Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Jesus Prayer for Beginners

... And I will wait on thy name. Psalm 52:9.

The invocation of the Name may be practiced anywhere and at any time. We can pronounce the Name of Jesus in the streets, in the place of our work, in our room, in church, etc. We can repeat the Name while we walk. Besides that "free" use of the Name, not determined or limited by any rule, it is good to set apart certain times and certain places for a "regular" invocation of the Name. One who is advanced in that way of prayer may dispense with such arrangements. But they are an almost necessary condition for beginners.

If we daily assign a certain time to the invocation of the Name (besides the "free" invocation which should be as frequent as possible), the invocation ought to be practiced—circumstances allowing—in a lonely and quiet place : "Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and, when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret" (Matthew 6:6). The bodily posture does not matter much. One may walk, or sit down, or lie, or kneel. The best posture is the one which affords most physical quiet and inner concentration. One may be helped by a physical attitude expressing humbleness and worship.

Before beginning to pronounce the Name of Jesus, establish peace and recollection within yourself and ask for the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Ghost. "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (Α Corinthians 12:3). The Name of Jesus cannot really enter a heart that is not being filled by the cleansing breath and the flame of the Spirit. The Spirit himself will breathe and light in us the Name of the Son.

Then simply begin. In order to walk one must take a first step; in order to swim one must throw oneself into the water. It is the same with the invocation of the Name. Begin to pronounce it with adoration and love. Cling to it. Repeat it. Do not think that you are invoking the Name; think only of Jesus himself. Say his Name slowly, softly and quietly.

A common mistake of beginners is to wish to associate the invocation of the Holy Name with inner intensity or emotion. They try to say it with great force. But the Name of Jesus is not to be shouted, or fashioned with violence, even inwardly. When Elijah was commanded to stand before the Lord, there was a great and strong wind, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire came a still small voice, "And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood..." (I Kings 19.13) Strenuous exertion and the search for intensity will be of no avail. As you repeat the Holy Name, gather quieti little by little, your thoughts and feelings and around it; gather-.around it your whole being. Let the name penetrate your soul as a drop of oil spreads out and impregnates a cloth. Let nothing of yourself escape. Surrender your whole self and enclose it within the Name.

Even in the act of invocation of the Name, its literal repetition ought not to be continuous. The Name pronounced maybe extended and prolonged in seconds or minutes of silent rest and attention. The repetition of the Name may be likened to the beating of wings by which a bird rises into the air. It must never be labored and forced, or hurried, or in the nature of a flapping. It must be gentle, easy and~ let us give to this word its deepest meaning-graceful. When the bird has reached the desired height it glides in its flight, and only beats its wing from time to time in order to stay in the air. So the soul, having attained to the thought of Jesus and filled herself with the memory of him, may discontinue the repetition of the Name and rest in Our Lord. The repetition will only be resumed when other thoughts threaten to crowd out the thought of Jesus. Then the invocation will start again in order to gain fresh impetus.

Continue this invocation for as long as you wish or as you can. The prayer is naturally interrupted by tiredness. Then do not insist. But resume it at any time and wherever you maybe, when you feel again so inclined. In time you will find that the name of Jesus will spontaneously come to your lips and almost continuously be present to your mind, though in a quiescent and latent manner. Even your sleep will be impregnated with the Name and memory of Jesus. "I sleep, but my heart waketh" (Song of Songs 5:2).

When we are engaged in the invocation of the Name, it is natural that we should hope and endeavor to reach some "positive" or "tangible" result, i.e., to feel that we have established a real contact with the person of Our Lord: "If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole" (Matthew 9:21). This blissful experience is the desirable climax of the invocation of the Name : "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me" (Genesis 32:26). But we must avoid an overeager longing for such experiences; religious emotion may easily become a disguise for some dangerous kind of greed and sensuousness. Let us not think that, if we have spent a certain time in the invocation of the Name without "feeling" anything, our time has been wasted and our effort unfruitful. On the contrary this apparently barren prayer may be more pleasing to God than our moments of rapture, because it is pure from any selfish quest for spiritual delight. It is the prayer of the plain and naked will. We should therefore persevere in assigning every day some regular and fixed time to the invocation of the Name, even if it seems to us that this prayer leaves us cold and dry; and such an earnest exertion of the will, such a sober "waiting" on the Name cannot fail to bring us some blessing and strength.

