“Lord Jesus Christ, Son Of God, Have Mercy On Me, A Sinner”
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5:16-18)
St. Paul teaches that Christians are those who invoke the name of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:2). In the Hebrew tradition, to invoke or call upon one’s name was to proclaim that person’s character and all that went with it. Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware writes, “To invoke a person’s name was to make that person effectively present.”1 To call upon Jesus’ Name is to invoke His presence, His authority and virtue, His divine power, and to invite Him to come and save (Phil 2:10-11; Rom. 10:13).
To pronounce the name of Jesus in a holy way is an all sufficient and surpassing aim for any human life. … We are to call to mind Jesus Christ until the name of the Lord penetrates our heart, descends to its very depths. … The name of Jesus, once it has become the center of our life, brings everything together.”2
The Jesus Prayer has been in use since the earliest days of the desert monastic communities, and to this day is one of the greatest treasures of Eastern Christian spirituality. It is called the Jesus Prayer because of the continual invocation of the name of Jesus Christ. As practiced by Eastern Christians, the Jesus Prayer is a response to St. Paul’s admonition to pray without ceasing. This “way of prayer” is growing in appeal and practice among Western Christians, Catholic and Protestants alike. The Jesus Prayer sums up the whole of the gospel, for the reality of the gospel is contained in the name, in the Person of Jesus. This is why the Jesus Prayer can only be used in its fullest sense if the person who prays it is a member of the Church of Christ.
“Mine eyes are weighed down by my transgressions, and I cannot lift them up and see the heights of heaven. But receive me, Savior, in repentance as the Publican and have mercy on me.” — Byzantine Divine Office, Saturday evening vespers before The Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee
The Jesus Prayer is also a penitential prayer. It is the prayer of the Publican. A fundamental aspect of the Jesus Prayer is that of seeking forgiveness. It is the prayer of someone whose heart is stricken by grief. The monk, Macarius of Optino, wrote in a letter:
Only those who always feel like the publican at prayer, and the prodigal son on his way home can practice (the Jesus Prayer) with impunity. … Love begins with awe. … You must now bear your sins in mind always, until your heart nearly breaks with their ugly load, and would break, were it not for your firm faith in the mercy of our Lord.3
Our modern translation of “mercy” is limited and inadequate. “Lord have mercy” is derived from the Greek “kyrie eleison,” whose meaning is described in the book Orthodox Worship as follows:
The word mercy in English is the translation of the Greek word eleos, and has the same ultimate root as the old Greek word for oil, or more precisely, olive oil; a substance which was used extensively as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. The oil was poured onto the wound and gently massaged in, thus soothing, comforting and making whole the injured part. …The Greek words for ‘Lord, have mercy,’ are ‘kyrie, eleison’ — that is to say, ‘Lord, soothe me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love and your compassion!’ Thus, mercy does not refer so much to justice or acquittal … but to the infinite loving-kindness of God, and his compassion for his suffering children!4
When we use the words, “have mercy on us,” we are asking for love and for God to pour His grace abundantly onto us in order that we should be able to live and become what we are called to be, for we are not capable of fulfilling His will on our own (Rom 5:18-21). Mercy is both the forgiveness of sins and a gift of grace. The gateway to God’s mercy is repentance. To repent means to feel in our hearts the destructiveness of our transgressions, any actions away from virtue and love, and desire to amend them with the aid of God’s loving grace. Repentance with the experience of mercy leads to metanoia, a radical conversion of heart and growth in intimacy with Christ.
Praying the Jesus Prayer is done with an attitude of repentance and humility, seeking an encounter with the living Christ. The person who prays it says in a barely audible, or even interior, voice, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” As he or she does so, they focus their mind’s whole attention on their heart. Conscious of its rhythm, one attempts to attune the rhythm of the prayer to that of the heart. One can also breathe the prayer: inhaling on “Lord Jesus Christ”; exhaling “Son of God”; inhaling “have mercy on me”; and exhaling “a sinner”. As one continues to pray, he or she becomes increasingly aware of Christ’s presence within (Rom 6; Eph 4:22-24; Gal 3:27). A woven prayer rope can be used to mark each invocation of the Holy Name and assist in directing one’s prayerful attention.
The Jesus Prayer can be a part of our prayer rule, added to our morning or evening prayers. It can be prayed as we go about our daily tasks, when we wait in line or sit in traffic. We ought to turn to the Jesus Prayer, invoke God’s Holy Name and seek His healing grace, when we are anxious, annoyed, irritated, upset — anytime we encounter situations that can be opportunities for growth in virtue and charity. The Jesus Prayer can even be recited in our hearts as we interact with patients. The Fathers recommend having a spiritual director to guide our prayer and assist in discerning thoughts and movements that can arise during the “way of prayer.” It takes patience, much practice and divine assistance to master concentrating all of one’s senses onto the Jesus Prayer. When our mind is totally concentrated on God, we discover a very personal and direct relationship with Him.
Unlike Far Eastern meditative practices, the Jesus Prayer is not a technique or method to obtain calmness or any kind of spiritual experience. “The practice of the Jesus Prayer aims at rooting within us, within our heart, a continual and vivid consciousness of God’s presence.”5 Its theology goes beyond mere imitation of Christ. Its aim is to enter into communion with God and participate in His grace. The Jesus Prayer expresses a direct relationship between persons. It is about love. It is in Christ that a true communion with God is made possible. According to Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, repeating the words of of the Jesus Prayer can “achieve an inner transformation. More than any other prayer, the Jesus Prayer aims at bringing us to stand in God’s presence with no other thought but the miracle of our standing there and God with us, because in the use of the Jesus Prayer there is nothing and no one except God and us.”6
The Jesus Prayer is not just for monastics. It is for every Christian who seeks to draw nearer to God and through sincere repentance and God’s grace be healed. The Jesus Prayer promotes unceasing prayer and facilitates our journey toward restoration to our original creation in the image and likeness of God.
— written by Donna Dobrowolsky, M.D.
- Bishop Kallistos Ware of Diokleia, The Power of the name: The Jesus Prayer in Orthodox Spirituality (Oxford: SLG Press, 1974), p.10.
- Bishop Kallistos Ware of Dioklea, forward to The Jesus Prayer, by A Monk of the Eastern Church Archimandrite Lev Gillet (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1987), p. 5.
- ”Letters of Elder Macarius of Optina,” True Orthodox Christianity, http://www.trueorthodoxy.info/spir_elder_macarius_optina_8_blessed_persecuted_righteousness.shtml. Accessed February 06, 2017.
- Benjamin D Williams and Harold B. Anstall. Orthodox Worship: A Living Continuity With The Synagogue, The Temple, and the Early Church (Minneapolis: Light & Life Publishing Company, 1990), p. 130.
- Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church: Christ — Our Pascha (Kyiv, Edmonton: Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, 2016), p.226.
- Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, “The Jesus Prayer “ in Living Prayer (Springfield, IL: Templegate Publishers, 1966), p. 88