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Jesus Prayer

by Fr Jose Thomas

Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner) is a very ancient accepted personal spiritual prayer. It reflects the art of prayer of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. "Philokalia" mentions about Jesus Prayer. Isaac of Nineveh exhorts us to destroy the evil in the name of Jesus. "The Way of Pilgrim" is a classic work on Jesus Prayer.

This book gives the entertaining tale of a pilgrim who wanted to know how one can pray ceaselessly as St. Paul says (1 Thess.5: 17- "Pray without ceasing"). An Abbot leads him to the "Jesus Prayer." The book tells of his travels through Russia. Each new stop becomes a home for a moment for this happy wanderer who has only a knapsack - copy of Philokalia, Bible and a few crusts of bread -, but who finds goodness and plenty wherever he goes.

This prayer was taken from Mark 10:47, Bartimaeus' prayer to Jesus Christ: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." However, its origins go back to the Old Testament belief that the Names of God carried Divine energy. This belief was carried forward by the first Christians' feeling about the name of Jesus (Jn. 16:23-24; Acts 4:10). Also, the early Christian monks who went out into the desert to live and pray in the second through the fourth centuries had a preference for short, repetitious prayer (monological prayer). Orthodox Churches have looked to these Desert Fathers as a major source of spiritual wisdom. A favorite repetitious prayer of these monks was "Kyrie eleison" (Lord, have mercy). By the sixth century, the statement of the tax collector in Lk. 18:13 became the basis of the prayer. "God, have pity on me, a sinner."

Form and Method: A word or group of words is selected, usually with the aid of an elder. Often, only the name of "Jesus" is used. The most widely accepted form is: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Some use only the words: "Lord, have mercy." Select a phrase or words to use. Then repeat the phrase over and over again with a rhythm of our breath. Try to continue this practice for a period of time: for example, five minutes, then ten minutes, then twenty minutes, etc. Rosary can be used in the prayer. It becomes the part of our heart, through continuous practice. Finally we will recite this prayer with every beat of the heart. Really it is an indefinable heavenly experience.

Jesus Prayer is very common in Ethiopia, especially in the Holy Liturgy of Ethiopian Orthodox Church. They recite the Jesus Prayer in Geez (the liturgical language of Ethiopian Orthodox Church): Egzio maharena Krestos (O Lord Christ, have mercy upon us). Other monological prayers are: Be'enta Maryam maharena Krestos (For the sake of Our Lady Maryam, Christ have mercy upon us) and Kyrie eleison.

In his work "Rajayoga," Swami Vivekanada explains the Indian method of monological prayer. It explains the yoga sutra of Patanjali. This book is very helpful to practice ceaseless prayer. We can practice the Rajayoga with Jesus Prayer or Kyrie eleison.

Fr Jose Thomas Poovathumkal
St Frumentius Theological College, Tigray, Ethiopia.
March 25, 2007

See Also:

Prayer of Heart or Prayer of Jesus

Meditative Prayer to Jesus

More Christian Prayers

More Prayers Useful to Many faiths

All Prayers

Prayer and Spirituality Infocenter

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