Moreover, the invocation of the Name seldom leaves us in a state of dryness. Those who have some experience of it agree that it is very often accompanied by an inner feeling of joy, warmth and light. One has an impression of moving and walking in the light. There is in this prayer no heaviness, no languishing, no struggling. "Thy name is as ointment poured forth... Draw me; we will run after thee" (Song of Songs 1:3-4).
From "The Jesus Prayer" by Lev Gillet (online book available here).

Saturday, 23 August 2014


Tears figure highly in teaching about the Jesus Prayer as they point towards repentance and sorrow for sin. Here is one of the sayings of the Desert Fathers on the subject.

Abba Poeman said: "One who wishes to purify one's faults purifies them with tears; one who wishes to acquire the virtues acquires them with tears. Weeping is the way that the Scriptures and the Fathers give us, when they say: 'Weep!' Truly, there is no other way than this."

Friday, 22 August 2014

The Jesus Prayer - Rev. Peter Orfanakos

For centuries, individuals have been striving to develop a closer relationship with God. In our zeal to achieve such a connection, we often times find ourselves influenced by new trends, dynamic personalities or even exotic faiths and teachings. We seem to be searching for that 'missing' element in our life that would allow us to 'feel' closer to God. The Orthodox Faith has within its essence, the means by which one can achieve a more intimate relationship with God. This does not simply occur by sprinkling some type of 'secret ingredient' into the 'recipe' of our life, but rather occurs through the nurturing of many individual acts and deeds over time.

As Christians it is important to remember the teachings of Saint Paul and strive to "pray constantly" (Thessalonians 5.17), for it is through prayer and meditation that one becomes closer to God. Saint Paul's seemingly simple instruction however, seems to bring about a whole new set of questions. How do we pray? When do we pray? Must we speak in special tongues? Do we have to recite long texts or prayers? When we pray – how should we pray? How does one pray constantly? All of these are very fair questions which have been addressed and answered by the Fathers and Saints of our Church.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." So simple, this phrase, this prayer, can be committed to memory in a matter of minutes, so full of awe-inspiring wisdom, that even the most spiritually enlightened person is humbled by its greatness. From the earliest days of Christianity we are given examples of how important it is to pray with utmost simplicity. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us that when we pray we should not "heap up empty phrases," (Matthew 6.7) thinking that our prayers will be heard simply for the quantity of the words. Saint John Climacus, (a sixth century monk and author of the great spiritual work Ladder of Divine Ascent) instructs us to "pray in all simplicity" warning us that if we "talk excessively in prayer, our mind can be distracted by our search for words."1 Saint Evagrios, who lived during the fourth century, teaches us that "the value of prayer lies not in mere quantity, but in its quality."2 We must also call into account several examples offered to us in the Bible and remember that "one utterance saved the thief. Talkative prayer frequently distracts the mind and deludes it, whereas brevity makes for concentration."3

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." When we pray, it is essential for us to be both simple in our nature and silent. This is perhaps one of the most difficult elements of prayer to achieve, and
yet, one of the most important. The Desert Fathers remind us that it is very difficult to recognize our sins when we are caught up in the turbulence of the day, but when we have an opportunity to be quiet and reflective in prayer, we are able to recognize our faults and seek forgiveness through Christ.4    In order for us to communicate with our Lord in prayer, we must be attentive, alert and able to listen. One of the greatest obstacles facing society today is that we are unable to separate ourselves from the 'world' and listen to God's voice.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." It is through prayer that we are called to recognize God's voice, to the point where we no longer question whether it is the voice of God or not. Not in the same sense of being able to distinguish our friend's voice on the telephone, bur rather a deeper distinction, an inner devotion or prayer, a 'prayer of the heart.' The 'prayer of the heart,' according to Saint John Climacus is the "stretching out of the hands, the beating of the breast, the sincere raising of the eyes heavenward, deep sighs and constant prostrations."5    It is unfortunate that many of us are still unaware of the presence of the "innermost sanctuary of our heart."6 True prayer is the acceptance and feeling of this inner presence and activity. Yet, how do we learn to listen, and allow our prayer of words to develop into a prayer of silence? How do we rediscover, through prayer, Christ's existence in us?

