The Jesus Prayer

QUESTION: “Father, how can someone pray continuously?”

ANSWER: It can be done, but even for a monk it takes time and commitment.

In order to enter more deeply into the life of prayer and to come to grips with St. Paul’s challenge to pray unceasingly (Thessalonians 5:17), Orthodoxy offers us the “Jesus Prayer”, which is sometimes called the prayer of the heart.

It is, for us, one of the most profound and mystical prayers. We repeat the Jesus Prayer endlessly as part of a personal ascetic practice. I have been told that there have been a number of Roman Catholic texts on the subject, but its usage has never achieved the same degree of devotion as in the Orthodox Church

In Orthodox tradition we say the prayer repeatedly, usually with the aid of a prayer rope.

The Jesus Prayer is offered as a means of concentration, as a focal point for our inner life. The most frequently used form of the Jesus Prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” This simple, humble prayer is brief enough to be memorized and said so frequently, that it may become a continuous prayer of the heart. It is suggested however, that you follow this simple Basic rule; say the Jesus Prayer with your lips when you are alone, for example working around the house, and say it to yourself when in public, for example, shopping.

As monks in the performance of our duties, we often have long sessions praying the Jesus prayer many hundreds of times each day. This is part of our monastic discipline; and through the guidance of our Abbot or ones Spiritual Father, one truly learns to say the Jesus Prayer repeatedly.  Many of us, after saying the Jesus Prayer for so long, find that it automatically enters into the heart, so that it is no longer recited by a deliberate effort, but recites itself spontaneously even when we are asleep. Hence this is how we learn to pray continuously.