The Jesus Prayer and the Unnamed Pilgrim

Jesus Prayer

You think your life is tough?  A Russian pilgrim, in the mid-19th century was orphaned at age 2, injured by his brother in childhood causing a permanent handicap.  This same brother later stole all his money and set his house on fire. Barely escaping with their lives, he and his wife lived homeless and in poverty for two years until his wife died.  He had every reason to be bitter and resentful, but chose instead to seek the Lord.  Traveling from place to place, the burning desire of this pilgrim was how to praying without ceasing.  He heard many sermons about prayer, but not how to actually be successful in prayer.  After many years, he met a wise monk (spiritual director) who taught him the Jesus prayer.

The Jesus prayer goes back to the 4th and 5th centuries and began first as the simple repetition of the name of Jesus.  Over time it was expanded to “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”.  It became a simple way to “praying without ceasing.”

As you breathe in, verbally or silently say “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” as an act of worship.  As you breathe out, verbally or silently say “have mercy on me a sinner” as an acknowledgement of your sin and petition for His mercy.  It can be shortened to a simple “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”

In the beginning, the spiritual director asked the pilgrim to repeat this prayer 3,000 times a day.  At first he found this difficult, but soon began to enjoy the rhythm of the prayer.  When he reported this to the wise monk, he encouraged the pilgrim to now pray it 6,000 times per day.

In his own words, “And what happened?  I grew so used to my prayer than when I stopped for a single moment I felt, so to speak, as though something were missing”

After ten days, he talked with the monk again who asked him to pray it 12,000 times a day.  This prayer transformed his life.  He no longer had to verbalize the prayer, it seemed to have become a part of him, with every heartbeat and every breath.  He began traveling from place to place sharing with others the joy he had found.  The Scriptures came alive to him with new clarity.

Though I don’t count my prayers, I’ve found including this prayer as a regular practice of my day, as I go to sleep, as I wake up and in all the little moments of life, keeps me tuned in to God, keeping that conversation going.  Watch upcoming blogs for other types of “breath” prayers.

Some may question if this is “vain repetition” that the Bible talks about.  If it is done to impress someone or as a way to earn something from God, then yes it would be.  But when we do it in a worshipful way with our focus being to connect on a deeper level with God, it is not “in vain”!  The fruit of this pilgrim’s life speaks for itself.  Try it and see what kind of fruit it bears in yours.

You can read more about this pilgrim’s journey in his book called “The Way of the Pilgrim” available from Amazon or other book sources.

1 Comment

  • Dear Adena,

    I love this post because I have a son who is a monk! He seems so peaceful and I know he practices the Jesus Prayer at times. Orthodox and Evangelical practices seem so far apart to me at times, but I love that they are both seeking God through his Son. Thank you for your words.


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