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The Constant Prayer Jesus Prayer

Do you seek a way that can lead you into unceasing worship and constant prayer?  Into a permanent awareness of the presence of God? Do you want your heart to fully embrace the Lord Jesus and for Him to embrace your heart, to become united with His heart? Are you looking for a path towards spiritual perfection, even without being a full-time clergy?  

Then the Jesus Prayer could be your answer. The Jesus Prayer is the prayer of God’s presence. It is the heart’s cry for Him to draw near, for a deep unity with Him: ‘you in Me and I in you’ (John 14:20). It is the bride’s ceaseless invocation of the name of her Beloved. Even in the busiest of times or in your most troubled moments, the Jesus Prayer will revive Christ in you and lead you back into the peace and stillness of the heart: ‘be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10).

Jesus Prayer English

What is the Jesus Prayer?

The Jesus Prayer is the repeated, continuous invocation of the name of our Saviour. Usually, the Holy Name is accompanied with some further attributes and combined with a short request. The prayer is as follows: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. This phrase is repeated over and over—ideally until it becomes an unceasing prayer of the heart. It is the power of the name of Jesus that makes the Jesus Prayer different from other repeated invocations. 

The Desert Fathers knew and prayed this Prayer

The fathers of the Egyptian desert praised and recommended the practice of continually repeating biblical phrases throughout the day, especially while working. St. Macarius the Great talks about the unceasing recitation of the ‘sweet name of Jesus’. The Desert fathers would repeat simple petitions such as, ‘Jesus, help me!’, or ‘Jesus, have mercy on me’. Over the centuries this practice of calling upon Jesus’ presence has developed to become a fundamental mystical discipline in the Eastern Orthodox churches for working out our salvation. “The Way of the Pilgrim”, the 19th century account of the journey of an unnamed Russian author in search of unceasing prayer, made the Jesus Prayer known far beyond the East. Since then, it has found a growing number of devotees also in the West. 

What is the purpose of this Prayer?

Its aim is not to reach a certain spiritual state, or even achieve a specific result. Essentially, the Prayer is the heart’s cry of the believer unto the Lord Jesus to constantly unite with Him. 

Moreover, as God is always merciful, and the grace of God is a free gift, this Prayer is not a way to somehow earn God’s mercy. Rather, it is a way for believers, so often distracted by many things, to clear their minds and hearts from the distracting thoughts and images and to open them more to God’s mercy that is always available to them. Attaining perfection in this Prayer, allows man to acquire a state of inner stillness (hesychia) and give him absolute control over his thoughts, so that he can truly pray to God and unite with Him. In such unity, man can become a partaker in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4)—which is called theosis or deification. Every Christian is ultimately called to this blessed state.

Is it biblical?

Apostle Paul exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to pray without ceasing. As already mentioned, early Christians pondered how they could do so, even while sleeping! The Desert Fathers attempted to constantly remember God by repeating short petitions throughout their entire day. But what about the night? It is recorded that, when the person earnestly perseveres in this prayer, the heart begins to pray it automatically—even when the person is sleeping—as the bride in Song of Solomon 5:2 who says: ‘I sleep, but my heart is awake’. It is a cry like that of Bartimaeus, the blind man, who cried out: ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ (Mark 10:47). 

Is it for everyone?

Every Christian is called to unite with God, every moment. In our world, which is full of distractions and vanities, the Jesus Prayer is a way to calm and refocus our hearts on our loving God who is always waiting for us. It can be prayed in times of silence and solitude, with a prayer rope (similar to a rosary), or repeated quietly throughout the day, while we go about our daily tasks. It is a way to open the door of the heart wider to God, so that He might reign in our lives, and reign in our world.

Jesus Prayer—Prayer of the Heart

The Jesus Prayer is simple: Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me.

According to numerous Church Fathers, this Prayer is ‘essential’ to our spiritual growth. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom says that the Jesus Prayer ‘more than any other’, helps us to be able to ‘stand in God’s presence’. This means that the Jesus Prayer helps us to focus our mind exclusively on God with ‘no other thought’ occupying our mind but the thought of God. At this moment when our mind is totally concentrated on God, we discover a very personal and direct relationship with Him.

Theological foundation 

The Prayer begins with the name of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ. Three texts from the New Testament are of special importance for the veneration of the name of Jesus. 

In the book of Acts we read: ‘There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). 

Also, apostle Paul writes: ‘God has given him a name which is above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth’ (Philippians 2:9-10). 