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." When we begin to develop our prayer life, we must begin with a positive attitude, understanding the many blessings that God continues to bestow upon us and ultimately that 'every good and perfect gift is from above.'7 This acknowledgement will assist us in gaining the proper frame of mind to establish an open and comfortable relationship with God. Take for example, the account offered to us by Saint Evagrios, when he points out that "when Moses tried to draw near to the burning bush, he was forbidden to approach until he had loosed his sandals from his feet. If then, you wish to behold and commune with Him who is beyond sense- perception and beyond concept, you must free yourself from every impassionate thought."8 We must also free ourselves from every impassionate thought when we pray and communicate with God.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." The question that confronts us now is, just how does one free oneself from impassionate thoughts? The answer is through humility. Saint Dorotheos of Gaza, teaches us that "pretensions to superiority (pride) cast us down, and that it is impossible to obtain mercy, except by humility."9 We have received many examples of this in the Bible, for example the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, (Luke 18.13) where we are told that the "tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but would beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful on me a sinner." We are then told by Christ that through his humility, the tax collector, left the temple, justified in the eyes of God. An early abbot of the Church named Mathios said that "the nearer a man approaches to God, the greater sinner he sees himself to be."10 Concerning the importance of humility in our lives, one of the Fathers sincerely said, "before anything else we need humility: a being ready to listen whenever a word is spoken to us, and to say, 'I submit,' because through humility every device of the enemy, every kind of obstacle is destroyed."11

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." There is an element of structural flexibility to the Jesus Prayer, which allows it to be prayed in several different ways. It can be shortened to "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me" or even "Lord Jesus, have mercy." What remains important is that after one establishes their 'version' of the Jesus Prayer, that it be pronounced with love, and repeated. We must be careful though, not to keep changing our minds over which form of the prayer to use, for Saint Gregory of Sinai warns us that, "trees which are repeatedly transplanted do not grow roots."12

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." The Jesus Prayer can be incorporated in both a free style and formal style of worship. This free style of worship refers to the simple and flexible structure of the prayer that can assist in making our prayer life more potent and provides us with a transition from personal prayer to communal prayer in Church. The formal style of praying the Jesus Prayer requires one hundred percent of a person's attention. It is this type of recitation that is associated with time that has specifically been set aside during the day to pray to the Lord.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." We have by now, come to the understanding that the Jesus Prayer is never out of place or context. As Orthodox Christians, we are challenged to pray it at all times without ceasing. But how does one go about praying without ceasing? Is this even possible? According to Bishop Theophan, in order for us to pray constantly we are called to keep "the hands at work and the mind and heart with God."13    We must also take into account that the humble heart of the God-fearing person, "knows perfectly well that nothing good, nothing straight and sure, happens in the soul without the help and the supervision of God, and therefore he does not stop praying unceasingly that God may act mercifully towards him."14

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." If we examine the Jesus Prayer from a theological viewpoint we may recognize that the prayer contains two chief mysteries of Christianity. "It speaks first about Christ, in the Incarnation by the name Jesus, which was given to him by the angel Gabriel; and in the Trinitarian name 'Son of God.' This qualifies the Jesus Prayer as being both Christocentric and Trinitarian."15 As a devotional prayer, the Jesus Prayer deals with a celestial love of God as well as a heavenly mercy or piety. In the first section of the prayer, we praise God as 'Lord Jesus Christ,' expressing our faith and exalting Him as our Lord and Savior. In the second section of the prayer we seek repentance when we say "on me a sinner." The word that unites these two important aspects of prayer is that of 'mercy,' which combines the vision of divine glory and the consciousness of human sin.16 When we pray for God to 'show us mercy' we admit our own helplessness while at the same time voicing our cry of hope.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." The Jesus Prayer consists of a theological and devotional prayer in a dynamic form that allows the prayer to become alive in the person. We need to recognize the power of the Name and the discipline of repetition, and remember to pray with reverence and awe, allowing our intellect to be conscious of our spiritual prayer. If the Jesus Prayer is going to mean anything more than just a mere utterance of words, it will be because of the use of His name. According to Jewish tradition, if you invoke a person's name, it is as if they are present. Essentially, one makes a name alive simply by mentioning it.17 Thus by mentioning the name of Jesus, He becomes even more alive in our heart. The Name of Jesus symbolizes power. We find examples of this throughout the New Testament. In Matthew 6.9 when Christ teaches us to pray The Lord's Prayer "hallowed be thy name." In Philippines 2.10 "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth." Saint John Climacus, suggests that the Name does indeed hold a certain celestial power when he pronounces to all, "flog your enemies with the Name of Jesus, since there is no stronger weapon in heaven or on earth."18

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." It is important for us to recognize another crucial factor of this prayer; that of repetition. When we repeat the Jesus Prayer, it must be done with an inward vigilance; mechanical repetition achieves nothing. It is only through a heart fulfilling, and concentrated repetition, that the true power of the Name can be seen. When repeating the Jesus Prayer in such a manner, we can begin to feel our prayers becoming more inward. Through our efforts in prayer, we begin to realize that we are struggling with a lack of unity with God. When we first begin praying the Jesus Prayer it is common to find our mind becoming restless and filled with aimless thoughts. The Fathers of the Church warn us that "the demon is very envious of us when we pray, and uses every kind of trick to thwart our purpose. Therefore, he is always using our memory to stir up thoughts of various things and our flesh to arouse the passions, in order to obstruct our way of ascent to God."19

