The Jesus Prayer

December 2, 2020
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The Jesus Prayer

One of the most well-known and beloved prayers in Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches is the Jesus Prayer. There are a few forms which differ slightly but probably the most common goes like this:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

It’s a simple, short, and memorable prayer that is repeated many times. It was most likely developed by the earliest Christian monks and nuns, commonly called the Desert Fathers and Mothers, who settled in the deserts of Egypt to live lives of prayer and asceticism. Since its beginnings there have been numerous books and treatises written on the prayer and various methodologies that have developed. The prayer became most well known in the West through the English translation of a Russian spiritual classic titled The Way of a Pilgrim, which follows the quest of a 19th century Russian layman who wanders from village to village seeking work as well as the space and time to fulfill St. Paul’s injunction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Like the Rosary, one commonly uses a prayer rope, called a chotki in the Russian tradition or a komboskini in the Greek tradition, for counting the number of repetitions as an aid to prayer. It is traditionally made with black wool and consists of 33, 50, 100, or 300 specially tied knots. The person praying repeats one Jesus prayer per knot. I’ve personally found the Jesus Prayer to be very helpful when used certain ways in my own spiritual life.

Here’s just one way that I sometimes pray it. I have a prayer rope that consists of 100 knots and I will often, like the Rosary, consider this to be one “set” which can be offered in various ways. I will pray different “sets” of the Jesus Prayer throughout the day for various purposes.

  1. As an offering for a particular person or a prayer request. This is helpful because of how short it is. It takes about 5-10 minutes to pray a set of 100 depending on your cadence. It is a small way to offer up your prayer for a particular person.
  2. As an aid against temptation. This is a great way to distract your mind from temptation and raise it to God.
  3. As a short break from studies or work.
  4. At Eucharistic Adoration. There are different ways to do it here, but I find it helpful to repeat the prayer throughout, which keeps me focused.

You can look up many different ways that this ancient prayer may be used as a means of lifting one’s mind up to God, but I hope that the different ways I have offered may be helpful!

Br. Benedict Mary Bartsch, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE

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