PRAYER: An Entire Theology In The Jesus Prayer, by Norris J. Chumley

Jesus Prayer

From Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Two of the most important facets of praying the Jesus Prayer are contemplation and stillness.  The purpose of Christian contemplation is to experience God directly, to put oneself in the presence or awareness of the Divine.  There are many forms of contemplation in many religions, but contemplation in Christianity is significantly different, because the Presence that Christians seek in contemplation is not an abstraction or a beautiful idea but the incarnate Jesus Christ, God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who as the Bible says came down from Heaven and for the salvation of the world became man.

In mystical texts stillness (or silence) often goes by its Greek name, hesychia.  It is a form of prayer and meditation, but also a heightened consciousness in which one is immersed in the grace of God.  Those who have experienced it say that it is intangible and indescribable.

As for the Jesus Prayer, it contains a whole theology within itself, to paraphrase Father Lazarus, a monk of Saint Antony’s Monastery in Egypt.  Here’s the message that father Lazarus hears in the various parts of “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”:

Lord is the title that establishes the authority or dominion of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the Latin form of his Aramaic and Hebrew name, Yeshua, which means “salvation.”  It is related to another Hebrew name, Yahoshua (Joshua in English), which means “Lord who is salvation.”

Christ comes from the Greek word Christos, which means “the anointed one.”  The Hebrew form of this word is Messias (Messiah in English).

Son of God is meant literally.  Jesus is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, begotten by God the Father.  For the salvation of the world he came down from Heaven and was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He is the Son of God and the son of Mary, fully God and fully human.  As is always the case when trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity, we are in an area of absolute sacred mystery, which no mind can comprehend.

Have mercy on me, a sinner.  The Greek for “Lord, have mercy,” Kyrie eleison, is one of the oldest prayers of the Christian liturgy.  It is derived from the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Saint Luke’s Gospel (18:10-14).  Two men enter the Temple in Jerusalem.  The Pharisee goes up to the front, where he thanks God “that I am not like other men;” (v. 11).  Then the Pharisee lists all the splendid things he does, as if he were trying to impress God.  As for the tax collector, he stands at the back of the Temple and will not even raise his eyes; instead, he strikes his breast with his fist as he prays, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (v. 13).  This final phrase of the Jesus Prayer is an admission of personal failings, of error, of spiritual sickness; it is an act of repentance; and it is a petition that begs for God’s mercy and forgiveness.  It is also a prayer that finds special favor with God, for as Jesus explained to his disciples after telling them this parable, “I tell you, this man [the tax collector] went down to his house justified rather than the other; for all who exalts will be humbled, but every one who humbles himself will be exalted;” (v. 14).

Many people practice the Jesus Prayer for half an hour or fifteen minutes at a time, and for them it can be a revelatory experience.  For those who practice it for long hours at a stretch over days and days, it is a different matter.  Then it can literally restructure deep patterns of thinking, dislocating people from ordinary life so that they can commune with God.  It was not by accident, of course, that the great practitioners of the Jesus Prayer could not sustain ordinary lives (by which I mean predominantly lives in a city environment, with bodies and minds that needed to get themselves to work in the morning and had to juggle the numerous demands of family, friends, co-workers, clients, and supervisors).

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