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The Jesus Prayer

The standard form of the prayer is:-

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

But there are many minor variations in the wording.

Basically this is an adaptation of the prayer of the blind man outside Jericho (Luke 18:38), but it is similar to the prayer of the publican (Luke 18:13) It's origins are probably in the desert spirituality of the monks of fourth century Egypt, where emphasis was laid upon inner mourning, and upon the need for God's mercy. They also recommended the repeated use of a short phrase as a method for maintaining the continual remembrance of God, and so moving into a kind of prayer without images or words.

Thus, while being a prayer in words, the Jesus Prayer may lead into silence. It's use became more widespread in the fourteenth century when it is particularly associated with the monks of Mount Athos in Greece. Some of whom developed a physical technique in which the head is bowed; the eyes (if open) are fixed on the place of the heart; and the rhythm of the breathing is slowed down and co-ordinated with the words of the prayer. At the same time the person praying seeks 'to descend with the intellect into the heart'. By the heart they meant the moral and spiritual centre of a person, the place where a person becomes most truly personal, and at the same time closest to God.

This level of prayer has been attained by many Christians using one word or a phrase, over and over again. St. Francis used to spend whole nights in prayer, just repeating over and over again, "My God and My All'; other Saints have had their own favourite words. [It is perfectly possible to use the Jesus Prayer with a rosary, substituting it for the Hail Mary.] In the Orthodox tradition the Prayer is used primarily as a way into imageless, contemplative prayer, whilst in the West it was more commonly used as a prayer of the feelings and emotions, being linked with devotion to the humanity of Jesus.

Henry Morgan