as a prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me'”? Seriously? 🙂 Yes.
If you want to read what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about this practice, jump down to the end.
3 Reasons to Pray the Jesus Prayer
I have taken the following 3 reasons from a page on St.Vladamir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary website and have adapted them with some of my own thoughts.
1. In order to pray always!
St. Paul calls us to pray without ceasing 1 Thess 5:17. The real questions is, how. The Jesus Prayer provides one good way to pray constantly. Our task is to draw nearer to God. St. Isaac of Syria says that it is impossible to draw near to God by any means other than increasing prayer.
Our lives are filled with noise: podcasts, children, traffic, chatter; even social media and texting is noisy in the sense that it distracts and interrupts us. the Jesus Prayer enables us to spend 15 or so minutes in stillness. It overrides our usual compulsive stream of consciousness about our own anxieties. Beginning with this form of prayer, then we might be led to deeper inner stillness, prayer without words. The caution here is that prayer without words is not heaviness, semi-sleep dullness. Rather, wordless prayer is alive, vigorous God-awareness.
Contemplation has been described as clear awareness without words. Contemplation is a “seeing clearly.” We lay aside thoughts, not to lead to a vacuum or drowsiness, but to inner plenitude. We deny to affirm. Wordless contemplation is not an absence, but a presence, a God-awareness. The aim is to bring us into a direct meeting with a personal God, on God’s terms.
What the Catechism Says
The name of Jesus “is the only one that contains the presence it signifies. Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him.
This simple invocation of faith developed in the tradition of prayer under many forms in East and West. The most usual formulation, transmitted by the spiritual writers of the Sinai, Syria, and Mt. Athos, is the invocation, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners.” It combines the Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 with the cry of the publican and the blind men begging for light. By it the heart is opened to human wretchedness and the Savior’s mercy.
The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always. When the holy name is repeated often by a humbly attentive heart, the prayer is not lost by heaping up empty phrases, but holds fast to the word and “brings forth fruit with patience.” This prayer is possible “at all times” because it is not one occupation among others but the only occupation: that of loving God, which animates and transfigures every action in Christ Jesus” (2666-8).
Here’s a helpful explanation of the Jesus Prayer by John Michael Talbot: