One of the most enduring forms of prayer that is deeply rooted in the Christian spiritual tradition is the Jesus Prayer, which is used widely in the Orthodox Church. Although this form of prayer is becoming more common among the Protestant Christians, many have still not heard of it.

The Prayer itself is remarkably simple and brief: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’, and is said over and over again. The Orthodox theologian, Bishop Kallistos Ware has helpfully identified four elements of the Prayer:

1. The Cry for Mercy
2. The Discipline of Repetition
3. The Quest for Stillness (Greek: Hesychia)
4. The Veneration of the Holy Name

The Cry for Mercy

In imploring for mercy, the believer who prays this prayer recognises that he or she is a sinner in need of God’s grace.

The cry for mercy not only signals sorrow for sin, but also the confidence that divine forgiveness will be granted to the truly repentant soul. As Ware puts it, “It affirms that God’s loving kindness and compassion are greater than my brokenness and guilt.”

The Discipline of Repetition

Because the Jesus Prayer is repeated many times (often with the aid of a prayer rope), some Protestant Christians may have reservations about using it. Didn’t Jesus tell his disciples not to use vain repetitions when they pray (Matthew 6:7)?

The spiritual writers of the Christian East have addressed this objection. They maintain that the Jesus Prayer is not vain repetition if it is prayed in the fear of God, and with faith and love.

The Quest for Stillness

In the Christian spiritual tradition, stillness or silence is not merely an absence of noise and activity. Silence is an attentiveness that ushers us into the very presence of God. It brings awareness of the only One
who is able to still the storms of our lives.

The Veneration of the Holy Name

And finally, but most importantly, the Jesus Prayer has to do with the veneration of the name of the Saviour. “The name of the Son of God”, writes Hermas, the second century author of The Shepherd, “is great and incomprehensible, and sustaineth the whole world.”

The Jesus Prayer can be easily incorporated into our daily devotions. It can also be prayed throughout the day, as a form of ‘arrow prayer’ (Augustine) as we go about our daily routines and attend to our various responsibilities.

But it must be stressed that the Jesus Prayer is not a form of Christian meditation, but a prayer.'

As Bishop Ware explains, “It is simply not a rhythmic mantra, designed to enhance concentration, but a personal invocation addressed specifically to the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ … what
matters is not how we pray but to whom.”

May the Jesus Prayer direct our hearts and minds to the One whose name is above every name (Philippians 2:9)—Jesus Christ, our Saviour and our Lord!