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." The invocation of the Name occurs through our repetition of the Jesus Prayer, and seems to establish a form of tranquility within the body. Bishop Theophan taught that in order "to stop the continual jostling of our thoughts, we must bind the mind with one thought, the thought of One only." When we pray, it is difficult to stop thinking, however, we need to try to fill our minds with good thoughts. The Jesus Prayer allows us to do just that. It provides us with the opportunity to turn our thoughts away from earthly concerns and simply focus on God. Through the discipline of repetition, our focus slowly begins to shift heavenward.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." The Jesus Prayer, begins as an audible prayer of the lips. In time, it passes beyond the lips, and develops as an inner prayer. "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." With each repetition of the now silent prayer, our mind and intellect become more involved in our conversation with God. Our prayer becomes more involved, intense, and spontaneous, to the point where we are no longer reciting the prayer simply with our mouths.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." We begin to arrive at the point where the prayer descends to the heart. Not the heart that signifies emotion and affection, but that which Boris Vysheslavtsev describes as "the center not only of consciousness but of the unconscious, not only of the soul but of the spirit, not only of the spirit but of the body, not only of the comprehensible but of the incomprehensible; in one word, it is the absolute center."20 Therefore in order for us to find the true essence of prayer we must allow it to reach the 'absolute center' of our heart. In doing so we will discover that the Jesus Prayer becomes not simply a prayer of the heart but a prayer of the mind and intellect as well.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." The prayer of the heart needs silence and peace. Everything within us and surrounding us must be still and focused. As we begin to strive for this attitude of vigilance and attentiveness, we may begin to experience an inner peace. It is in this tranquil state that the name of Jesus will begin to reside in the innermost chambers of our heart.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."

The Jesus Prayer Article Reference List Notes:
1John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 275
2The Philokalia, p. 71
3The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p, 275
4Helen Waddell, The Desert Fathers, p. 67
5The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p, 184
6Kallistos Ware, The Power of the Name, p. 3
7The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom
8The Philokalia, pp. 57-5
9Eric Wheller, Dorotheos of Gaza, p, 81
10The Desert Fathers, p. 119
11The Desert Fathers, p. 94
12The Power of the Name, p. 5
13The Power of the Name, p. 6
14Dorotheos of Gaza, p. 101
15The Power of the Name, p. 8
16The Power of the Name, p. 9
17The Power of the Name, p. 10
18The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 200
19The Philokalia, p. 61
20The Power of the Name, pp. 17-18

Athanasius. The Life of Antony and The Letter to Marcellinus, New York: Paulist Press, 1980.
Brianchaniniov, Ignatius. On The Prayer of Jesus, London: Robert Cunnigham and Sons LTD, 1965.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible, New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Climacus, John. The Ladder of Divine Ascent, New York: Paulist Press, 1982.
French, R.M. The Way of the Pilgrim, New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981.
Maloney, George A.. The Jesus Prayer, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1981.
Monk of the Orthodox Church. The Jesus Prayer, New York: St. Vladimir's Press, 1987.
Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, Philip, Ware, Kallistos. The Philokalia, Volume 1, Boston: Faber and Faber, 1979.
Payne, Robert. The Holy Fire, New York: St. Vladimir's Press, 1957.
Symeon. Symeon The New Theologian The Discorces, New York: Paulist Press, 1980.
Vogel, Anthony A. The Jesus Prayer For Today, New York: Paulist Press, 1982.
Wadell, Helen. The Desert Fathers, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1957.
Ware, Kallistos. The Power of the Name, Oxford: SLG Press, 1974.
Wheeler, Eric P.. Dorotheos of Gaza, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1977.
Winkler, Gabriele. The Jesus Prayer in Eastern Spirituality, Minnesota: Light and Life Publishing Company, 1986.
Winkler, Gabriele. Prayer Attitude in the Eastern Church, Minnesota: Light and Life Publishing Company, 1978.
Photos included in Jesus Prayer article courtesy of P. Gagianas, M.D.

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The Jesus Prayer by Fr. Peter-Michael Preble

The following article is from Orthodoxy and can be found here.

