The Jesus Prayer


My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,



The Jesus Prayer is a precise summarized form of the Prayer of the Heart. It was the culmination of a long monastic tradition that advocated using repeated scriptural phrases (recited over thousands of times in the course of a day) by which means the early monks in the desert tried to contain the tendency of thoughts (logismoi) and distractions to 'run away' with them. The monastic Higoumenos would set his monks a biblical text to meditate on, in the hope that by the constant repetition it would, as it were, 'enter into the heart' and flower there in understanding and grace. Over the course of time, the Byzantine holy Fathers preferred, above all others, the scriptural invocation taken from Jesus' parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee, to which they added the invocation of the Holy Name. In the Old Testament and the early Church alike, the uttering of the Holy Name of God was believed to contain an abundance of blessing and power of Light within it. So the Orthodox Christians still believe. As the Apostle said, merely to acclaim the name of the Lord is to achieve a high spiritual inspiration from God. The Orthodox Christians understand that the power of the Name, working within the inner most ear of the disciple, brings about a majestic purification and assistance, simply by its enunciation, so sacred is its character and so awesome is the holiness evoked by its enunciation. The Jesus Prayer, then, is a matter of setting the heart in quietness and stillness, and quietly and slowly reciting the words (perhaps aloud at first, then maybe silently as time goes on) of the prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of [the Living] God, have mercy on me (a sinner).

If several people are saying the prayer together, it is recited aloud, by one person only, and the optional words 'a sinner' are not used, since one can only identify oneself as a sinner, but must never presume that anyone else is. The phrase 'have mercy on us' is then substituted. Some newer monasteries have introduced this practice of the recitation of the Jesus Prayer as one of the central acts of common monastic prayer, and it is now expanding as a communal Orthodox prayer service in many parts of the world, though formerly it was exclusively used as a method of private prayer. Orthodox often use the prayer rope (komboskini, chotki), to help them focus, a rope of a hundred large knots or more (a century). It is used to count off each invocation in centuries. Some pray the Jesus Prayer for a century or two, others pray through long hours of the night using the komboskini. The chief thing is that the invocation is filled with hope and gladness; it is not the point to impress on oneself one's hopeless status as a sinner, but to focus on the beauty of the name of Jesus as Savior and Son of God, who liberates us from the darkness of despair.

The endless waves of the Holy Name that break over the soul like waves of an ocean bring light and joy to the heart: they lift and scatter despondency and bring about the very salvation we are praying for. Many Orthodox Christians will, at some stage, envisage loved ones in their prayers, and other people in need, and then add in the variations: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on him (her).' Always the prayer needs to be recited quietly, slowly (without hurry or anxiety), and if one's attention begins to wander one is able to make a metania (prostration), and begin again with a focus on the content of the words. Usually, however, after a few minutes of prayer, the attention of the body is captured by the komboskini and the regular rhythm of the words (like a child that has been given some lovely toys to play with), and the mind and heart are left free to sink into the Holy Name itself. It is something that the Jesus Prayer aims for continually, and it has long proven itself to be a wonderful method of prayer for advanced souls and beginners alike.

Some writers have advocated that the best posture for the Jesus Prayer is a kneeling position with the head low down on the knees. Some find this useful; others find it impossible. Some writers have also advocated that the first half of the phrase should be recited with the intake of breath, and the second half with the exhalation. It also works best if the prayer is said in Greek since the English translation does not have the same euphonic balance. The point of this was to emphasize the body's attentiveness even more so, by trying the recitation of the words into the pattern of taking breaths, and so (in a sense) physically 'pulling' the name down into the chest and making it enter the heart. The methods can be of use to some, but they ought not distract the believer from the fundamental concern which is that the Name of the Lord enters the soul and brings light to it, ultimately liberating it from the tyranny of thoughts (Logismoi) and reflections, so that it can sit for an eternal moment of stillness in the presence of its Master. The Jesus Prayer is now commonly practiced by the laity (as well as the monks and nuns) in most Orthodox countries and has been spread to the West by such spiritual literature as The Way of the Pilgrim and other translations of Russian devotional writing as well as the Greek Philokalia. (Source: The Orthodox Church. An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture by Father John Anthony McGuckin)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" - Saint John Chrysostomos


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George