In the Gospel of John, we read the words of Jesus to His disciples, revealing to them the following: ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full’ (John 16:23-24).

Jesus Christ—the power in the name

The power in the Prayer comes from our proclaiming the Lord’s name. In its simple form we confess our faith in Jesus Christ as our God and Lord.

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov says, 

‘By the power of the name of Jesus the mind is freed from doubt, indecision and hesitation, the will is strengthened and correctness is given to zeal and other properties of the soul’ (On the Prayer of Jesus, p.25). 

In other words, he is saying that as we engage in this Prayer, the mind is freed from its confusion caused by the attacks of the numerous thoughts that distract us from God. As the mind is tamed through the repetition of this Prayer, the mind is brought under control through God’s grace, so that we can use our rational faculties to direct our bodies in an appropriate way, allowing us to act in a manner that is consistent with the teaching of Jesus.

Jesus Prayer requires humility

The Jesus Prayer is also a complete practice of humility. As we say this Prayer, we cry out to God to ‘have mercy on us’. 

St. Maximos points out that pride, the opposite of humility and the predominant sin of mankind, consists of two forms of ignorance. The first is the ignorance of the divine power and the second is the ignorance of human weakness. The humble person is one who has faith in the divine power and recognises his own weaknesses. Therefore, in the Jesus Prayer we confess the power of Christ as our Lord and God along with our weaknesses seeking His mercy.

The Lord said: ‘Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart’ (Matthew 11:29). He also said: ‘Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 18:4). Jesus teaches and encourages us to learn humility from Him. 

Jesus Prayer has two purposes

The Jesus Prayer is very powerful in its simplicity. But it is not just a method to discipline the mind. It is much more. It enables us to participate in the life of Christ. It allows us to call Him into our thoughts and feelings continually, to make Him a part of our minds and hearts in a living way. This Prayer brings Christ into every aspect of our life. It is with us no matter where we are or what we are doing. It eventually becomes a living part of us and is continually repeated in our hearts. Remember, its aim is the union with Christ and not some kind of spiritual experience or peaceful state.

The Jesus Prayer has two important purposes. The first is worship as with all prayer. The second is a discipline to help our soul gain control of our overactive minds and create stillness, so that the Holy Spirit can work through us and help us live out the virtues in union with God.

Jesus Prayer has three stages in practice

The Jesus Prayer involves three stages of progress in its practice. You begin praying the Jesus Prayer by repeating the words of the Prayer out loud or at least moving the lips. This is called the verbal prayer. After some time, saying of the Jesus Prayer becomes silent or mental and is repeated only in the mind. This is the mental prayer. Finally, the Jesus Prayer becomes a continuous prayer in the heart, the inner core of our being. We begin with the verbal prayer, and do not try to force the move to the mental prayer. This will happen naturally when you are ready.

When you try to unite your mind with your heart, the mind encounters a hardness in the heart and cannot easily penetrate it. The mind will also be frustrated and distracted by many other thoughts. As you begin to enter into the mental prayer, the words will be said in your mind and not in your heart. Only later, after much patience and effort, will you be able to penetrate the heart. Try to keep your focus on the words as you pray, and it will naturally open the door of your heart (Advice from Elder Paisios on Hardness of the Heart).

The third level is called prayer of the heart. At this level, prayer is no longer something you do, but something you are. This stage involves a transforming action as you discover your true nature. The prayer is now said continuously without any effort in the heart. This kind of prayer comes as a gift of the Holy Spirit, as apostle Paul tells us: ‘God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit that cries ‘Abba, Father!'” (Galatians 4:6). At this stage we know what it means to be in union with God. We feel the divine presence within and sometimes are connected with the vision of the uncreated light, which is the pure energy of God. We can experience the Kingdom of heaven within each of us. At this stage the door of our heart is wide open and we find our lives transformed as we begin to live a life of love. We now can pray ‘without ceasing’ (Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; 1 Timothy 2:8; Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Timothy 1:2) as the Scriptures instruct us.

Jesus Prayer in practice

In praying the Jesus Prayer, the early church teaching tells us to say it over and over, repeating it hundreds of times as part of our daily prayer life. It is best to add the Jesus Prayer to your morning prayers as this is when the mind is the quietest. Begin by saying the Jesus Prayer verbally focusing on each word. Repeat the Jesus Prayer continually for 15 minutes at first and then expand to 30 minutes. You will experience the challenge of dealing with your thoughts, the tendency of your mind to wander. Attention when praying the Jesus Prayer is important. Be sincere in your prayer and repeat it with contrition. 