God is calling each of us in special way into the desert. In this desert He wishes to reveal Himself in a powerful way beyond words and images, in the immediacy of a lover to His beloved."1

Where is the desert to which the Holy One is calling us? Is it a physical place? Do we get there by airplane or bus? Can we walk there and find the Holy One sitting on a rock ready to teach us?

Not really. We find the desert in our own heart. The Holy One will take up residence there and teach us. "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner," the prayer reads. These words can begin a new relationship with the Holy One -- deep and personal with Jesus Himself.

The primary text for the prayer is The Way of the Pilgrim. Set in pre-Revolutionary Russia, it is an autobiographical story of a Russian pilgrim who set out to discover what Saint Paul's admonition to "Pray without ceasing" meant.1 The Pilgrim had a tough life. He lost everything dear to him.

As a child he lost the use of an arm by the hand of his brother. As an adult the same brother set fire to his home. The Pilgrim and his wife lived in great poverty. Not long after his wife died. Life seemed like it came to an end. He became a homeless wanderer -- a pilgrim -- taking only the Scriptures for comfort and consolation on his journeys.

The Pilgrim first heard the words, "Pray without ceasing" during the Divine Liturgy as he wandered. "A burning desire and thirst for knowledge" awoke within him he would write later.3 He set out to find someone to teach him more and encountered a monk who introduced him to the Jesus Prayer.

Prayer is a journey of its own, a pathway to God. But there is more than one way to pray. Theophan the Recluse proposed that three degrees of prayer exist:

    Oral or bodily prayer
    Prayer of the mind
    Prayer of the heart (or: "of the mind and heart"): spiritual prayer

St. Theophan explained the threefold distinction this way:

    You must pray not only with words but with the mind, and not only with the mind but with the heart, so that the mind understands and sees clearly what is said in words, and the heart feels what the mind is thinking. All these combined together constitute real prayer, and if any of them is absent your prayer is either not perfect, or it is not prayer at all.4

The first of these types of prayer, oral or bodily, is the prayer that Orthodox should be the most familiar with, the prayer of the lips and tongue. It that consists in reading or reciting certain words. If prayer is to effective and more than reciting sentences however, it is essential to concentrate inwardly on the meaning of the words. As prayer grows more interior - more inward, the outward oral recitation becomes less important.

The Jesus Prayer is usually said in this way: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me." The words "a sinner" may be added at the end, or the prayer may be said in the plural, "have mercy upon us." Other variations also exist. Some people use a prayer rope to help them pray. This prayer rope differs from the one used in the west. Normally it is a knotted cord of wool or other material. Unlike a string of beads, the prayer rope is silent.

Each part of the rope has a symbolic meaning. Black is the color of mourning and sorrow and this reminds us to be sober and serious in our lives. It is made of knotted wool that recalls the Christ the Good Shepherd, and Christ the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The cross hanging on the end of the rope speaks of Christ's death and resurrection. Some prayer ropes have tassels on the end of the cross.

The tassel is used to wipe the tears of repentance away from our eyes, or if you have no tears, to remind you to weep because you can not weep.

The story is told of a monk who decided to make knots in a rope which he could use in caring out his daily rule of prayer. But the devil would untie the knots he made in the rope, frustrating the poor monks efforts. Then an angel appeared and taught the monk a special kind of knot that consists of a series of inter locked crosses, and this knot the devil was not to unravel.

This Jesus Prayer is just one of the many different paths to interior prayer. In order to persevere in this form of prayer, we must first be grounded in general prayer. Unceasing prayer is a difficult path to follow and one of the most challenging ways of praying The Jesus Prayer must be rooted in the simplicity of a life grounded in the Gospels.

The Jesus Prayer focuses on repentance and the healing of the soul. The Russian monk Macarius of Optino remarked: "In order that men may recognize their spiritual sores, they require...bitter sorrows; all of which purifies the heart and restores health to the stricken soul."5 In another place Macarius spoke about the self-sufficient and self-righteous sinner: "Mark this too: it is not very hard for the simple sinner to come to hate his foul life and, leaving it, to fling himself on the mercy of God; but it is very hard for the subtler sinner -- the self-sufficient one -- to let the ray of Divine Love pierce the leather jacket of self-righteousness."6 In its initial stage of use then, the Jesus Prayer is essentially a penitential prayer. The Jesus Prayer is the prayer of one who is on his way home - just like the prodigal son.

The second part of the prayer consists in the simple invocation of the Divine Name: "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God...." The tradition teaches that this invocation of the Name will slowly permeate our entire being, leading us to inner silence. The Jesus Prayer teaches reveals that inner silence as is our fundamental and original state of being. It makes the holiness of God bearable for man.

According to Theophan the Recluse: "When beginning to pray, start always as if you never prayed properly before"7 and "The essential and indispensable part of prayer is attention -- without attention there is no prayer."8 "Let there be no studied elegance in the words of your prayer," John Climacus taught: "…do not launch out into long discourses that fitter away your mind in efforts for eloquence. One word alone spoken by the Publican touched God's mercy; a single word full of faith saved the Good Thief. Many words in prayer often fill the mind with images and distract it, while often one single word draws it into recollection."9

In The Way if the Pilgrim, the pilgrim is told to say the Jesus Prayer slowly, gently, and quietly. Each word is to be said without haste. While praying the Jesus Prayer, we may become aware that there is a deeper way of speaking to God than we ordinarily assumed. Prayer moves from exterior recitation to an inward expression.

Persons accomplished in the Jesus Prayer report that as their prayers move ever inward, the awareness grows that the body is indeed the "temple of the Holy Spirit" as St. Paul taught. The Holy Spirit does indeed dwell within us. This "prayer of the heart" corresponds to the biblical understanding that the heart is the seat of understanding. "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23).

Spiritual masters of many religions refer to the heart as the seat of wisdom.

Theophan observed: "If the heart is the center of the human person, then it is by the heart that man enters into relation with all that exists." Later on he added: "There is a particular way that leads to harmony among men that is the heart."11 Moving to prayer St. Theophan insisted: "You must descend from your head into your heart. At present your thoughts of God are in your head. And God Himself is, as it were, outside you, and so your prayer and other spiritual exercises remain exterior. While you are still in your head, thoughts will...always be whirling about like snow in winter or clouds of mosquitoes in the summer."12

This prayer has been practiced by Orthodox Christians for generations and should be part of our everyday spirituality. Begin in desert, and meet the Holy One there. Ask Him to teach you His prayer and then begin slowly to pray.

"Once we have moved from multiplicity to oneness, and once we have been plunged into the center of Love, suffering thus the Divine Light, then our entire attention will be drawn to the Holy One."13

Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

1. Prayer of Jesus, Prayer of the Heart. (Greenwood, IN: Inner Life Publications, 1996)
 2. The Way of the Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way, trans from the Russian by R.M. French (New York: The Seabury Press, 1965)
3. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 NRSV
4. The Way of the Pilgrim
5. The Art of Prayer, an Orthodox Anthology, trans. E.M. Palmer (London, Faber & Faber, 1966)
6. Marcarius, Staretz of Optino, Russian Letters of Direction 1834 - 1860, selection, translation, and forward by I. de Beausobre (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1975)
7. bid.
8. An Orthodox Anthology of Prayer
9. Ibid.
10. J. Meyendorff, St. Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality, trans. A. Fiske (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974)
11.1 Corinthian 6:19
12.Winkler, Gabriel. The Jesus Prayer in Eastern Spirituality (Light & Life Publishing, Minneapolis, 1986)

To breathe or not to breathe

Considering the question of breathing with regards to the Jesus Prayer I came across this piece of useful advice on the website of St.Vladimir Orthodox Theological Seminary:

The Orthodox understanding of the role of the body in prayer rests upon a sound anthropology. The body, soul and spirit act as a single unit, not divided or split up. Therefore, the body has a role in prayer. How we involve the body can be understood in three ways. Sometimes this is called psychotechniques. 1. Breathing, 2. Inner Exploration, and 3. Posture. Across the centuries, these issues have been explosive.

Breathing. Bishop Kallistos Ware says that if we pray the Jesus Prayer for short periods, ten or fifteen minutes at the beginning, then there is no problem matching the words of the prayer to our breath. We are to breath naturally, without playing with the rhythm of the breath. On the inhale, we can say, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God." On the exhale, we can say, "have mercy on me, a sinner." We are to breath and pray slowly and reverently and attentively.

Inner Exploration.
Inner exploration usually means following our breath into the nostrils, down into the lungs, around the insides, and out. This is unquestioningly, forbidden. The dangers involved in all this cannot be exaggerated.

Posture. The usual position, as recommended by Bishop Kallistos Ware, is a comfortable sitting position in a chair. Sometimes standing is recommended. Usually the eyes are kept closed. Posture can take many forms, as long as the postures are reverent.

