The Jesus Prayer

ZEALOUS Christians have a certain technique that they apply to secure the continual remembrance of God more firmly.

It is the constant repetition of a short prayer, ordinarily either, “Lord, have mercy,” or “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

If you haven’t heard this, then listen now. If you have never done this, begin now.

St Theophan the Recluse (from St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church).

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In the video above, we can hear Elder Ephraim of Philotheou saying the ‘Jesus Prayer’ in Greek.

Κύριε Ιησοῦ Χριστέ, ἐλέησόν με.
LORD Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me.

He intersperses it with a short prayer to Mary, the ever-Virgin and Mother of God.

Παναγία (or Υπεραγία) Θεοτόκε, σῶσόν με/ἡμᾶς.
All holy (or Most holy) Birth-giver of God, save me/us.

It must be emphasised that the Jesus Prayer is not a mantra or magic formula. It therefore takes many forms (see Wikipedia). Nevertheless, it has one power, because the one constant is Christ.

THE essential point in the Jesus prayer is not the act of repetition in itself, not how we sit or breathe, but to whom we speak… The Jesus prayer is not just a device to help us concentrate or relax. It is not simply a piece of Christian Yoga, a type of Transcendental Meditation, or a Christian mantra… It is, on the contrary, an invocation specifically addressed to another person — to God made man, Jesus Christ, our personal Saviour and Redeemer.

Bishop Kallistos Ware.

By way of illustration, contrast Elder Ephraim’s way of sighing it out, with the more intensely beseeching tone of Elder Joseph Vatopaidinos (listen here and here).

Both were spiritual children of Joseph the Hesychast (+1959), but their ways of saying the Prayer could not be more different (h/t Mystagogy).

You can read some of Elder Joseph Vatopaidinos’s beautiful and touching thoughts on prayer at the Fountain of Elias blog (RC).

See Saying the Jesus Prayer, by Dr Albert S. Rossi (of St Vladimir’s Seminary), which is directed principally at people living ordinary lives, and also posts tagged “Jesus Prayer” here at Gabriel’s Message.

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Quotations from ‘The Ladder of Divine Ascent’

The following quotations come from “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” by St John Climacus, Abbot of the Monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai in the early 7th century.

FIGHT always with your thoughts and call them back when they wander away. God does not demand of those under obedience that their thoughts be totally undistracted when they pray. And do not lose heart when your thoughts are stolen away. Just remain calm, and constantly call your mind back.

Step IV

GOD is not unjust. He will not slam the door against the man who humbly knocks.

DEMONS often prevent us from what would be easy and valuable for us. Instead they like to push us into trying what is harder.

[I’ve quoted this and some similar passages because it seems to me that the very simplicity of the Prayer leads us to undervalue it.]

I HAVE observed men who were sick in soul and body and who, out of a sense of the great number of their sins, tried to do what was beyond their power, and therefore failed. To these I say that God judges our repentance not by our exertions but by our humility.

Step XXVI

WHEN you set out to appear before the Lord, let the garment of your soul be woven throughout with the thread of wrongs no longer remembered. Otherwise, prayer will be useless to you.

THE beginning of prayer is the expulsion of distractions from the very start by a single thought [or: by a repeated short prayer]; the middle stage is the concentration on what is being said or thought; its conclusion is rapture in the Lord.

MAKE the effort to raise up, or rather, to enclose your mind within the words of your prayer; and if, like a child, it gets tired and falters, raise it up again. The mind, after all, is naturally unstable, but the God who can do everything can also give it firm endurance.

AFTER a long spell of prayer, do not say that nothing has been gained, for you have already achieved something. For, after all, what higher good is there than to cling to the Lord and to persevere in an unceasing union with him?

DO not form sensory images during prayer, for distraction will certainly follow.

ALWAYS be brave, and God will teach you your prayer.

IF you are careful to train your mind never to wander, it will stay by you even at mealtimes.

Step XXVIII

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Resources

A talk (audio) in English by Moscow Archpriest Artemy Vladimirov, pastor of the Church of All Saints in Krasnoselsk

Introduction to the Prayer, from OCA

From the Orthodox Prayer website

Advice from St Ignatius Bianchaninov

On the Jesus Prayer, by Fr Thomas Hopko, and Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

On the Jesus Prayer, by Mother Alexandra

Saying the Jesus Prayer, by Dr Albert S. Rossi (St Vladimir’s Seminary)

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