The Jesus Prayer

“The Jesus Prayer, also called the “Prayer of the Heart”, the “Prayer of a Single Thought”, or simply “The Prayer”, is a short, simple prayer that has been widely used, taught and discussed throughout the history of Eastern Christianity. The exact words of the prayer have varied, from a simple form such as “Lord, have mercy” to an extended form:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.”
Jesus prayer monk
The form most in use on Mount Athos is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” It is particularly used in the practice of the spiritual life known as hesychasm.
It is, for the Orthodox, one of the most profound and mystical prayers and is often repeated endlessly as part of a personal ascetic practice. There have been a number of Roman Catholic texts on the subject, but its usage has never achieved the same degree of devotion as in the Eastern Church. A more elaborate version known to some Roman Catholics by the same name goes: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Your mercy.”
The prayer is most reflective of the lesson taught by the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee; in which the Pharisee demonstrates the improper way to pray by exclaiming, “Thank you Lord that I am not like the Publican.”
Publican Parisee
While the Publican in humility prays correctly “Lord have mercy on me, the sinner” (Luke 18:10-14). And likewise in the Gospels, Peter crying out as he sank into the sea, “Lord, save me.”
In the Orthodox tradition the prayer is said or prayed repeatedly, often with the aid of a prayer rope. It may be accompanied by prostrations and the sign of the cross. As such, it is used as a means of finding contrition and as a means of bringing about humility in the individual; hence the words “the sinner” are sometimes added as if no other sinner existed but the person praying (though there is no indefinite article in Greek, thus leading to some controversy about whether the translation in English should be “the sinner” or “a sinner”).
Monastics often have long sessions praying this prayer many hundreds of times each night as part of their discipline, and through the guidance of an elder, its practitioner’s ultimate goal is to “internalize” the prayer, so that one is praying unceasingly there-by accomplishing Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). The use of the Jesus Prayer in this way is the subject of the Russian classic “The Way of a Pilgrim.”
Way of the Pilgrim
For many, after a time, the Jesus Prayer enters into the heart, so that it is no longer recited by a deliberate effort, but recites itself spontaneously.”

“There are not fixed, invariable rules for those who pray, “the way there is no mechanical, physical or mental technique which can force God to show his presence” (Metropolitan Kallistos Ware).
People who say the prayer as part of meditation often synchronize it with their breathing; breathing in while calling out to God (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God) and breathing out while praying for mercy (have mercy on me, a sinner). Another option is to say (orally or mentally) the whole prayer while breathing in and again the whole prayer while breathing out and yet another, to breathe in recite the whole prayer, breathe out while reciting the whole prayer again. One can also hold the breath for a few seconds between breathing in and out. It is advised, in any of these three last cases, that this be done under some kind of spiritual guidance and supervision.
Jesus Prayer 6
Monks often pray this prayer many hundreds of times each night as part of their private cell vigil (“cell rule”). Under the guidance of an Elder (Russian Starets; Greek Gerondas), the monk aims to internalize the prayer, so that he is praying unceasingly. St. Diadochos of Photiki refers in “On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination” to the automatic repetition of the Jesus Prayer, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, even in sleep. This state is regarded as the accomplishment of Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
The Jesus Prayer can also be used for a kind of “psychological” self-analysis. According to the “Way of the Pilgrim” account and Mount Athos practitioners of the Jesus Prayer, “one can have some insight on his or her current psychological situation by observing the intonation of the words of the prayer, as they are recited. Which word is stressed most. This self-analysis could reveal to the praying person things about their inner state and feelings, maybe not yet realised, of their unconsciousness.”
