I first came across the Jesus Prayer when I was in college by reading J.D.Salinger’s novella Franny and Zooey. Then I read The Way of the Pilgrim and began to practice the hesychasm as it is called in the Eastern church.
This method of prayer is a technique to “pray without ceasing.” (I Thessalonians. 5:17) The prayer is simply: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Have Mercy on Me a Sinner.” The technique is to repeat this prayer and key it with one’s breathing. Breathe in…”Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God” Breathe Out: “Have Mercy on Me a Sinner”. Because we breathe without ceasing we can link the prayer to our breathing and eventually pray without ceasing.
This is not meant to be a prayer technique alone–as if there is some magic or other simply in the technique–as if it were a magic spell of some sort. Instead the idea is, that through the prayer, one is putting oneself–one’s whole self constantly in the proper relationship to God.
While this is admirable I came across another aspect of this same tradition from the Western Church. St John Cassian recommends repeating the phrases “O God Come to my Assistance. O Lord Make Haste to Help Me.” This should especially be used in times of doubt, fear and temptation. It is a cry from the heart for the Divine Assistance.
Also, when you read the “pray without ceasing” verse from I Thessalonians the whole context is this: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
So we should not only pray without ceasing we are to also “rejoice always”. The Jesus prayer for this is Breathe in, “Praise the Lord for He Is Good. Breathe out: “For his mercy endures forever.”
These three “Jesus Prayers” can be used for 1. Praise, 2. Repentance 3. Calling for God’s Help. The fact that all three are actually Scripture verses and the practice of this extended Jesus Prayer is the fulfillment of a Scriptural command inspires us to pray more knowing that as we do the Divine Assistance will be given. The passage from I Thessalonians also says “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.” If we say in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy will be done…” St Paul in Thessalonians says what God’s will is: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks to God.”