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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
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
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