Many Orthodox Christians have heard of the Jesus Prayer, or seen a prayer rope. Some wear them on their wrists as a symbol of faith. But, many people, do not know the origins or the importance of this prayer.
So, I thought it would be a good thing to share some of the things our saints have written throughout the centuries on this topic.
What is the Jesus Prayer and why is it so important?
In the book, Philokalia: The Bible of Orthodox Spirituality (not to be confused with THE Philokalia), Fr. Anthony retells the story of the blind man as follows…
As Jesus drew near to Jericho a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging…
To catch the true meaning of these words, one must remember that the “roadside” by which the blind man was sitting was the gutter of some street in Jericho. He was blind, and he was a beggar sitting in the gutter. To the people of Jericho, he was the lowest of the low.
…and hearing a multitude going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!“ And those who were in front rebuked him telling him to be silent.”
He knew of Jesus. He believed in Him. He cried out to Him with faith. But those around him rebuked him, “Quiet! The Master is busy! He’s teaching a crowd of people. Do you think He would pay attention to you, a dirty, blind beggar wallowing in the gutter? How dare you trouble the Master; you–a nobody; you–the lowest of the low; you–the scum of the earth!”
…but he cried all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And Jesus Stopped.
Above all the noise of the multitude Jesus heard the lonely prayer of the blind beggar and He stopped. The Almighty Lord and Master of the universe is stopped by the prayer of a poor, blind, forgotten beggar sitting in the gutter–a nobody!
He commands the beggar to be brought to Him.
“What do you want me to do for you?” He asks. “Lord, let me receive my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it gave praise to God.
This is the prayer that stopped Jesus, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. Certainly if this prayer stopped Jesus then, it can stop Him today.
The blind man’s prayer, altered but slightly, is known today as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” or simply, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me“.
St. John Climacus says on page 131 of The Ladder, “With the name of Jesus flog the foes, because there is no stronger weapon in heaven or on earth.”
A Christian when he eats, drinks, walks, sits, travels, or does any other thing must continually cry: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” So that the name of the Lord Jesus descending into the depths of the heart… St. John Chrysostom
This is why the Jesus prayer is the first thing that should be on our lips at all times. During times of trial, temptation, joy, sadness, anything and everything. Let’s not forget that the name of Jesus was given by God Himself, not man.
It is especially helpful for those fighting the passion of depression. In the book The Way of a Pilgrim, the pilgrim says,
Sometimes, there was such a bubbling up in my heart and a lightness, a freedom, a joy so great that I was transformed and felt in ecstasy. Sometimes I felt a burning love for Jesus Christ and for the whole divine creation. Sometimes my tears flowed all on their own in thanksgiving to the Lord who had mercy on me, such a hardened sinner. Sometimes the sweet warmth of my heart spilled over into all my being, and I felt the presence of the Lord with great emotion. Sometimes, I felt a powerful and deep joy on invoking the name of Jesus Christ, and I understood the meaning of this saying, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”
Use the Jesus Prayer to find joy!!
What we know about prayer.
We all know the power of prayer. In the book THE PRAYER ROPE, we read that,
Prayer is a spiritual action of man, during which man–with a deep realization of his own weakness and full awareness of the living God’s existence and presence–speaks to God. Sometimes, to ask for His help, other times to glorify and thank Him for all the good things he has received from Him. Prayer is the greatest means by which man can successfully preserve his spirituality and create within himself a holy atmosphere.
As soon as man neglects prayer and begins feeling indifference toward it, his link with God weakens. His life becomes mundane and unstable, while spiritual disintegration begins to advance within his heart. The absence of prayer and disinterest for this fundamental obligation for our spiritual existence is the greatest evil that harms us.
This is why in the scriptures, St. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17). In the Philokalia, we are told the following about the Jesus Prayer,
With your breathing combine watchfulness and the name of Jesus, or humility and the unremitting study of death. Both may confer great blessing.
St. Theophan the Recluse encourages us with these words,
At first this saving prayer is usually a matter of strenuous effort and hard work. But if one concentrates on it with zeal, it will begin to flow of its own accord, like a brook that murmurs in the heart. This is a great blessing, and it is worth working hard to obtain it.
It also says in the Philokalia,
As we pray the Jesus Prayer again and again, it becomes established in our hearts. In time the prayer rises to consciousness without effort on our part. In the midst of trouble, temptation, pain, anger, or frustration, this prayer makes us aware of God’s presence. As a result, we become prayer. We begin to worship and pray, not in our own words, nor in our own minds, but in the Spirit.
So, for Orthodox Christians, the Jesus Prayer plays a vital role in our prayer life.
And as we all well know, there is not a moment that the devil does not try to distract us from our prayer and communion with God. Using a prayer rope helps keep our minds focused amidst the many distractions in our daily lives by serving as an external reminder. At any opportune moment, we can hold a prayer rope in our hand or pocket and say the Jesus prayer internally.
Stay tuned for part two– how-to: using a prayer rope.