A REFLECTION on the JESUS PRAYER
I’m sure we have all found that during this time of the current pandemic, we have found many challenges but hopefully many more blessings. One of the blessings that many have encountered is the availability of the one thing many of us could not find enough of before this all began: time. The reality is that we always had exactly the same amount of time as God gives us in his love, but in our busyness, we didn’t always make the best use of it. Now that we at least feel as if we have somewhat more time on our hands, we have the opportunity to rethink our use of time as we begin to prepare for the “new normal” to which we will return.
For many of us, among the highest of our regrets is that we don’t pray more. To this end, I have encouraged all of us to take this time of upheaval in our lives to develop a deeper prayer life. One of the hallmarks of that is a regular practice of morning and evening prayers. These can be the bookends of each day or the pillars of support that we rest upon to face each day’s challenges.
In addition to that practice, we have the wonderful practice in our Orthodox spirituality of the Jesus Prayer. This short, simple prayer is one that we can have with us wherever we are, because of its brevity and its depth. It can be said once, three times, 12 times, 40 times, a hundred times or even more, and each one can be a brief yet powerful encounter with our loving God. The reflection given below can be very helpful in our efforts to increase prayer in our lives by the increased praying of the Jesus Prayer. This can be nothing less than transformational for our lives, if we simply give ourselves to it.
May you continue to receive spiritual wisdom and strength as you encounter the Living God!
A Reflection on the Jesus Prayer
From “Life Transfigured,” A Journal of Orthodox Nuns (omtnuns.org)
There are certain prayers that many of us have memorized from our youth–the Lord’s Prayer and the Jesus Prayer are probably the two most common. Even though we may memorize a prayer or a psalm, sometimes we don’t learn it by heart. You might say that they are the same thing–we often use the expressions interchangeably. However, I’d like to think that learning “by heart” means to take the prayer deep into our heart and soul. For example, we can say words by rote–a memory of sounds and syllables; or we can make each word of the prayer our own–coming from the depth of our heart.
When we have a prayer that we say often, we can fall into the trap of vain repetition–not really paying attention to the words we are saying. We offer here a brief reflection on the Jesus Prayer. Perhaps this will be helpful if we are having trouble making the prayer our own.
In the Old Testament, “Lord” is the word that was substituted for the name of God whenever it was read aloud. The name of God, the I AM was only said once a year. The word Lord (Kyrios), also implies ownership. Its counterpart is doulos, which can mean slave, servant or bonded servant. This is something that we can have in mind while we pray the Jesus Prayer–He is my Lord, and I am His servant. We should strive to confess in truth as did Thomas–“my Lord and my God.”
This name, given to Mary for the newborn Child by the Angel Gabriel, means “God saves.” It is His human name–He is fully man. Jesus comes to save us, to save all mankind. Salvation is not something that any of us can accomplish on our own. Thus, we can keep in mind as we say the prayer our own individual need for our savior, Jesus.
The anointed one. In the Old Testament, the prophets anointed Kings with oil to set them apart. It is a sign of consecration, of sanctification, of being set apart (holy). Christ is the Holy One of Israel, as heard of in the prophecy of Isaiah. We are also called to be holy as the Apostle Peter quotes from Leviticus, “You shall be holy, for I [Christ] am holy” (1 Pt. 1:16). Do we strive for holiness every day, recognizing that we are set apart as Christians?
Son of God,
The Apostle Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The Jews sought to kill Jesus because, “He not only broke the Sabbath but also called God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (Jn: 5:18). Following St. Peter we confess that Jesus is of the same essence with the Father. Furthermore, we know from the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mt. 5:9). Do we have peace in our hearts? Do we strive to be peacemakers–not only in the world but in our own hearts? And do we encourage and help others find peace within their hearts too?
have mercy on me,
Mercy is not only forgiveness but also any act of gracious kindness. Jesus has mercy on the blind man and on the Canaanite woman’s daughter. The Good Samaritan shows mercy to the man who fell among thieves. There is always a connection between mercy and healing. In our own prayer, do we acknowledge our need for God’s mercy? Do we seek not only forgiveness but also healing?
To sin means to miss the mark. Think of a bow and arrow and the target–any time we miss the bulls-eye, we miss the mark. What is the mark? The mark is Christ! Anytime we are not like Christ, we miss the mark. Even the holiest of saints confess to be first among sinners (as we say in the prayer before Holy Communion). So, here at the end of the Jesus Prayer, we can think about who we are, and who Christ is, and what the relationship is between us.
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.