There have been and still are men of prayer who preferred one short prayer and repeated it constantly. St. John Cassian says that the prayer usually repeated in his time by everyone in Egypt was the first verse of Psalm 70: "Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord." It is written in the life of St. Joanniky that he repeated the following prayer: "The Father is my hope, the Son is my refuge, the Holy Spirit is my protection. He also added it to each verse of the thirty Psalms he learnt by heart, which constituted his rule of prayer. Another constantly used as prayer the following words: "Being a man I have sinned, but Thou, being God and the Compassionate, have mercy on me." Others, of course, preferred other prayers. From the most ancient times the prayer chosen by a great many was: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." We find indications of it in St. Ephraim, St. Chrysostom, St. Isaac of Syria, St. Hesychius, St. Barsanuphius and John, and St. John of the Ladder. Later it became more and more general, began to be on everyone's lips and became part of the Church's statutes, where it is offered in place of all prayers said at home and of all church services. This is why it is now used with us more than any other short prayer. I advise you too to acquire the habit of it.
This prayer was called the Jesus Prayer because it is addressed to our Lord Jesus. Like any other short prayer, it is verbal, but it becomes and should be called mental, when it is said not only in words, but also in mind and heart, with both consciousness and feeling of its content, and especially if, through long and attentive practice, it becomes so merged with the movements of the spirit, that the words disappear and only these movements are seen within. -- Every short prayer can reach this degree. Preeminence belongs to the Jesus Prayer because it unites the soul with our Lord Jesus, and the Lord Jesus is the only door to union with God, which is the aim of prayer. For He Himself said: "No man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). Thus a man, who acquires it, acquires also the whole force of dispensation by incarnation; and in this lies our salvation. Hearing this, you will not be surprised that those who strove after salvation neglected no effort in trying to form the habit of this prayer and to become possessed of its power. You too should imitate their example.
Externally, acquiring the habit of this prayer consists in reaching the point where it turns on your tongue constantly by itself, internally, it consists in concentrating the attention of the mind in the heart and in constantly standing there in the presence of the Lord, with varying degrees of heartfelt warmth, repulsing all other thoughts, and above all falling at the feet of our Lord and Savior with contrition and humility. The first step towards this habit is to repeat this prayer as often as possible with attention in the heart. Frequent repetition, becoming established, collects the mind into one, standing in the presence of the Lord. Establishing this order within is accompanied by warmth of heart and by repelling of all thoughts, even simple and not only passionate ones. When the flame of cleaving to the Lord begins to be constantly alight in the heart, then, together with this, a peaceful ordering of the heart will be established within, with contrite and humble inner prostration before the Lord. We are brought thus far by our own efforts with the help of Divine grace. Anything beyond this which may be attained in the work of prayer will be a gift of grace alone. The holy fathers mention this only lest, having reached this limit, a man things that he has nothing further to wish for and imagines that he has attained the summit of perfection in prayer, or in spiritual achievement.
Thus, your first task is to repeat the Jesus Prayer as often as you can, until you acquire the habit of repeating it unceasingly. Do it in this way:
(1) Reserve in your rule of prayer a place for the Jesus Prayer. Repeat this prayer several times at the beginning of your recital or prayers, and several times at the end. If you have the zeal, do the same after every prayer which enters into your recital, imitating St. Joanniky the Great, who, after every verse of the Psalms, included in his rule of prayer, repeated his short prayer: "The Father is my hope, the Son is my refuge, the Holy Spirit is my protection."
(2) As to the number of times you should repeat this prayer and on what occasions, you should decide this yourself, or ask the advice of your spiritual father. Only do not undertake too much at first, but increase the number of repetitions gradually, as your enjoyment of this prayer grows. If the desire comes to double the set number, do not deny yourself, but take it not as a set rule, but only for this occasion. And whatever the number of repetitions your heart demands, do not refuse it.
(3) Do not hurry to pass from one prayer to another, but recite them with measured deliberation, as you are wont to address a request to some exalted personage. Yet take care not only of the words, but rather that your mind should abide in the heart, standing there before the Lord, as though He were present, with full consciousness of His greatness, grace and truth.
(4) If you have free time, then between one time of set prayers and another, give yourself the task of stopping, as you do when you stand up to pray, and send to the Lord this prayer, repeating it several times. If you have no free time, insert this prayer inwardly everywhere in the intervals of your occupation, and even of your talking.
(5) Doing this prayer during your rule, or standing in the posture of prayer between rules, after each repetition make a bow -- ten times from the waist, and then a full prostration, and so on till the end. You have, or course, heard or read that in their instructions on prayer the holy fathers ordain a great many bows. One of them said: "Prayer is not sufficient unless in praying a man wearies his body with bows." If you decide to follow this advice, as much as you can, you will soon see the fruit of your labor in acquiring the habit of the Jesus Prayer.
(6) As regards further instructions, indications and warnings about the Jesus Prayer, read in the Philokalia Simeon the New Theologian, Gregory of Sinai, Nicephore the monk, Callistus and Ignatius. The teachings of all other fathers about inner prayer can also be applied to the prayer of Jesus. Take note that in the instructions of the aforementioned fathers you will find directions as to how to sit, how to hold one's head, how to breath. As Callistus and Ignatius said, these methods are not essentially necessary, but are merely external aids, not suitable for everyone. For you it is sufficient to keep your attention in the heart, before the face of the Lord and to send Him this short prayer with reverence and humility, with bows if you are standing for your rule, or with only mental prostration, when you do it during your usual tasks.
(7) Note also, that attention should be in the heart, or inside the breast, as some fathers say, namely, a little above the left nipple, -- and there the Jesus Prayer should be repeated. When the heart begins to ache with tension, follow the advice of Nicephore the monk, namely, leave that place and establish yourself with your attention and with the words of the prayer where we usually converse with ourselves, namely under the Adam's apple in the upper part of the chest. Later again, descend over the left nipple. -- Do not disdain this remark, however simple and unspiritual it may seem to you.
(8) Reading the holy fathers, you will find many warnings. All of them are the results of experience in wrong practices. To avoid these faults, you should have a counselor -- your spiritual father, or a colleague of the same mind, with whom you can talk, and verify with him all that occurs while you perform this task. As to yourself, act always in a state of complete simplicity and great humility, never attributing success to yourself. You must know that true success comes within, unnoticeably, without ostentation, as is the case with the growth of a body. Thus, if a voice cries insdie you: "Here it is!" -- know that it is the voice of the enemy, presenting to you something imaginary instead of the real. Here lies the origin of self-delusion. Stifle this voice immediately, lest it goes on in you like a trumpet, feeding vainglory.
(9) Do not set a time for achievement in this prayer. Decide only one thing: to work, and to work. Months and years will go by before the first feeble indications of success begin to show. One of the Mount Athos fathers said of himself that two years of work passed before his heart grew warm. With another farther this warmth came after eight months. With each man it comes in accordance with his powers and his diligence in this work.
+ St. Theophan the Recluse +