Jesus prayer 7
“While praying the Jesus Prayer, one might notice that sometimes the word ‘Lord’ is pronounced louder, more stressed, than the others, like: Lord Jesus Christ, (Son of God), have mercy on me, (a/the sinner). In this case, they say, it means that our inner self is currently more aware of the fact that Jesus is the Lord, maybe because we need reassurance that he is in control of everything (and our lives too). Other times, the stressed word is ‘Jesus’: Lord Jesus Christ, (Son of God), have mercy on me, (a/the sinner). In that case, they say, we feel the need to personally appeal more to his human nature, the one that is more likely to understand our human problems and shortcomings, maybe because we are going through tough personal situations. Likewise if the word ‘Christ’ is stressed it could be that we need to appeal to Jesus as Messiah and Mediator, between humans and God the Father, and so on. When the word ‘Son’ is stressed maybe we recognise more Jesus’ relationship with the Father. If ‘of God’ is stressed then we could realise more Jesus’ unity with the Father. A stressed ‘have mercy on me’ shows a specific, or urgent, need for mercy. A stressed ‘a sinner’ (or ‘the sinner’) could mean that there is a particular current realisation of the sinful human nature or a particular need for forgiveness.
“In order to do this kind of self-analysis one should better start reciting the prayer relaxed and naturally for a few minutes – so the observation won’t be consciously ‘forced’, and then to start paying attention to the intonation as described above.
Also, a person might want to consciously stress one of the words of the prayer in particular when one wants to express a conscious feeling of situation. So in times of need stressing the ‘have mercy’ part can be more comforting or more appropriate. In times of failures, the ‘a sinner’ part, etc….)”.
Paul Evdokimov, a 20th-century Russian philosopher and theologian, writes about beginner’s way of praying: initially, the prayer is excited because the man is emotive and a flow of psychic contents is expressed. In his view this condition comes, for the modern men, from the separation of the mind from the heart: “The prattle spreads the soul, while the silence is drawing it together.” Old fathers condemned elaborate phraseologies, for one word was enough for the publican, and one word saved the thief on the cross. They only uttered Jesus’ name by which they were contemplating God. For Evdokimov the acting faith denies any formalism which quickly installs in the external prayer or in the life duties; he quotes St. Seraphim: “The prayer is not thorough if the man is self-conscious and he is aware he’s praying.”
“Because the prayer is a living reality, a deeply personal encounter with the living God, it is not to be confined to any given classification or rigid analysis” an on-line catechism reads.
Jesus Prayer 8
As general guidelines for the practitioner, different number of levels (3, 7 or 9) in the practice of the prayer are distinguished by Orthodox fathers. They are to be seen as being purely informative, because the practice of the Prayer of the Heart is learned under personal spiritual guidance in Eastern Orthodoxy which emphasizes the perils of temptations when it’s done by one’s own. Thus, Theophan the Recluse, a 19th-century Russian spiritual writer, talks about three stages:
• The oral prayer (the prayer of the lips) is a simple recitation, still external to the practitioner.
• The focused prayer, when “the mind is focused upon the words” of the prayer, “speaking them as if they were our own.”
• The prayer of the heart itself, when the prayer is no longer something we do but who we are.
Once this is achieved the Jesus Prayer is said to become “self-active” (αυτενεργούμενη). It is repeated automatically and unconsciously by the mind, having a Tetris Effect, like a (beneficial) Earworm. Body, through the uttering of the prayer, mind, through the mental repetition of the prayer, are thus unified with “the heart” (spirit) and the prayer becomes constant, ceaselessly “playing” in the background of the mind, like a background music, without hindering the normal everyday activities of the person.
Others, like Father Archimandrite Ilie Cleopa, one of the most representative spiritual fathers of contemporary Romanian Orthodox monastic spirituality, talk about nine levels. They are the same path to theosis, more slenderly differentiated:
• The prayer of the lips.
• The prayer of the mouth.
• The prayer of the tongue.
• The prayer of the voice.
• The prayer of the mind.
• The prayer of the heart.
• The active prayer.
• The all-seeing prayer.
• The contemplative prayer.
In its more advanced use, the monk aims to attain to a sober practice of the Jesus Prayer in the heart free of images. It is from this condition, called by Saints John Climacus and Hesychios the “guard of the mind”, that the monk is raised by the Divine grace to contemplation.”

