A few years back, when I was working on a small book on prayer, I found my way to the Eastern Orthodox standard prayer book. I began to use it with the goal of using it every day for a month, which I did. Two things struck me about the Orthodox prayer book: its wonderful Trinitarian language and, second, its obsession with confession of sins. Some may think “obsession” is too strong. Still …
At the core of the Eastern prayer tradition is The Jesus Prayer, and it goes like this:
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.
There are variations. Some add “Son of God” and others don’t have “a sinner.” This prayer is said by many in the Orthodox tradition so often it has worked its way into the bones and into the heart. I’ve given this prayer a chance, and I used it profusely for a month one time and benefited deeply from it. No prayer brings into the center of our hearts a strong sense of our sinfulness and of our utter joy in the mercy and grace of God. So, I’m more than happy to recommend what can be called an encyclopedia of the praxis of The Jesus Prayer in Frederica Mathewes-Green’s new book: The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God
How have you been helped by the Eastern tradition? What about the Jesus Prayer — has it been helpful to you?
Frederica’s is a gentle and easy-to-read introduction and discussion of the prayer. Almost half of it is question and answer, which is a good thing because so many have questions about this sort of prayer — is it vain? is it a mantra? how do I begin? how many times do I say it? how do you count? Her answers dip into the great spiritual writers of the Eastern tradition, revealing yet more than we find in the opening introduction.
If you use this prayer, you need this book. If you don’t use this prayer, you may need this book.