Questions about the Jesus prayer

Hi everyone!
I’m interested in learning about the Jesus prayer.

Why is it so important for Orthodox Christians?
How do you integrate it into your prayer life?
Why is it said that it can become spiritually dangerous for those who pray it without guidance?
Where can I read and learn about it?
Thank you!
 

MichaelWitcoff

Hummingbird
Orthodox
Hi everyone!
I’m interested in learning about the Jesus prayer.

Why is it so important for Orthodox Christians?
How do you integrate it into your prayer life?
Why is it said that it can become spiritually dangerous for those who pray it without guidance?
Where can I read and learn about it?
Thank you!
The Jesus Prayer is: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Over the last two millenia, Fathers and Saints found that when incorporated into your prayer life in specific ways, it can be extremely helpful to bring the body into subjection to the spirit and thus, overcome the passions and realign the "inner powers" of the soul that darkened and twisted at the Fall.

It is one of the core elements of hesychastic practice, which has to be done under obedience and instruction to a mature spiritual father who can help you do it properly and avoid falling into prelest, or spiritual delusion. It is easy, with mystical experiences, to wind up crazy and / or filled with pride about how “special” or “advanced” you are if you aren’t doing it under supervision. So before you worry about it too much, I encourage you to at least become a catechumen to familiarize yourself with the Orthodox way of life and begin to build a relationship with your priest, who will most likely be your spiritual father. Are you already a catechumen?
 
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It is easy, with mystical experiences, to wind up crazy and / or filled with pride about how “special” or “advanced” you are if you aren’t doing it under supervision.
This is a very sensible way of understanding things. I like it.

Thank you for your concise explanation. No, I’m not a catechumen. I’m a Catholic from a Western country where Orthodox Christians are almost nonexistent (except for some ethnic minorities at some very concrete cities). Here, population is divided into three big groups: Atheists or agnostics (biggest group, and growing each day), Catholics (diminishing group) and some muslims that make around 10% of the total population and are growing at a fast pace. The rest of religious groups are negligible.

I was born to a Catholic family where I received all the initiation sacraments. I’m interested in getting closer to God. I am curious about Orthodox Christianity. I haven’t explored it very much, and I have never met an Orthodox in my life, but I am still somehow ‘drawn’... at least to read and learn about it. I’m not currently thinking of becoming an Orthodox, but I want to be as close to God as I can. And if in a few years He asks me to become an Orthodox... I‘ll do my best to follow His will.
 

Roosh

Cardinal
Orthodox
One form of deception is thinking Orthodoxy is all about hesychasm, Jesus Prayer, and theosis, which becomes a source of pride. Some men may even adopt the outward aesthetic of a monk and carry 300-knot prayer ropes to let others know how "deep" their prayer is. It ends with a sort of monastic LARPing. I personally haven't seen this (only heard about it). As long as you understand that your faith is not simply the Jesus Prayer, you should be okay.

The Jesus Prayer, in balance with other components of the spiritual life, is a great tool. You can get yourself a prayer rope of 100 beads and do one set at the end of your prayers, on an afternoon walk, or during moments of downtime such as long drives. It seems deceptively easy, but to do it with a clear mind takes practice and grace. Start with doing a rope (100) a day and then build up if you feel like doing more. It is much easier to concentrate on it if you say it aloud. I started with the Jesus Prayer by doing a rope after my normal morning and evening prayers, and it has gradually seeped into other parts of my day.

Here's a good beginner resource: https://orthodoxprayer.org/Jesus Prayer.html
 

Chasinglogos

Pigeon
Orthodox Catechumen
A priest-monk from a monastery recently recommended that I add prostrations combined with a Jesus prayer to my nightly prayers. Attached is the video he sent me for reference.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
I will try to say this anytime I catch myself thinking about things I shouldn't or while I'm busy with repetitive tasks (stuff like mowing or driving) so my thoughts stay on God. You can find Jesus Prayer chants sung by choirs on YouTube. It's one of the best earworms in my opinion.

 
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@MichaelWitcoff Thank you for the book reference. I'll search for it!

@Roosh Yes, pride hides very easily and it's the hidden root of many vices and sins. I've seen something like what you describe with some groups of Catholics who started a fad of wearing big rosaries around their necks and outside their clothing. In my opinion, it's not the best use for a religious item whose main purpose is to help prayer. Thank you for your answer, your suggestions and for the website you linked, which I've bookmarked since it has many interesting resources.

@Chasinglogos Thank you very much! I will also try to say this anytime I catch myself thinking about things I shouldn't, as you worded it. Which is unfortunately quite often.

@Sol Invictus This is beautiful. Thank you!
 
