The Jesus Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.
In the first epistle to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul says: “Pray without ceasing.” How then, is one to pray unceasingly? By often repeating the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” If one becomes accustomed to this appeal, great consolation is felt, the need to continually make this petition will become apparent, and the prayer will be carried on within ourself on its own.
Although in the beginning the enemy of the human race will offer hindrances to this, by causing great weariness, indolence, boredom, and over-powering sleep, having withstood all these with the help of God, one will receive peace of soul, spiritual joy, a benevolent disposition toward others, tranquility of thought, and gratitude toward God.
In the very name of Jesus Christ a great and graceful power is inherent. Many holy and righteous people advise how one can often, almost without interruption, perform the Jesus Prayer:
“It is necessary for everyone, whether eating, drinking, sitting, serving, traveling, or doing anything, to unceasingly cry: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,’ that the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, descending into the depths of the heart, may subdue the pernicious serpent, and save and quicken the soul.”
– St. John Chrysostom
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”: let all your attention and training be in this. Walking, sitting, doing, and standing in church before the divine service, coming in and going out, keep this unceasingly on your lips and in your heart. In calling in this manner on the name of God, thou wilt find peace, thou wilt attain to purity of spirit and body, and the Holy Spirit, the Origin of all good things, will dwell in you, and He will guide you unto holiness, unto all piety and purity.”
– St. Seraphim of Sarov
“In order to more conveniently become accustomed to the remembrance of God, for this the fervent Christian has a special means, namely to repeat unceasingly a brief prayer of two or three words. Most often this is: ‘Lord, have mercy!’ or ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.’ If you have not yet heard of this, then hear it now, and if you have not done it, then begin to do it from this time. Those who have truly decided to serve the Lord God must train themselves in the remembrance of God and in unceasing prayer to Jesus Christ, saying mentally: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.’ Through such practice, by guarding oneself from distraction and by the preservation of the peace of one’s conscience, it is possible to draw near to God and to be united with Him.”
– St. Theophan the Recluse
The Jesus Prayer, the Prayer of the Heart, is most reflective of the lesson taught by Christ’s parable on the Publican and the Pharisee in which the Pharisee demonstrates the improper way to pray by exclaiming, “Thank you Lord that I am not like the Publican.” While the Publican in humility prays correctly “Lord have mercy on me, the sinner” (Luke 18:10-14). Likewise in the Gospels, Peter cried out as he sank into the sea, “Lord, save me.” Additional scripture references include the ten lepers who stood afar off and shouted, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13), and the blind man who cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38)
In the Orthodox tradition the prayer is said or prayed repeatedly, often with the aid of a prayer rope. It may be accompanied by prostrations and the sign of the cross.