Jesus Prayer is a long and difficult path

Practicing the Jesus Prayer is a difficult task and like all ascetic practices it requires the commitment of time, patience, and perseverance. Remember that the aim of the Jesus Prayer is not to obtain a calmness or any kind of spiritual experience, but to be in communion with God and participate in His grace.

To transform our being and free our mind from the dominion of passions, and to bring the mind into the heart to be aligned with God as its focus, is not a simple task. Reflect on the difficulty you encountered in developing other disciplines you have learned and acquired in your life, whether it relates to your work life, home life, or a sport. You will find that the same is even more true in your spiritual life. 

The practice of the Jesus Prayer requires a firm commitment, much effort and time. The practice of the Jesus Prayer must become a daily practice and engrained in your daily life. It is not something that you can allow yourself to say, ‘I am too busy today’, or ‘I feel too tired for prayer’. It must become just like the other things you do without fail, like the simple act of brushing your teeth, taking a shower, and other such activities that are not treated as options in your life. If you skip it, you should have the same unclean feeling as if you skipped your shower or brushing your teeth. This is how daily prayer needs to find its place in your life. It needs to become an integral part of your life.

We need to be cautious about being overzealous in the beginning. When we start a new activity, we are often overly enthusiastic and throw ourselves into it with great zeal. We think that we can do anything with our own will power. But, when faced with difficulty, we very quickly fail and often do not finish the race. We often find that what we started with such zeal is too difficult to master, and we become discouraged and soon give up. We need to be aware of this tendency and try to start with the understanding that this is a difficult process. Make a commitment to enter into it with humility, seeking the help of God, and begin slowly so that you can finish the race. 

As you repeat the Prayer over many months you will find that it gradually, on its own accord, goes deeper and deeper into your consciousness and will begin to act on your soul. 

The church teaching counsels us not to be too concerned about the difficulty that we will encounter, reminding us that we are fighting against strong forces for our salvation. We must recognize the nature of our mind and how it is programmed to keep things as they are. To live in union with God, there must be changes made in our mental programming. This is not easily done. This is why we say that the Prayer has two functions. One is worship with repentance and with humility, and the other is to develop the capacity to focus our attention on the Prayer and God. 

The Jesus Prayer will lead us from earth to heaven and carry us to another world, if we have patience and perseverance. St. Ignatius Brianchaninov reminds us of the aim of the practice of this Prayer. He says, ‘Dwelling with the mind and heart in heaven and in God—this is the chief fruit or end of this prayer’ (On the Prayer of Jesus, p. 35).

Jesus Prayer—when to pray

The Jesus Prayer will eventually be prayed throughout the day and when this happens, you will find that your life changes. To make progress in your prayer practice you must be regular in your practice, every day. Make it an integral part of your life. Put your prayer life as your first priority. Do not let travel or sickness deter you. This prayer can be said anywhere, any time if necessary. You do not need any special books; you only need the love and desire to be united with God.

In addition to your regular times of prayer, you should try and take every opportunity you can to say the Jesus Prayer. Whenever you have an idle moment, begin to say the Prayer. When you are waiting in a checkout line in the store, say the prayer quietly to yourself. When you are waiting for an appointment in the doctor’s office, instead of picking up a magazine, begin to say the Jesus Prayer. Every chance you get to say the Prayer will help you keep your mind focused on God.

When you face difficulty during the day or find yourself becoming angry, immediately begin to say the Prayer to yourself. You will find this very helpful in bringing you back to a loving state where you can make better decisions about how to deal with the situation at hand. 

Any time you say the Prayer, it will bring your attention to God and uplift your soul, so your actions are more likely to be in harmony with what God intends for you.

At night time you can also say the Jesus Prayer as you try to go to sleep. There will come a time when you will actually pray while you are sleeping. At the time of falling asleep we enter a path that leads into our deepest consciousness. This occurs between the time we are awake and asleep. It is the ideal time to send this Prayer deep into your heart. Rejoice when the first thing you want to do when you awake in the morning is to repeat the Prayer.

The Jesus Prayer can help you get rid of recurring painful memories. When they arise simply begin to say the Prayer. Also, when you experience any kind of pain say the Jesus Prayer. 

Jesus Prayer is not a form of Eastern meditation

The praying of the Jesus Prayer should not be confused with methods used in Eastern yoga or meditation. In praying the Jesus Prayer, we are seeking a relationship with a personal God based on faith and love.

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