After reading all of your replies here, I decided to take action: I’ve been reading for a while about the Jesus prayer, but I haven’t seriously tried it. So I grabbed my Rosary today and used it to pray the Jesus prayer 50 times, slowly, trying to focus on it and on what I was saying. Since you pushed me to try it, I’ll share with your my experience.

Well, it must be true that it burns demons as the video that @Penitent linked says, because just after I started praying it strong temptations arose from nowhere. Shortly after, they vanished. As @Roosh said, it seemed deceptively easy (I just prayed it 50 times, not even the 100 he suggested!) but it was not easy at all to maintain any kind of concentration. Through the few minutes I spent praying it I found myself distracted by randomly remembering many episodes of my life, some random places I’ve been to in no particular order, some job duties that caused me some mild anguish... well, I just went again to prayer whenever I caught myself distracted like that.

While feelings don’t dictate reality, I must say that as soon as I finished I felt some inner stillness along with the presence of God. It caught my attention, because as a Catholic I’m used to pray the Rosary and the feeling was absolutely different. When I pray a good Rosary, I have a sense of peace and love. Today, after praying the Jesus prayer I found peace and stillness, ‘order’.

In any case, I’ll try it again. Asking for mercy is necessary. And my first approach to the Jesus prayer has convinced me that it’s a great prayer that can bring me closer to God.

Thank you everyone!

Edit: Orthography.
 

OrthoLeaf

Sparrow
Orthodox
Why is it so important for Orthodox Christians?
Simply put, this prayer has produced more saints than any other prayer in the entire history of the Church. It was held up as an example of an ideal prayer by Christ Himself in his parable of the Publican and Pharisee. "And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner." (Luke 18:13). That verse is the Jesus prayer perfectly exemplified in both its ideal contrition and humility.

The simplicity of the prayer lends itself to be used in a wide variety of ways. It can be used to combat impure thoughts be it judgement, lust, pride or whatever. I'll use an example here that I experienced today. Stopping at a McDonalds to take a piss, I noticed an enormous woman pulling into the drive-thru and shamefully my first thought was "Really, lady? You think you need more McDonalds?" As soon as that thought crossed my mind: "Dammit, I did it again". I had to shake my head in shame at my judgement. "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me". Make the sign of the cross, make a mental note for confession and continue on. Over time you will notice your thoughts begin to shift.

The more advanced way to utilize the prayer is in attempt to obtain to unceasing prayer. (1Thess 5:17) Longer and more complicated prayers, no matter how beautiful, simply cannot obtain this end. You can use the Jesus prayer at anytime and anywhere. Waiting in line? Pray. Driving to work? Pray. Doing the dishes? Pray. Falling into temptation? Pray! When in a state of unceasing prayer, the passions simply have no soil in which to take root. People you would have otherwise judged, pass by without judgement. Women you would have otherwise taken a closer look at, pass by without a second glance. Irritation is replaced with a internal peace and idle thoughts are replaced with prayer. If you remain in a state of vigilance, you will witness a profound tug-of-war going on in your mind as your darkened nous will constantly attempt to drag your mind back into idleness, judgement and pride. Some days you'll fail miserably, other days you'll find yourself falling into the prayer without conscious thought. In this way, you are waging war against your passions, at their very source - your thoughts or imagination. With constant vigilance and the prayer, you'll learn more about yourself in a week than you have the rest of your life combined. And trust me, speaking from experience, it wont be pretty.
How do you integrate it into your prayer life?
Already touched on this, so I'll be brief. First, just start saying it throughout the day whenever you get the time. However, to really advance in the prayer you will eventually need to add a rule and remain as disciplined to the rule as possible. Without the discipline, you'll fold whenever you meet resistance. The rule helps you set a target to push through these trials. This is no different than working out, without a routine and a plan to keep you honest, you'll never progress far. Prayer ropes help tremendously in this regard. A prayer rule can simply be 100 prayers after your regular prayer rule in the morning and evening. Perhaps you can do another 100 on your way to and from work. Find whatever works for you and just start - but start small. Can you do 3min after your morning and evening prayer rule? Probably. Start there.
Why is it said that it can become spiritually dangerous for those who pray it without guidance?
We are easily led into delusion. Many things will begin to happen to you once you start saying the prayer in earnest that are honestly beyond comprehension. The most profound mystical experience I ever had was through the Jesus prayer. I also personally experienced two separate demonic attacks (something that never happened to me before) and even more dangerously, I was led towards prelest by finding myself "chasing" after these mystical experiences. Thankfully, I was reading St Joseph the Hesychasts "Monastic Wisdom" at the time and was pulled back from that danger after reading a providentially provided letter to a young monk warning him of this precise pitfall. Thank God! I now receive spiritual guidance from my priest-monk on a weekly basis.
Where can I read and learn about it?
From the saints, of course. The aforementioned "Monastic Wisdom" is an excellent tool. The "Philokalia: On Prayer of the Heart" is another, but significantly more advanced. (I would not recommend this until you're in the Church.) Plus there are plenty videos online which go into detail on this prayer. But ultimately, like anything in Orthodoxy, experience is the best way to learn about it.

