Glory to the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, One True God.
What is The Jesus Prayer?
In the Gospel of St. Luke we read the apostles asking Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray”. And the Lord at that time taught them The Lord’s Prayer.
In our time today, we increasingly find ourselves asking the Lord, just like the Apostles to teach us to pray. Especially in the busy life we lead, we find it increasingly difficult to concentrate our minds on the Lord during our prayers. How are we to enter the mystery of living prayer? How can we advance from prayer repeated by our lips- from prayer as an external act- to prayer that is a part of our inner being, a true union of our mind and heart with the Holy Trinity? How can we make prayer not merely something that we do, but rather something that we are? For that is what the world needs: not persons who SAY prayers from time to time, but persons who ARE prayer all the time.
When I was a young child, I has heard a story from one of our priests, which I found very touching. Once there was an old man who spent several hours each day in church. ” What are you doing there” his friends enquired. “I’m praying”, he replied. ” Praying” they exclaimed. “There must be a great many things you want to ask from God.” With some indignation the old man responded, “I’m but asking God for anything.” “What are you doing, then?” they said. And the old man replied, “I just sit and look at God, and God sits and looks at me.”
Even now I think that is an admirable description of prayer. But how are we to acquire prayer in this deep sense, prayer of simple gazing, prayer in which there is a personal encounter between us and God? How shall we begin?
Approaching Christ, the teacher of prayer
The answer to the appeal of the disciples given by our Lord – The Lord’s Prayer, indeed the model for all our praying. Yet, next to the Lord’s Prayer, there is a further way of praying that is particularly commended within the Orthodox Church to all who seek living, inner prayer; and that is the Jesus Prayer. This is a short invocation, frequently repeated, most commonly in the form “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
St. Augustine writes concerning the early monks, “The brethren of Egypt offer frequent prayers that are very brief and suddenly shot forth.”
The Jesus Prayer is precisely an ‘arrow prayer’. Another ‘arrow prayer’, used, for example, in the movement of Fr John Main, is the phrase Maranatha, “Our Lord, come” (1 Co 16:22). The Jesus Prayer differs from this in being centered specifically on the Holy Name ‘Jesus’, and therein lies it’s distinctive value. Used faithfully, as a regular part of our life in Christ, the Jesus Prayer can indeed bring us to the sense of the Divine Presence of which the old man spoke: “I just sit and look at God…”
This was a brief introduction regarding the Jesus Prayer. I pray and hope to continue thus series. In the next session we will discuss on The Four Strands in the Jesus Prayer and its origin.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.
The Jesus Prayer – Bishop Kallistos Ware