Modern serious and enlightened authors, such as Bishop Ware, St Igantius Brianchaninov and Sophrony all agree that "the fullness of the Jesus Prayer can by practiced without any physical methods at all." In summary, it can be said that physical methods are optional and not at all necessary. Physical techniques are more suitable for beginners, says St Gregory Palamas. Physical techniques are potentially dangerous, and not to be used without a guide. St Theophan suggests, "Make a habit of having the intellect stand in the heart, but not in a physical way."

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Jesus Prayer - Fr Maximos of Simonopetra

The Importance of Prayer
Prayer is our true life, our highest task. Without prayer, we become disconnected from our inner depth and lose something fundamental to our humanity. Without prayer, we become dead inside. A great saint once said that when a person who is terminally ill stops eating, his friends know that death is near, and when the angels see us refraining from the nourishment of prayer, they know our souls are dying. To pray is to open oneself to the source of divine life. To pray is to cast off the unreality of our troubled thoughts and enter into reality. Prayer restores our lost inner unity. Where there is unity — in individuals, families, parishes, and churches—we can be sure that people are praying. Where there is no unity, but only quarreling and divisions, we can be sure that there is no prayer.

There are many forms of prayer, and many different prayers, and we should make use of them all. We should have a prayer book and pray using the prayers in it. It is good to speak directly to God, and we should do this whenever we feel the need, but we should also learn the prayers of the Church and make them our own. Of all the prayers of the Church, surely the most beloved, and certainly the most powerful, is the Jesus Prayer.

What is the Jesus Prayer? It is the ceaseless repetition of the words: “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God Have mercy on me the sinner.” Many people use a slightly shorter form, such as: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” or even: “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.” What is common to these different forms is the Divine Name of Jesus.

Who is this prayer for? The Jesus Prayer is for everyone, not simply for monks and nuns. Saint Gregory Palamas taught that the Jesus Prayer “should be taught to men, women, children, to the educated and the illiterate, and indeed to all.” Saint Gregory’s views met with resistance from an elderly monk on Mount Athos, who believed the Jesus Prayer should be restricted to monks. That night, an angel appeared to the monk in a dream, and rebuked him, and confirmed the teaching of Palamas (Philotheos Kokkinos, Encomium on St. Gregory Palamas, 29). Saint Nikodemos, in his introduction to the Philokalia, likewise teaches that the Jesus Prayer should be practiced by all Christians.

The earliest written evidence for the practice of the Jesus Prayer is found in a text called A Discourse on Abba Philemon, which is dated to the fifth or sixth century, but clearly reflects much older traditions and practices (English translation found in volume 2 of the Philokalia; London, 1981; 344-57). To be sure, the call to unceasing prayer is found in Saint Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, where he teaches all Christians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In his first letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul speaks of “five words uttered in the mind” (1 Corinthians 14:19). This verse has long been understood to mean the five words of the Jesus Prayer (i.e., in Greek).

The Power of the Name
The practice of the Jesus Prayer reflects the teaching of the Bible regarding the nature of personal names, and especially the Divine Name. The name is closely linked to the person who bears it, so that to invoke the name is to invoke the person. Similarly, when there is a change in the life of a person, there is a change of name. Thus Abram became Abraham, Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul.

A name is not an arbitrary, random combination of letters and sounds, but conveys the essence, as it were, of a thing or person. When Moses asks God: “What is your name?” He is not asking: “What should I call you,” but: “Who are you?” (Exodus 13:13-22). And if one profanes the name, or blasphemes it, he is not harming a “word,” but the person named by it. This is why the Jews have always had great respect for the name of God. Observant Jews will not write the name of God casually (since once it is written, it can be defaced or destroyed by someone else). While there is no prohibition against saying the name of God, the practice evolved to use various substitutes (e.g., Ha-Shem = “The Name”). Even so, the use of the Divine Name is usually restricted to prayer and study.

The Old Testament belief in the power of the name continues in the New Testament. In Acts 4:12, Saint Peter says: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” In Philippians 2:9-11, Saint Paul says: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Saint Luke the Evangelist writes that: “The disciples returned with joy saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’” (Luke 10:17). These are but a few of the many examples that one can find in the New Testament concerning the power of the name of Jesus.

How to Say the Jesus Prayer
We are encouraged to begin by saying the Jesus Prayer aloud, softly vocalizing the words. After a while, we will naturally find ourselves repeating the Prayer inaudibly in our minds. Finally, with God’s grace, the Prayer will descend more deeply within our consciousness so that the prayer of the lips and the mind will become the prayer of the heart. Because our thoughts are scattered among external objects and superficial sensations, we must return our attention to our self, first to the mind and then to the heart, uniting these divided aspects of our being. The saints teach us to descend with the mind into the heart, and from there to say the Jesus Prayer. This is because the activity of the mind has its root or source in the heart, and we must allow that activity to relax and return to its source. Once we have entered the heart, we do not remain silent, but we say the Jesus Prayer with gentle but unwavering concentration, as much as we are able. If we are distracted, as we will be, we simply return our attention to the words of the prayer in our heart.

