Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer

by Fr. Harvey

Early on within the Christian community, around the third and fourth centuries, groups of men and women literally moved into the deserts of Egypt and Syria. There they were able to strip themselves of everything superfluous and self centered in order to live as close as possible in the presence of God. They had answered literally the call of Jesus to leave all and follow Him. Pseudo Marcarius in his Spiritual Homilies describes them as “men intoxicated with God.” Called by the Holy Spirit that had sent Jesus into the desert, they sought to pray always as St. Paul exhorts the Thessalonians. “Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thess. 5:17.

The answer to this dilemma was found within scripture buried within the second prayer that Jesus taught. Jesus had taught his disciples to pray the Our Father, but within the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Luke 18:9-14, was another prayer. “God have mercy on me a sinner.”

Taking this as a starting point and continuing to search scripture it was found that in John 16:23 that Jesus had taught, “…whatever you ask the Father in my name; He will give you.” Other close examples of the Jesus Prayer can be found with the blind beggar, Luke 18:38, who said; “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Even after being rebuked the beggar kept calling out; “Son of David, have mercy on me.” This in turn followed another example taught by Jesus, Luke 11:5-14, where it is indicated that one must ask over and over and use “persistence” in prayer. This is bolstered by Luke 18:6 where it says: “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?”

Thus the Jesus Prayer was born. The common words being; “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” These words were repeated over and over forming what one could call the first Christian mantra. The mere use of the Holy name of Jesus lifted one into the divine presence. Deification took place and many miracles were reported of those who practiced this prayer. These early Christians of the desert literally became the prayer as with practice the prayer moved into their hearts and joined to the rhythm of their breathing. It was said one could fall asleep and upon awakening know exactly what word the prayer was on as it continued by itself, vocally within.

Jesus Christ waits for us to pronounce His holy name. There is a mystical magic to this act, as each time the name Jesus Christ is said, He becomes more manifest, born again and again within ones heart. With each saying of His holy name, He is able to become solidified and more a part of ourselves. Mary first pronounced His name. We were given this power upon baptism, a power that increases each time we utter His sacred name, especially with reverence and love. Jesus Christ then lives in a new and wonderful way within our hearts. As Paul says in Ephesians 3:14-19: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

There are basically three stages to the Jesus Prayer. At first one prays aloud using the voice. This develops into habit whereas the prayer comes easy to the mind and is familiar. Then in the second stage the prayer becomes more interior. It acquires a rhythm of its own and the mind repeats it without any conscious act of the will. Warmth comes into being and one feels lost and even empty without the companionship of the prayer. Finally comes the last stage, whereas the prayer enters the heart, dominating the whole of the personality. The movement of the heart becomes the movement of the prayer and as the two become one, breathing enters the picture and a trinity is forged. It is at this stage that the prayer continues and has life of its own. No matter what the person is doing, talking, eating, writing or sleeping, the prayer continues of its own volition. Then one joins St. Paul and cries out; “…yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” Ga. 2:20.

The use of the Jesus Prayer became known as hesychia. A word that means “inner calm” or tranquility or peace. Hesychia is a state whereas Christians through grace and their own intense asceticism can reintegrate their whole being into a single entity that is completely under the direct influence and filled with the Trinity dwelling within.

St. Gregory of Sinai is credited with starting the renaissance of hesychasm on Mt. Athos in the 14th century. This later movement became the central Orthodox doctrine of mystical union with God. The writings of the early fathers were collected and became the basis for the Philokalia (in Greek, meaning, “the love of the good.”) This was compiled by St. Nikodimos of the holy mountain (Mt. Athos) and Macarius of Corinth and first published in Greek in Venice in 1782. The Philokalia was later translated into Church Slavonic and spread to Rumania and throughout Russia. Today it is finally being translated and published in English.

However no book on the Jesus Prayer will ever out shine a simple little work called, “The Way of a Pilgrim.” This work was translated into European Languages after Russian emigrants brought it to the West. This unpretentious tale of a Russian pilgrim has taught generations how to practice and pray the Jesus Prayer and paved the way for westerners to learn and appreciate the divine manifestations of our Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ and share in this wondrous adventure of becoming literally one with Christ.



1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Cherish Kulka  |  November 1, 2010 at 13:27

    My mind is full of many questions after reading this. I will have to research this .As you know I started praying every morning all because you said start out with two mintues a day. I used to pray and found that my life was peaceful. You made me relize that I was no longer prayer thus inviting Christ in my daily life. Some mornings when I would be rushing around with my head cut off, I started to wonder what I have forgotten and then would smile and give praise for the Grace that reminded me that I forgot to start my day with Prayer. I find now that I pray often and it requires nothing as I thought it would. Instead it replenshes me and I thank you… once you said it will only take two minutes to make prayer life happen. Those two minutes had lead to so much more and now longer than two minutes And I have the attention span of a fly….:)
    Thanks and Much Love Jim

    Peace be with you Cherish


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