Constant Prayer, The Jesus Prayer

Once in a letter to the Church in Thessalonica St. Paul the Apostle encouraged the faithful to pray constantly without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5.17).  Today, and most likely even then, such a task seems impossible.  How can anyone truly expect to pray constantly?
Certainly, we have many opportunities to pray as a community, especially during Great Lent and Holy Week.  Christians are also instructed to pray in secret, to stand before our God privately and commune with Him in prayer (Matthew 6.6).  There are other moments that arise during our day when a prayer or praying comes naturally.  Still, the majority of our days are not spent in prayer and doing so appears impractical and extremely difficult.
Fortunately, within the Holy Tradition of our Church there is a method of constant prayer.  The Jesus Prayer has been practiced by everyday Christians and champions of the Faith for thousands of years.  The prayer itself comes from scripture, in the Gospel of Mark and Luke we hear of the blind man who wanted Jesus to restore his sight.  Sitting by the road he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (Mark 10.47, Luke 18.38).  The prayer is also rooted in the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.  In the Temple we hear that the tax collector , “. . .would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner’ (Luke 18.13).  In Her wisdom our Church combined these two prayers into the form we use today, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.”
This short and simple prayer is easily memorized.  Yet, the power and message of this prayer is profound.  It was the prophet Joel who wrote that, “all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2.32).  The Jesus Prayer places the name of the Lord constantly upon our lips and so by praying this prayer we are moved ever closer towards salvation.  The Jesus Prayer also reminds us of another mystery of our salvation, the Holy Trinity.  Again scripture instructs us that it is only through the Holy Spirit that we are able to confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, (see 1 John 4.1-6, 5.6).  God is Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the Jesus Prayer brings to mind this reality.  Our salvation comes through the saving work of the Trinity, One God in Three Persons.  This mystery is experienced, but not explained, by the use of the Jesus Prayer. 

Finally, the Jesus Prayer reminds us of our fallen condition.  Jesus warned us to, “watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26.41).  In order to avoid the temptation to sin we are told by Jesus to be vigilant through prayer.  Prayer animates the soul and makes possible its mastery over the flesh.  We were created with both a body and a soul, but in our fallen state it is the body that rules the soul.  God is Spirit (John 4.24) and if we are to grow into the image of God our souls must come first.  We must become spiritual beings not ruled by the cares of the flesh (Romans 8.1, 8.4, 8.5-17).  The Jesus Prayer when practiced energizes our souls and moves us away from the many temptations to sin that surround us.
The Jesus Prayer can be used at every moment of our lives.  Regular use of the Jesus Prayer can transform our morning commute, the meetings we attend, our time on the treadmill, or the time we spend folding the laundry or doing other household chores. Through it, constant prayer becomes possible so that even in our sleep the Name of the Lord is constantly on our lips!  Combining this prayer with the use of a Koumboskini or Prayer Rope is a sure way to keep God the Trinity in our hearts and minds.  The Jesus Prayer is a sure weapon against the many assaults and attacks of the evil one and his demons. Many of the soul’s greatest enemies like gossip, the tendency to complain, lust, pride, jealousy, and anger become easier to overcome when we are in constant prayer. Therefore, resolve today to make constant prayer a goal by using the Jesus Prayer. You can begin by incorporating set times to practice it, or you can begin by simply praying this prayer throughout your day. Whatever the case may be, begin your journey to constant prayer today!

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner!

Anyone interested in learning more about the Jesus Prayer and how it can change your life, should read, “The Way of the Pilgrim.”