The Jesus Prayer (Greek: Η Προσευχή του Ιησού, i prosefchí tou iisoú); or “The Prayer” (Greek: Η Ευχή, i efchí̱ – literally “The Wish”) is a short formulaic prayer esteemed and advocated especially within the Eastern Orthodox Church. The prayer has been widely taught and discussed beginning in the 4th and 5th centuries. It is often repeated continually as a part of personal ascetic practice, its use being an integral part of the eremitic tradition of prayer known as Hesychasm (Greek: ἡσυχάζω, isycházo, “to keep stillness”). The prayer is particularly esteemed by the spiritual fathers of this tradition (see Philokalia) as a method of opening up the heart (kardia) and bringing about the Prayer of the Heart (Καρδιακή Προσευχή). The Prayer of The Heart is considered to be the Unceasing Prayer that the apostle Paul advocates in the New Testament (1 Thess. 5:17).
Methods and Steps
Practical Steps for the Jesus Prayer
1. Sit or stand in a dimly lit and quiet place.
2. Recollect yourself.
3. With the help of your imagination find the place of the heart and stay there with attention.
4. Lead the mind from the head into the heart and say, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me
5. Quietly with the lips or mentally, whichever is more convenient; say the prayer slowly and reverently.
6. As much as possible guard the attention of your mind and do not allow any thoughts to enter in.
7. Be patient and peaceful.
8. Be moderate in food, drink, and sleep.
9. Learn to love silence.
10. Read the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers about prayer.
11. As much as possible avoid distracting occupations.
(From the “Life of Abba Philemon” (6th Century book about Paul’s disciple))
Spiritual Levels of Prayer
It begins as oral prayer or prayer of the lips, a simple recitation defined as a verbal expression. Although very important, this level of prayer is still external to us and thus only the first step, for the essence or soul of prayer is within a man’s heart and mind.
As we enter more deeply into prayer, we reach a level at which we begin to pray without distraction. At this point, the mind is focused upon the words of the prayer, speaking them as if they were ones own.
The third level, is prayer of the heart. At this stage prayer is no longer something we do but who we are. Such prayer, which is a gift of the Spirit, is to return to the Father as did the prodigal son. The prayer of the heart is the prayer of adoption, when “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ (Galatians 4:6)
(From the “Reflections of St. Theophan the Recluse” (d. 1894))
Stages of Growth in the Prayer of the Heart
1. Try to…enclose your thought in the words of the [Jesus] prayer. If on account of its [the mind’s] infancy it wearies and wanders lead it in again. The mind is naturally unstable. But He Who orders all things can control it.
2. The beginning of prayer consists in banishing the thoughts that come to us at their very appearance…
3. Quantity is the cause of quality. The Lord gives pure prayer [prayer of the mind in the heart] to him who, eschewing laziness, prays much and regularly in his own manner, even if it is marred by inattention.
4. …the middle [of prayer] is when the mind stays solely in the words pronounced vocally or mentally…If, therefore, you tirelessly train your mind never to stray from the words of the prayer, it will be there even at mealtime.
5. The spiritual land of a man pure in soul is within him…Try to enter the cell within you and you will see the heavenly cell. They are one and the same…The ladder to the Heavenly Kingdom is within you. [Luke 17:21]
(St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (d. 1867) relating the teachings of St. John Climacus (d. 606) in “On the Prayer of Jesus”)
Using a Prayer Rope (Komboskini or Chotki) with the Jesus Prayer
…those who excelled in prayer, in order to avoid being subject to this self-deception, invented the prayer rope, which they proposed for the use of those who seek to pray not with written prayers, but on their own. They used it as follows:
1. They said, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner,” and moved one knot with their fingers;
2. Then, they said this again and moved another, and so on;
3. Between each short prayer they made a bow from the waist** or a prostration,* as desired, or…
4. Between small knots they made a bow from the waist and at the larger knots or beads a complete prostration.*
(From the “Letters of St. Theophan the Recluse” (d. 1894))
* A prostration consists of dropping to both knees and leaning forward on the hands until the head touches the ground.
** Saint Hieromartyr Cosmas Aetolos (d. 1779) suggested the Sign of the Cross: …hold it [prayer rope] in your left hand and cross yourselves with your right hand and say: ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me’
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