The Jesus Prayer or simply the Prayer is a short prayer particularly esteemed in Eastern Christian Churches. Originally conceived in Greek, the prayer translated and used as “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.”
The prayer is widely taught, advocated and studied in the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. It plays an important role in the eremitic prayer tradition called Hesychasm. The spiritual fathers and also the modern practitioners of the prayer see it as a very efficient method of opening up the heart and bringing of the Prayer of the Heart, which is something that the apostle Paul talked about in the New Testament. Because it contains the Holy Name of Jesus, the prayer is considered more powerful than any other prayer in the Christian religious practice.
The Jesus Prayer is widely used in the Orthodox churches, where it is somewhat of the counterpart for the Roman Catholic Rosary. Today, many Catholics use it too, and even more so do the Protestants, especially in the Mainline Protestantism.
The prayer is an integral part of the practice of mental ascesis of the Orthodox monks. Of course, the prayer is not limited just to monks and priests. In fact, everyone is encouraged to practice it and to achieve a more direct connection with God. The prayer can be said only once or a few times, but it is strongly advised to pronounce it repeatedly. Prayer ropes or beads are often used, with one repetition after each bead or knot. The prayer can be combined with certain breathing techniques, prostrations and, more commonly, repeated signs of the cross.
There are several levels of the Jesus Prayer and its effects. The first one, and the most practiced, is purely oral. The prayer is pronounced and repeated, remaining external to the practitioner. The next level is the focused prayer, where the practitioner focuses his or her mind fully on the prayer. The third and the highest level is the prayer of the heart, where praying becomes truly internalized, no longer something a person does, but actually something he or she is.
The practice of the Jesus Prayer is considered by some to have some elements in common with certain Hindu and Buddhist techniques of meditation and mysticism. As such, the prayer gained some attention in the West during the 1960s and the 1970s. The Russian book called “The Way of a Pilgrim,” which recounts a journey of a homeless pilgrim who travels through Russia practicing the Prayer and teaching about it, was at one point one of the most popular prayer manuals even in the West, and the Jesus Prayer itself was among the most practiced prayers, right there with Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary.