The Jesus Prayer

The man Jesus encountered by the side of the road in today’s gospel is Bartimaeus. He is blind and he is a beggar. He hears the commotion of the crowd coming his way and he is told it is because Jesus of Nazareth is coming his way. He has heard much of Jesus, especially his teaching and his healing.

He shouts out, “Son of David, have pity on me.”

This is his prayer. Some say it is a model of all Christian prayer. In a way we are all blind since we do not see God, we cannot touch him or hear him. We have a craving to have Jesus close to us.

As one writer says, “In the physical absence of Jesus our condition is blindness.”

Many people in the crowd tell him to keep quiet. They scold him. There are voices within ourselves that try to stop us shouting out to Jesus. These come from self doubt, from feelings of guilt, from voices reminding us of our past failures. All these negative voices try to stop us from praying.

Bartimaeus shouts all the louder, “Son of David, have pity on me.”

Mary Healy in her commentary of St Mark wrote,

As the catechism points out (2616), The urgent request of the blind men, “Have mercy on us, Son of David” or “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” has been renewed in the traditional prayer to Jesus known as the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Healing infirmities or forgiving sins, Jesus always responds to a prayer offered in faith, “Your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

The Jesus prayer has been widely taught and discussed throughout the history of the Orthodox Church. So the prayer of Bartimaeus is an act of faith in Jesus and then a plea for mercy. Christians changed the words of the first part to a higher act of faith, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.’

There is an excellent CTS booklet on the Jesus Prayer, written by Bishop Kallistos Ware.

In it he says, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’

The Jesus Prayer is brief and concise – ten words in English, only seven in Greek or Russian – yet at the same time it is remarkably complete. Within this one short sentence we may find combined four ‘strands’ or constituent elements:

  • the cry for mercy
  • the discipline of repetition
  • the quest for stillness (hesychia)
  • the veneration of the Holy Name

Another writer says the prayer begins on our lips in a preparatory act of calling our faculties together for prayer. Then we cease to formulate words but let the phrase settle to the rhythm of our breathing.

The prayer is not about the words, but about the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Nor is the repetition like the hypnotic trance of a transcendental meditation mantra, which induces a mental emptiness.

Prayer is an alertness, a constant loving attention to the invisible, but present, Lord Jesus.

Canon Father Anthony
Canon Father AnthonyParish Priest