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The Jesus Prayer

From the 2nd century onwards, men and women were going to the desert to pray and experience God’s presence. St. Paul expressed the importance of prayer throughout his letters. He went as far as to say: “Pray without ceasing.” Not only did he say this once, but he echoed this thought four different times in four different letters: 1 Thessalonians (5:17), “pray without ceasing;” Ephesians 6:18, “praying always;” Colossians 4:2, “continue earnestly in prayer,” and the Philippians 4:6, “in everything, by prayer and petition.”

When we read these Scriptures, we can think: Is it possible? Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But, if St. Paul told those churches it is something they need to do, then that means it is possible, and not only that, but he also believed it is very, very important.

Why do we think prayer without ceasing is impossible? One reason that it feels impossible is that our minds are so easily distracted with so many thoughts. With our minds, we wander to all the corners of the world; we visit all kinds of people, imagining all kinds of things—we travel all around, and we simply cannot concentrate.

To pray without ceasing—to pray without distraction—we need a thought to cling to or something to hold that is close to Him to sub-due the distracted mind. When we learn to pray without ceasing, we will have a “listening mind” only to Christ or in other words, we will focus only on Christ.

The Role of the Jesus Prayer

    The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” helps us to concentrate and come out of our wandering thoughts and the distractions in our minds (see Luke 17:13, Matthew 15:22, Mark 10:47, Luke 18:13). You can understand the importance of Jesus Prayer; it is very powerful. It is that thought and prayer to cling to.

    This prayer is a method to discipline the mind and our prayer lives. But this prayer is more than that. It allows us to continually bring Jesus Christ into our thoughts and feelings and make Him a part of our minds and hearts. It is Christ becoming part of every aspect of our lives—worshipping Him.

The Rule of Prayer

    Regardless of our set times for prayer, we can struggle in prayer. Sometimes it is easy for us to pray. Sometimes, we are so distracted that it is very difficult for us to concentrate in prayer.

    It is very helpful for us to set apart regular times during the day for prayer and to have a rule of prayer. For example, when you wake up, start with prayer. Keep the hours of prayer throughout the day. Before starting from home, before starting the day of work no matter where you are, before starting class, before bedtime, when you end the day—do it all with prayer.

    But one of the most effective ways to benefit from a rule of prayer is to say a set number of the Jesus Prayer regularly each day.

The Value of the Jesus Prayer in our Lives

    The Jesus Prayer is our declaration to be one with Him and our confession for His Mercy. It helps us to quiet our minds from wandering. As we meaningfully repeat the Jesus Prayer, it blesses our lives. This list is some of the ways it helps us.

    − We want to be closer with Him.

    − We experience His peace.

    − It brings our mind into our heart. We no longer just understand, but it changes us.

    − We focus on the name of Jesus Christ.

    As Fr. Maximos (Constas) said, “The repetition of this prayer is an ascetic discipline to help us focus the attention of our mind on God rather on the endless stimulation of our senses and our biased orientation to seek pleasure and avoid pain.”

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