Inside the Domestic Church Part 9: The Jesus Prayer
The Jesus Prayer is one of the central prayers of our tradition. St Paul advises us to pray without ceasing in his first letter to the Thessalonians, and the early Church responded to this advice by developing the Jesus Prayer, intended as a method of calling upon the name of Jesus in such a way that it becomes an unceasing part of our lives.
The words of the Jesus Prayer are, on the surface, uncomplicated, and it is easy to memorize: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” While the prayer appears simple, both the complexity is realized and unceasingly prayer established by the repetition of the prayer, silently and aloud, over a lifetime. The Jesus Prayer is simple enough to recite that it can be said at any moment throughout the day, during any task, but it is especially recommended to set aside time in the day devoted only to its recitation. There are essentially two methods for building a habit of reciting the Jesus Prayer: either setting aside a set amount of time in the day (say, ten or fifteen minutes), or reciting the Jesus Prayer a set amount of times in a particular setting (usually 100). With either method, the goal remains to gradually increase the amount of prayer until eventually (and ideally) one begins to pray the Jesus Prayer without ceasing.
Just as with other prayers in our lives, consistency remains more important than volume. It would be better for an individual to prayer 100 Jesus Prayers consistently, even over a lifetime, than to attempt to meet the standards of a monk or the fictional pilgrim in The Way of a Pilgrim (who begins with something like 20,000 recitations a day!) and risk “burning out.” Just as someone who has never run around the block before shouldn’t attempt a marathon, we should slowly increase the frequency and length of our prayer. What most people will find is that consistent prayer will lead to voluntarily increasing the amount of prayer over time, as one begins to enjoy the time set aside for prayer and it loses any awkwardness or sense of obligation one might experience in the beginning.
Unlike the Western rosary, prayer ropes do not have a set amount of beads or knots and any size of rope may be used to aid in counting the prayers in this devotion. If a prayer rope has thirty knots, you would pray through the rope ten times to reach 300 prayers, just as you would pray through a 100 knot prayer rope three times or a 300 knot prayer rope once. Prayer ropes are easily found online and are often made by monks; as with icons, the price of prayer ropes can range from cheap to expensive, depending on quality, materials used, and size, but there is no “wrong answer” when it comes to prayer rope selection.
Children can also learn to enjoy this simple prayer at even early ages, and many will find it fun to create their own prayer rope. They can do so by gathering three feet of fishing line, thirty-three wooden beads (1/2 inch diameter), seven feet of yarn, and may find large darning needles aid in the process. Take a 4” piece of cardboard and wrap the yarn around it twenty-five times to make a tassel. Remove the yarn from the cardboard and tie a knot about 1: from the top. Clip the bottom part to make the tassel ends. Tie another knot to the top of the tassel for attaching to the beads. Thread the beads onto the fishing line and knot securely, then tie the tassel to the end of the rope of beads (which represent the years Christ spent on earth). Prayer ropes made in the traditional monastic-style can be beautiful, but are significantly more difficult to attempt at home.