The heart is the center and core of our being. In the human fetus, the cardiovascular system is the first to form, with cardiac cells beating usually within three weeks from the moment of conception. The brain and nervous system are formed later. Of course, the heart is much more than the natural center of the human organism. It is also the spiritual core of the person, the deepest organ of intuition and perception, the place where we connect most fully and deeply with God. To discover one’s heart is an act of reintegration and the occasion of spiritual joy and delight. When the mind returns to the heart, it is like a man returning home after a long journey, embracing his wife and children.

The Breath and Breathing
Needless to say, it is not easy to free ourselves from distractions, it is difficult to find our center, and difficult to remain there once we find it. This is why the teachers of the Jesus Prayer encourage us initially to focus on our breath, to follow the breath as it enters the body and descends to the chest and the area around the heart. We spend most of our time either ruminating over the past or worrying about the future, being forever absent from the present. The activity of breathing, however, takes place unambiguously in the present, and by turning our attention to the breath we will enter the present moment, find and enter our heart, and locate the center of our spiritual gravity.

As we continue to repeat the Jesus Prayer, the prayer will naturally unite itself to the rhythm of our breathing. Many people silently say the first half of the prayer while inhaling (i.e., “Lord Jesus Christ”), and the second half while exhaling (“have mercy on me the sinner”). But this should be allowed to happen naturally and never be forced.

It should be underlined that this is not mere introspection. The turn to the breath and the heart is not self-centeredness in the sense of solipsistic, ego-centered selfishness. At the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended on his human nature. At our baptism, we likewise received the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the uncreated grace of God, which was placed in our heart. But it was placed there as a seed, or as a small spark, and remains dormant until we freely choose to cultivate it. The Jesus Prayer is precisely this cultivation, “for no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). By returning to ourselves and by entering the heart, we open the seed of grace and kindle the divine spark that God has planted within us.

If we take time to pray, to make room for God in our lives, God’s grace will fill our hearts and our lives, and we will know joy even in the midst of sorrows. I hear many people say that they want to pray but “don’t have time.” It is obvious that we live very busy lives, but when we say we “don’t have time” we are often really saying that we don’t believe in the power of prayer, or that we don’t believe in the possibility of our own transformation. We find the time to do the things we like, and if we want to, we can turn off our gadgets, pick up and read a spiritual book, go for a solitary walk with God, or sit quietly at home and say the Jesus Prayer.

God has given us everything we need. We don’t need to run into the future, or flee to some other place (where things will be “better”), or get anything beyond what we already have. Bring your mind home to your heart. Follow the path of your breath to your heart. Be in the here and now. With one breath you can come home to your body, to the present, to your heart, and to the love of God the Father, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.

The best introduction to the Jesus Prayer is a small book called The Way of a Pilgrim, translated by R.M. French. Anyone wishing to learn more about the Jesus Prayer is encouraged to read it.

Monday, 11 August 2014


I am currently finding saying the Jesus Prayer a bit of a battle. Gone are the tears and the warmth of knowing the presence of God and instead each repetition is a battle against distractions. Before, it seemed to be the odd one that slipped under my guard, which after a determined effort receded as I re-focussed on the prayer and on Jesus. Now, however, distractions seem to come in swarms and like water seeping through a cracked slate, finds it's way into the prayer leading me away from focussing on Jesus. How can I overcome this?

In her book on the Jesus Prayer in response to the question: "How fast should I say the prayer", Frederica Mathewes-Green gives this advice:

" might need to say (the Prayer) very quickly, tying the end of one prayer to the beginning of the next, in order to keep a crack from opening up where other thoughts could push their way in."
Worth a try.

Prayer and struggle

The further the soul advances, the greater are the adversaries against which it must contend.

Blessed are you, if the struggle grows fierce against you at the time of prayer.

Do not allow your eyes to sleep or your eyelids to slumber until the hour of your death, but labor without ceasing that you may enjoy life without end.
Evagrius of Pontus (d. 399)

Constant Prayer

“you regret that the Jesus Prayer is not unceasing,
that you do not recite it unceasingly…
but constant repetition is not required.
what is required is a constant aliveness to God-
an aliveness that is present when you talk, read, watch
or examine anything.”
St. Theophan the Recluse