 

OrthoLeaf

Sparrow
Orthodox
NOTE: The Orthodox meaning of "mercy" is not how it is often interpreted in the west. We tend to have a purely legalistic understanding of mercy, ie "forgiveness" here in the west. This is not what the prayer is. The greek word elesion (ἐλέησον) actually comes from the word ἔλαιον, meaning "oil". It carries the connotation of a healing oil that one would place on a burn. So what the prayer is actually asking, is not simply "forgiveness" as much as it is: "Lord, sooth me, heal me, comfort me, cleanse me, have compassion on me, free me from my ailments, make yourself known to me".

As you can see, the prayer takes on a whole new perspective. It's one of internal healing, cleansing and peace, not cowering away in a corner begging for mercy, as God stands above you with a stick.
 
@OrthoLeaf Thank you very much for taking the time to explain things as you did.

I can relate to the personal example you provided, since I'm full of "judgemental" (is that a word?) thoughts like the one you described, and I tend to judge in a severe way. Whenever I gather the courage to look inside myself... well... let's say that the verse where Jesus tells us we will be judged as we judge others (Mt 7:2 for Catholics) becomes scary.

As I said yesterday, my first approach to this prayer was good, so I'll try to stick to it, even if it's just for a little while each day.


NOTE: The Orthodox meaning of "mercy" is not how it is often interpreted in the west (...)
"Lord, sooth me, heal me, comfort me, cleanse me, have compassion on me, free me from my ailments, make yourself known to me".

Thank you for explaining this too. You reminded me of Charles de Foucauld (recent French Catholic saint form mid-late 19th Century), who lived a dissolute, atheistic, wealthy and successful youth as a soldier and as an explorer. Around 30 entered a Church and started praying: "Lord, if you exist, make yourself known to me". He started doing this more and more often, and spent hours repeating that prayer, until God made Himself known to him, which led him to transform his life, become a monk and live the rest of his life in poverty and solitude in the desert.

The prayer of that man is something that struck me when I read it years ago, because I found it beautiful. Thanks to your explanation, I can see now how that prayer was some kind of "spontaneous Jesus prayer". God inspired him to pray when he didn't have faith. And what did He inspire him to pray? What you told me the Jesus prayer means.

Thank you very much.
 

Pantheon

Robin
Orthodox
I think that to understand the effectiveness of the Jesus prayer and prayer in general requires a shift in how you view language in itself. The modern view of words is that they are just sounds and letters that don't correspond to any higher realites, but only to the material or abstract things which they describe. For example nouns such as "man" and "woman" correspond to particular instances of men and women, but there is no universal essence or archetype of "woman" behind particular women. A woman is just defined as such by the individual "parts" that make her up, not any universal spiritual ideal (which some women embody better than others). That is, concepts are just reflections of matter, rather than illuminating matter with intelligibility. From a Christian perspective, the Platonic realm of "ideas" reside in the Divine Mind, so thinking and formulating concepts about the world is more real than the things in "themselves". This means that every time you pray and utter all the sacred words that make up the prayer, it will gradually shape your mind and state of being according to the essence of the language. Most people expect immediate results and have a low time horizon, but few recognize that thoughts you form today might only give tangible effects weeks or months after, without you even realizing it. Real prayer starts when you realize the true nature of words and not having a profane view of language.
 

Lawrence87

Woodpecker
Orthodox
Hi everyone!
I’m interested in learning about the Jesus prayer.

Why is it so important for Orthodox Christians?
How do you integrate it into your prayer life?
Why is it said that it can become spiritually dangerous for those who pray it without guidance?
Where can I read and learn about it?
Thank you!
It is considered important because it is a consise prayer that invokes Christ by name, makes a statement as to who He is 'Son of God', and entreats Him for mercy. It's basically all you need. Every other prayer you could make is essentially summed up in the Jesus Prayer.

How to intergrate it into your prayer life is something best established with your priest.

It is spiritually dangerous to embark on this prayer without guidance because we can easily become prideful, and think ourselves to be progressing in prayer when actually we are just being deceived. There are many pitfalls and subtle deceptions that we can fall into when we go deep into this prayer without guidance.

