Thursday, May 26, 2011

Unceasing Prayer - The Jesus Prayer

Pray without ceasing.
 ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:17

The most normal form of unceasing prayer in the Eastern rite and Orthodox tradition is the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer is the form of invocation used by those practicing mental prayer, also called the "prayer of the heart." The words of the prayer most usually said are 

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

This is truly a powerful prayer and has very much helped me to reconnect to my Lord and Savior throughout the day.  I was actually taught the prayer by a Roman Catholic priest at the end of a confession.  Now I am attending a Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church and I am teaching it to the 1st and 2nd grade students each year in the Religion School.

Many of you are familiar with this prayer, whereas maybe some of you are hearing about it for the first time. 

If you have been praying this prayer would you leave a comment on why you pray this prayer and what it has meant to you?  

As my readership is quite low at this point, you may also want to subscribe to the comments because maybe some will come in weeks or months from now.

There are days that pass when I forget to pray this, but I don't think a week has gone by when I haven't prayed this.  Normally I pray it many times throughout the day.  There are monks that pray it hundreds of times throughout the day using prayer ropes!  
  • It helps me focus my awareness on Jesus dwelling within me
  • It fosters my proper place before God, humble sinner, dependent completely on his mercy
  • I believe it protects me, I am calling to my Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God; the demons in New Testament would call him Son of God, but not Lord!
  • Many times it gives me that peaceful, slight chill in the back of my head and neck reminding me--God is with me!
  • When I am praying earnestly for someone, after I pray initially, I can continue to pray this prayer by inserting their name, and the names of those involved with their situation in place of "me" in the prayer.  It helps me to keep praying for them while I go about other things.
Where do I pray this:
  • In my car driving
  • At work:  at my desk, in meetings, in the stairwell, etc.
  • At home
  • In church if I feel distracted
  • While working out--running, biking, swimming, etc.
  • Anywhere else I remember, or the Holy Spirit prompts me

Theological and Spiritual Meaning of the Jesus Prayer
The choice of this particular verse has a theological and spiritual meaning.

First of all, it is centered on the name of Jesus because this is the name of Him whom "
God has highly exalted," the name given to the Lord by God Himself (Luke 1:31), the "name which is above every name." (Philippians 2:9-10, cf Ephesians 1:21)

...for there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

All prayer for Christians must be performed in the name of Jesus: "
if you ask anything in my name, I will do it." (John 14:13-14) 

The fact that the prayer is addressed to Jesus as Lord and Christ and Son of God is because this is the center of the entire faith revealed by God in the Spirit.

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 
Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." 
And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you...for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven...and on this rock I will build my Church..." (Matthew 16:16-18)

That Jesus is the Christ, and that the Christ is Lord is the essence of the Christian faith and the foundation of the Christian church. To believe and proclaim this is granted by the Holy Spirit. one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:3) 

... every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:11)

In calling Jesus the Son of God is to acknowledge God as His Father. To do this is, at the same time, to have God as one's own Father, and this too is granted by the indwelling Spirit.

And when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying "Abba! Father!" (Galatians 4:4-6) 

When we cry "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God ... (Romans 8:15-16)

Thus, to pray "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God" is already to be a child of God, and already to be certain that the Holy Spirit is in you. In this way, the Jesus Prayer brings the Spirit of God into the heart of man.

"Have mercy on me a sinner" is the publican's prayer. When uttered with humble conviction it brings divine justification. (cf. Luke 18:9-14

Generally speaking, divine mercy is what man needs most of all. It is for this reason that the numberless repetition of the request for the Lord's mercy is found everywhere in the prayers of, the Church.

And finally, all men are sinners. To know this is a fact, and to confess it with faith is to be justified and forgiven by God. (cf. Romans 3:10-12, Psalm 14:1-3)


If you are interested in learning more after you read this, there are so many different sites that come up on quick Google. Unfortunately I can't find the one that provided the following information that I use with my 1st, 2nd graders and give on a handout to their parents.  I'll have to do better job keeping my references going forward!


  1. I LOVE this prayer! I pray it all the time. Most of the time I just say Jesus or Jesus, have mercy.
    I first started praying this way because I was very depressed and my spiritual director suggested it to me. He told me to pray it every chance I got. He was the one who suggested I cut it down as I was depressed enough and didnt need the reminder I was a sinner!
    So I prayed it almost constantly as I went through my days. And eventually the depression left.
    Now I pray it when I need to focus on Jesus. Or when I am depressed or anxious or afraid. I pray it when I go for walks. It comes to me all the time now.
    I now suggest it to my directees when they are going through something or looking for a way to pray as they go through their busy lives.
    Did you read The Way of a Pilgrim?
    Great post.

  2. Colleen, I had not read it before but I will now. I previewed it on Kindle and now will download it. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  3. Colleen,
    I see you've met the other Colleen :) I love The Jesus Prayer, too, and pray it often. When I am feeling down, distracted during prayer, fearful or oppressed in some way I turn to this simple but beautiful prayer. Excellent post on this prayer!

    I tried to leave a comment on your Medjugorje post but couldn't for some reason. I am a great fan of Medjugorje ever since my mother visited there in the eighties. She brought me back a pair of Rosary beads blessed by Our Lady that I treasured for years. That pair eventually broke but some friends of mine brought me back another pair after they took a trip there in the nineties. I still have that pair, thankfully!