See also:

Some Reading:
Pn the Prayer of Jesus Br
Ignatius Brianchaninov “On the Prayer of Jesus” [New Seeds, 2006]
Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer
Norris Chumley “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer: Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality” [HarperOne, 2011]
Power of the name 2
George Dion Dragas, Alphonse Goettmann and Rachel Goettmann “The Power of the Name: The History and the Practices of the Jesus Prayer” [Orthodox Research Institute, 2008]
Jesus Prayer Gillet
Lev Gillet “The Jesus Prayer” [St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1987]
On the Invocation
Lev Gillet “On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus” [Templegate Publishing, 1985]
Jesus prayer matthews
Frederica Matthewes-Green “The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God” [Paraclete Press, 2009]
Power Ware 2
Kallistos Ware “The Power of the Name: Jesus Prayer in Orthodox Spirituality” [Fairacres Publications, 1985]
Way 1
“’The Way of a Pilgrim, or The Pilgrim’s Tale’, is the English title of a 19th-century Russian work, recounting the narrator’s journey as a mendicant pilgrim across Russia while practicing the Jesus Prayer. It is unknown if the book is literally an account of a single pilgrim, or if it uses a fictional pilgrim’s journey as a vehicle to teach the practice of ceaseless inner prayer and communion with God.
Way Russian
The Russian original, or a copy of it, was present at a Mount Athos monastery in Greece in the 19th century, and was first published in Kazan in 1884, under the Russian title that translates as “Candid Narratives of a Pilgrim to His Spiritual Father.”
“The Way of a Pilgrim” is one of the most widely circulated prayer manuals in the Western world, with the “Jesus Prayer” possibly the most widely practiced Christian prayer after the “Lord’s Prayer” and “Hail Mary”. The popularity of the book was influential in the modern rediscovery of hesychasm as a living practice. The pilgrim’s method of prayer that is described in the book has received a mixed reception over the years from academics and clergy.
Saint Ignatius Bryanchaninov wrote that the book might give a student the impression that “unceasing prayer of the heart,” one goal of the practice, can be achieved after only a few weeks of practice, but that the pilgrim’s experience and preparation were remarkable. His life leading up to the practice, and his study under a starets (his spiritual father), prepared him for the beneficial results he received.
Way 2
In a positive introduction to the translation by Olga Savin, Thomas Hopko describes the book as a “spiritual classic” which teaches that ceaseless prayer is not only the goal, and the one thing worth living for, but is “life itself.” Like other clergy, he points out that the pilgrim teaches the practice of ceaseless prayer should be done with the guidance of a spiritual father, and with active participation in the Church and liturgy. He wrote that the book is for all who are pilgrims, and that it “provides protection and nourishment for the trip, pointing to its perils and demonstrating its rewards.”
Professor of the Moscow Theological Academy A.I. Ospiov speaks in an interview about his article on this subject. In his opinion, the aim of the prayer, its steps, connection of the nous and the heart, the actions of grace in the book — all contradict the teaching of the Holy Fathers and can lead to delusion (prelest). Besides many Holy Fathers, professor A.I. Osipov cites the letters of St. Theophan the Recluse, who initially corrected one of the editions of the book. In the end of his life, St. Theophan wrote to some person not to read the book because some of the advices are not suitable for that person, they can lead him to prelest.
Way 3
Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) also cautions about the limitations of the pilgrim’s method of the prayer in his book on imiaslavie and Jesus prayer. Metropolitan Hilarion writes that the pilgrim’s rate of the prayer is significantly faster than in the teaching of St. Ignatius Brianchaninov and St. Theophan the Recluse, who also did not recommend to use psychosomatic method of the prayer. Metropolitan Hilarion writes that St. Theophan removed the writings of the Holy Fathers on psychosomatic method from his edition of the book and edited some parts that could cause prelest. On the other hand, Metropolitan Hilarion notes the success of the book and its role in the acquaintance of the West with the Eastern Christian practices of the Jesus prayer.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: