The use of the Jesus Prayer began with the Desert Fathers in about the 5th Century. Since then it has spread throughout the world. In Russia both monastics and lay people have prayed the Jesus Prayer for many centuries. Some of them wandered the roads and forests while saying the Jesus prayer as a way to grow closer to God. They lived in the countryside and people would give them a bit of food as a kindness and a blessing. This has been a way of sanctification for many.
Eventually as a person persists in this prayer while living a holy life it is said that the heart prays the prayer at each breath even while asleep.
For me hiking has been a way to fight depression and suicidal thoughts and restore my connection with God. I especially like praying the Jesus Prayer while I hike or walk. It controls my wandering mind and brings it back to God. It focuses the entire body and heart on God in one unified action.
Because when I am hike I get short of breath I simplify the prayer to:
Lord Jesus (breathe in)
Have mercy (breathe out)
This provides a profound way to make hiking or walking a meditation on the key point of Christian life. That we need God’s mercy and that mercy was already given us through Jesus Our Lord.
The entire prayer which I pray when at home and I am not breathing hard is:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God (breathe in)
Have mercy on me, a sinner (breathe out)
God promised in Ezekiel 36:26 that “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” This Sunday at Liturgy our pastor, Father Nicolay Miletkov, talked of the effect of the Jesus prayer. He said that each time we say the Jesus prayer it is like a drop of water dripping on our stony hearts. And just as the constant drip drip of water on stone eventually wears down the rock, so our stony hearts begin to erode and to reveal the flesh and blood hearts that God created. It takes many years of praying this deceptively simple prayer to wear away the stone that surrounds our hearts.
Having tried this prayer when I was a new Christian I wasn’t able to appreciate its power or its beauty. Now that I am old and understand that I can do nothing of myself I am so grateful for this ancient tradition which transforms the simple act of breathing into prayer.
- Breath Prayer and the Jesus Prayer – Blog: Flunking Sainthood (religionnews.com)