I would suggest avoiding the Philokalia, which is written for monks. St. Ignatius Brianchaninov has a book called 'On the Prayer of Jesus' which gives a pretty good overview. However you should probably seek guidance from a priest about where to read and learn about it. If you do not currently have access to a priest, be careful around stuff that speaks about breathing exercises and special postures etc. Above all else, remember you are not a monk, and if you are living in the world you will be very unlikely to achieve the heights of prayer that you read about in the lives of Saints. Keep it simple, and stay humble. Prayer is not about having exhalted spiritual experiences.
 

Grow Bag

Pelican
After reading all of your replies here, I decided to take action: I’ve been reading for a while about the Jesus prayer, but I haven’t seriously tried it. So I grabbed my Rosary today and used it to pray the Jesus prayer 50 times, slowly, trying to focus on it and on what I was saying. Since you pushed me to try it, I’ll share with your my experience.

Well, it must be true that it burns demons as the video that @Penitent linked says, because just after I started praying it strong temptations arose from nowhere. Shortly after, they vanished. As @Roosh said, it seemed deceptively easy (I just prayed it 50 times, not even the 100 he suggested!) but it was not easy at all to maintain any kind of concentration. Through the few minutes I spent praying it I found myself distracted by randomly remembering many episodes of my life, some random places I’ve been to in no particular order, some job duties that caused me some mild anguish... well, I just went again to prayer whenever I caught myself distracted like that.

While feelings don’t dictate reality, I must say that as soon as I finished I felt some inner stillness along with the presence of God. It caught my attention, because as a Catholic I’m used to pray the Rosary and the feeling was absolutely different. When I pray a good Rosary, I have a sense of peace and love. Today, after praying the Jesus prayer I found peace and stillness, ‘order’.

In any case, I’ll try it again. Asking for mercy is necessary. And my first approach to the Jesus prayer has convinced me that it’s a great prayer that can bring me closer to God.

Thank you everyone!

Edit: Orthography.
I wasn't going to post on this thread, though I've been saying the Jesus Prayer religiously for about 3 years now, but your post prompted me to do so. My experience is that this discipline provoked a strong demonic attack, one that I'm having to deal with still to this day. I will add that I tend to go all in with things and my practice was very focused. At times I would spend 2 hours in one session saying the prayer internally. My thinking, because I have no Orthodox mentor or monk to guide me, is that my sinful past of addictions, fornicating, destructive behaviour, etc., had caused me to be demonised along the way. I skipped the long process of confession, repentance, purification and spiritual fellowship and perhaps it's this fact left me vulnerable to attack. In other words, the devil had doors available to enter. I'm not saying I had not repented, I had to a large degree, but there were still many spiritual issues from my past that needed wise direction from an experienced mentor.
 

Brebelle3

Robin
Orthodox Inquirer
I'll meet with the Priest of a Serbian Orthodox church at vespers a week from this Saturday and attend liturgy on that Sunday.

I've been practicing the Orthodox prayer rule including the Jesus prayer 100 times and throughout the day.

Usually about half way through I'll begin to cry and the feeling of shame washes over me. I do feel humbled and very childish during these moments, but it is different than my experiences with my past prayers.

I'm new to the prayers and I have yet to meet with The Father. Can anyone interpret the feelings I'm having and does it sound as though I should refrain from performing the Orthodox prayer rule until receiving guidance from a Priest?
 

Lawrence87

Woodpecker
Orthodox
I'll meet with the Priest of a Serbian Orthodox church at vespers a week from this Saturday and attend liturgy on that Sunday.

I've been practicing the Orthodox prayer rule including the Jesus prayer 100 times and throughout the day.

Usually about half way through I'll begin to cry and the feeling of shame washes over me. I do feel humbled and very childish during these moments, but it is different than my experiences with my past prayers.

I'm new to the prayers and I have yet to meet with The Father. Can anyone interpret the feelings I'm having and does it sound as though I should refrain from performing the Orthodox prayer rule until receiving guidance from a Priest?
Tears of compunction during prayer is a blessing. The reason some prayer ropes have a little tassel on the end is for wiping away tears.

That being said, I would say you should seek the advice of a priest and stick with what he tells you. Even if he tells you not to do the prayer, or to do it way less than you have been etc.
 

Roosh

Cardinal
Orthodox
I'll meet with the Priest of a Serbian Orthodox church at vespers a week from this Saturday and attend liturgy on that Sunday.

I've been practicing the Orthodox prayer rule including the Jesus prayer 100 times and throughout the day.

Usually about half way through I'll begin to cry and the feeling of shame washes over me. I do feel humbled and very childish during these moments, but it is different than my experiences with my past prayers.

I'm new to the prayers and I have yet to meet with The Father. Can anyone interpret the feelings I'm having and does it sound as though I should refrain from performing the Orthodox prayer rule until receiving guidance from a Priest?
Don't induce the tears or expect it. If it comes, it comes.
 
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