The Jesus Prayer From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia The Jesus Prayer, also called the Prayer of the Heart by some Church Fathers, is a short, simple prayer that has been widely used, taught and discussed throughout the history of Eastern Christianity. The exact words of the prayer have varied from a simple form such as "Lord, have mercy" to the more common extended form: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner." However, a number of different repetitive prayer formulas have been attested in the history of Eastern Orthodox monasticism (e.g. the Prayer of St Ioannikios, the repetitive use of which by St Ioannikios (754–846) is described in his Life; the more recent practice of St Nicholas Velimirovich (1880–1956)). Sometimes the Jesus Prayer is alternated with an invocation to the Mother of God: "Most Holy Theotokos, save us." In such a case, the practitioner repeats, say, 400 Jesus Prayers and then 100 invocations of the Mother of God. The Jesus Prayer is, for the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern-Rite Catholics, one of the most profound and mystical prayers and it is often repeated continually as a part of personal ascetic practice. Its practice is an integral part of Hesychasm, the subject of the Philokalia, a collection of texts on prayer compiled in the late 18th Century. There have been a number of Roman Catholic texts on the Jesus Prayer, but its practice has never achieved the same popularity as in the Orthodox Church. Moreover, the Eastern Orthodox theology of the Jesus Prayer, enunciated by St Gregory Palamas (1296–1359), has never been fully accepted by the Roman Catholic Church (see, e.g., Pope John Paul II's Angelus Message, August 11, 1996). The practice of repeating the prayer continually dates back to at least the fifth century. The earliest known mention is in the Gnostic Chapters of Saint Diadochos of Photiki (400-486), a work found in the first volume of the Philokalia. The Jesus Prayer is described in the Gnostic Chapters in terms very similar to St John Cassian's (?–435) description in the Conferences 9 and 10 of the repetitive use of a passage of the psalms. St Diadochos ties the practice of the Jesus Prayer to the purification of the soul. He also teaches that repetition of the prayer produces inner peace. The use of the Jesus Prayer is recommended in the Ladder of Divine Ascent of St John of Sinai (523–603) and in the work of St Hesychios (?8th Century), Pros Theodoulon, found in the first volume of the Philokalia. The use of the Jesus Prayer according to the tradition of the Philokalia is the subject of the Russian classic The Way of a Pilgrim, itself a major subject of J.D. Salinger's novel, Franny and Zooey. Mount Athos is a centre of the practice of the Jesus Prayer. Though the Jesus Prayer has been practised through the centuries as part of the Eastern tradition, in the twentieth century it also began to be used in some Western churches, including some Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches. When it is practised on a continuing basis, the Jesus Prayer becomes automatic. Some people see its automatic repetition as a form of meditation, the prayer functioning as a kind of mantra. However, Eastern Orthodox users of the Jesus Prayer are reluctant to compare the Jesus Prayer to a mantra, pointing to the invocation of Jesus Christ that St Hesychios emphasizes in Pros Theodoulon. St Diadochos refers in the Gnostic Chapters to the automatic repetition of the Jesus Prayer, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, even in sleep. The prayer's origin is most likely the Egyptian desert. That is where St John Cassian received his monastic formation, and Antoine Guillaumont (See 'Une inscription copte sur la priere de Jesus’ in Aux origines du monachisme chrétien, Pour une phénoménologie du monachisme, pp. 168–83. In Spiritualité orientale et vie monastique, No 30. Bégrolles en Mauges (Maine & Loire), France: Abbaye de Bellefontaine) reports the finding of an inscription containing the Jesus Prayer in the ruins of a cell in the Egyptian desert dated roughly to the period being discussed. Theologically, the Jesus Prayer can be considered to be an extension of the lesson taught by the parable of 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", whereas the Publican prays correctly in humility, saying "Lord have mercy on me, the sinner." (Luke 18:10-14.) In the Eastern tradition the prayer is said or prayed repeatedly, often with the aid of a prayer rope (Russian chotki; Greek komvoschini), somewhat resembling a rosary. It may be accompanied by prostrations and the sign of the cross. The practice of the Jesus Prayer is integrated into the mental ascesis undertaken by the Orthodox monk in the practice of Hesychasm. This mental ascesis is the subject of the Philokalia. Monks often pray this prayer many hundreds of times each night as part of their private cell vigil. Under the guidance of an Elder (Russian Starets; Greek Gerontas), the monk aims to internalize the prayer, so that he is praying unceasingly, thereby accomplishing Saint Paul's exhortation to the Thessalonians to "pray without ceasing". The monk's goal is also, in advanced practice, to bring his mind into his heart so as to practise the Jesus Prayer with his mind in his heart. The Jesus Prayer can be used as a means of finding contrition and as a means of bringing about humility in the individual (hence the words "the sinner", as if no other sinner existed but the person praying), but in its more advanced use, the monk aims to attain to a sober practice of the Jesus Prayer in the heart free of images. It is from this condition, called by St John of Sinai and by St Hesychios the guard of the mind, that the monk is raised by Grace to contemplation.