The Jesus Prayer

A Cornerstone of the Orthodox Church

Jesus Christ statue
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The "Jesus Prayer" is a mantra-like prayer, a cornerstone of the Orthodox Churches, that calls upon the name of Jesus Christ for mercy and forgiveness. It is perhaps the most popular prayer among Eastern Christians, both Orthodox and Catholic.

This prayer is recited in Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism as well. Instead of a Catholic rosary, Orthodox Christians use a prayer rope to recite a series of prayers in succession. This prayer is commonly recited using an Anglican rosary.

The "Jesus Prayer"

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

Origin of the "Jesus Prayer"

It is believed that this prayer was first used by the ascetic or hermit monks of the Egyptian desert, known as the Desert Mothers and Desert Fathers in the fifth century A.D.

The derivation of the power behind the invocation of Jesus' name comes from Saint Paul as he writes in Philippians 2, "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord."

Very early on, Christians came to understand that the very name of Jesus had great power, and the recitation of His name was itself a form of prayer.

Saint Paul urges you to "pray without ceasing," and this prayer is one of the best ways to start doing so. It takes only a few minutes to memorize, after which you can recite it whenever you remember to do so. According to Christian belief, if you fill the empty moments of your day with the holy name of Jesus, you will keep your thoughts focused on God and grow in His grace.

Biblical Reference

The "Jesus Prayer" is mirrored in a prayer offered by a tax collector in a parable that Jesus tells about the Publican (tax collector) and the Pharisee (religious scholar) in Luke 18:9-14

He (Jesus) spoke also this parable to certain people who were convinced of their own righteousness, and who despised all others. "Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this: 'God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far away, wouldn't even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."—Luke 18:9-14, World English Bible

The tax collector said, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" This sounds resoundingly close to the "Jesus Prayer."

In this story, the Pharisee scholar, who often displays a strict adherence to Jewish law is depicted as going beyond his fellows, fasting more often than was required, and giving a tithe on all he receives, even in cases where the religious rules did not require it. Confident in his religiosity, the Pharisee asks God for nothing, and thus receives nothing.

The tax collector, on the other hand, was a despised man and considered a collaborator with the Roman Empire for taxing the people harshly. But, because the tax collector recognized his unworthiness before God and came to god humbly, he receives God's mercy.