Conversatio Divina

Part 16 of 20

Jesus Prayer—Prayer of the Heart

The Martin Institute

The Jesus Prayer, says Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, “more than any other,” helps us to be able to “stand in God’s presence.” This means that the Jesus Prayer helps us to focus our mind exclusively on God with “no other thought” occupying our mind but the thought of God. At this moment when our mind is totally concentrated on God, we discover a very personal and direct relationship with Him.

01.  The Jesus Prayer is very simple

It is often traced back to the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican found in Luke 18:9-14. Here we see the Pharisee praying a self-focused from of prayer that Jesus condemned (vs. 11): “God, I thank thee, that I’m not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.” But the publican prays in humility, (vs. 13): “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

Other, slightly modified versions include:

“Lord Jesus Christ Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner,”

“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner”

“Lord Jesus, have mercy”

02.  The Jesus Prayer is based on sound theology

The Jesus Prayer combines the prayer of the Pharisee and the Publican with Paul’s Hymn of Christ found in Philippians 2:6-11, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Vs.11), and the Annunciation of Luke 1:31-35,“Son of God” (vs. 35).

We also see a similar cry for mercy in the prayer of Blind Bartimaeus, in Matthew 10:47 and Luke 18:38. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The Jesus Prayer’s power comes from the use of our Lord’s Name, Jesus Christ, Son of God. It is a confession of our faith.

To pray “Lord” is an act of worship

To pray “Jesus Christ Son of God” is an act of intimacy and confession of faith concerning the identity of Jesus as human and Divine

To pray “Have Mercy” is an act of requesting grace

To pray “A Sinner” is an act of repentance

03.  Jesus Prayer Has Two Functions

The Jesus Prayer has two important purposes. The first is worship as with all prayer. The second is a discipline to help our soul gain control our overactive brains and create stillness so the Holy Spirit can work through us and help us live the virtues in union with God.

04.  Jesus Prayer Has Three Stages in Practice

The Jesus Prayer involves three stages of progress in its practice.

  1. You may begin praying the Jesus Prayer by repeating the words of the prayer out loud or at least moving the lips. Verbal prayer.
  2. After some time saying of the Jesus Prayer may become silent or mental and is repeated only in the mind. Mental prayer.
  3. Finally, the Jesus Prayer becomes a continuous prayer in the heart, the inner core of our being. Prayer of the Heart.

It is important to note that we begin with vocal prayer and do not force the move to mental prayer. This should be allowed to happen naturally.

05.  Jesus Prayer in Practice

We learn from the desert Fathers and Mothers that the Jesus Prayer is be said over and over hundreds of times as part of our daily prayer rule. It is often suggested to add the Jesus Prayer to morning prayers, when the mind is the quietest.

It is also frequently suggested to begin by saying the Jesus Prayer verbally focusing on each word. Perhaps the prayer will move from verbal, to mental and then become a prayer of the heart that is taken through the day.

As with any repeated prayer or time of meditation you will likely experience the challenge of dealing with your thoughts, the tendency for your mind to wander. Attention when praying the Jesus Prayer is important. Be sincere in your prayer and repeat it with contrition. Praying the Jesus Prayer is that simple!

06.  Jesus Prayer is A Long and Difficult Path

Do not be fooled by its simplicity. The Jesus Prayer practice is a difficult task and like all ascetic practices it requires commitment of time, patience and perseverance. Remember the Jesus Prayer’s aim is not to obtain calmness or any kind of spiritual experience, but to become in communion with God and participate in His grace.

07.  Jesus Prayer—When To Pray

The Jesus Prayer will eventually be prayed throughout the day and when this happens, you will find that your life changes.

08.  An Exercise

Step 1: Breath the entire Jesus Prayer in and out for more many repetitions—first verbally and perhaps moving to only whispering the words and then to mental prayer:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” …as you breathe in

“Have Mercy on Me a Sinner”  …as you breathe out.


Step 2: Continue to breathe the prayer as you focus on a few of the words.

“Lord Jesus Christ” …as you breathe in

“Have Mercy on Me”  … as you breathe out


Step 3: Continue to breathe the prayer as you focus on the most central words.

“Lord Jesus” …as you breathe in

“Have mercy”  …as you breathe out


Step 4: Take the prayer with you as you go through the day

As you go through the day, breathe the prayer several times each time you are reminded.


Step 5: Return to the prayer as a way to avoid following your thoughts away from God

If you find that you are not praying the prayer through the day, let each thought that takes you away from peace, thoughts of worry, anxiety, impurity, and use that occasion as a reminder to return to the Jesus Prayer.

09.  Other References

In addition to the website you may want to pursue these additional resources.
The Way of the Pilgrimand The Pilgrim Continues His Way, translated by Helen Bacovcin. New York: Image Books, 1978.
Ware, Bishop Kallistos. The Power of the Name: The Jesus Prayer in Orthodox Spirituality.Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1986.
Brianchaninov, Ignatius. On the Prayer of Jesus. Boston and London: New Seeds, 2005.