The Jesus Prayer

Two men go to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray.  One stands by himself and begins to pray in a loud voice:  “God, I thank You that I am not like other people:  thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week.  I give a tenth of my income.”  The second man stands off to the side with his head bowed, beating his breast.  He cries out to the Lord:  “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”  When Jesus shares this parable, it is the tax collector who is justified in God’s eyes because he asks the Lord for mercy, while the Pharisee wants to earn his way to heaven by his own goodness (Luke 18).  This heartfelt prayer of the humbled tax collector is the basis for The Jesus Prayer, which has been a popular devotion in the Orthodox Churches for many centuries.  The words of The Jesus Prayer are based on Scriptural texts:  the cry of the blind man sitting at the side of the Jericho road, “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 of the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:14).
The most common form of the prayer is: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”  A longer version is:  “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  The first mention of The Jesus Prayer is found in the writings of St. Symeon (994-1022 AD) who was a Byzantine monk living in Galatia.  He wrote of the importance of a personal relationship with Christ with its foundation in a rich and constant prayer life.  The Jesus Prayer was practiced in Eastern Orthodox communities as a way of integrating praying into every waking hour.  St. Gregory of Sinai suggested praying this prayer in rhythm with one’s breathing.  To do this, inhale on the words “Lord Jesus Christ” and exhale while praying “have mercy on me.”  Praying in this way will help focus your thoughts on Christ and help keep distractions at a minimum.  Many people use The Jesus Prayer to help settle their hearts and minds before beginning another devotional practice such as praying a Rosary or meditating on a passage of Sacred Scripture. 
For the Orthodox monks who developed and passed down this prayer, it was a way of leading their hearts into God’s presence. This isn’t a prayer to obtain something from God, but rather it is a way of learning to be with God.  It was never taught as a “quick fix” or an easy path, however.  The Church fathers emphasized patience and perseverance.  The content of the prayer is, after all, Christ Himself.  An anonymously-written 19th century Russian book called “The Way of the Pilgrim” is an excellent introduction to The Jesus Prayer.  It’s the story of a man traveling through Russia who is trying to put into practice the instruction of St. Paul to “pray without ceasing” (Thessalonians 5:17).  As he discovers The Jesus Prayer, his spiritual journey is deepened and transformed.  This prayer is deceptively simple—just seven words.  “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”  Yet it opens our hearts and lives to the Lord in a deep and profound way.  When we pray these words, we are saying to God:  “I am open to You.  Take my life and have Your will with me.  Your will, Lord, not mine.”  Being with Jesus in this way is being at His mercy.  This is exactly where we, as children of God, long to be and hope to be.  We desire with all our hearts to be so close to Him that His will and our will are the same.  It’s a prayer almost beyond words in its depth and intimacy.  Praying these simple words can easily be done during the course of anyone’s busy day, keeping our hearts and minds focused on Christ’s love and mercy while we work, or drive, or stand in line.  Whenever we turn our hearts to Him in this way, we’ll discover that He is already close to us, longing for our attention and conversation, waiting to give us whatever we most need.  “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”
“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.” 
            —The Catechism of the Catholic Church

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Edward Kato
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 03:51:14

    The Jesus Prayer


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