The Jesus Prayer for Beginners

This presentation is for those who are beginning the Jesus Prayer. Fr. Maxym Lysack is the pastor of Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Ottawa. He gives 12 suggestions for beginners.

  1. Be modest.
    Practice the Jesus Prayer for five minutes or less. This a prayer that is repeated slowly and taken up by the heart, becomes part of who we are. It is not the same type of prayer as one recited from a prayer book.
  2. Don’t rush.
    Do not count how many times you have prayed the prayer. Of course, if you happen to use a prayer rope, you will become aware. But this is not necessary. What is important is to pray the prayer well.
  3. Be careful with your breathing.
    Some of you have read that one can unite your breath with the prayer. It can be a help, and it can be a hindrance as well. If you concentrate on your breathing, you can hyperventilate, a disadvantage. This in turn will change the way you feel. Do not be compelled to unite your breath to the prayer.
  4. You are praying to the Person.
    The Jesus Prayer is addressed to Christ. It is not a way to relax, not a mantra. The purpose of the Jesus Prayer is to pray personally to Christ.
  5. Consider beginning with liturgical prayer and psalms before you begin the Jesus Prayer.
    Instead of just starting the Jesus Prayer five seconds after standing up from your computer, pray for a few minutes from a prayer book, a psalm – this helps the heart to get ready.
  6. Don’t imagine things as you pray the Jesus Prayer.
    It is important not to visualize during the Jesus Prayer. As surprising as this may sound, don’t even imagine Christ. Visualization is not part of prayer. That’s not to say that we don’t visualize during prayer. Don’t plan or intend to visualize. Christ is beyond any image you can bring up. He is still a Person.
  7. Don’t expect instant quiet.
    People often experience more noise than expected. It is wonderful to enter into the heart. We must recognize, though, that while the heart is an inner paradise, it is an injured and damaged inner paradise, and it is full of noise. To take note of this noise is not a bad thing. We need to confront this noise without discouragement. Keep praying, the noise level will come down over time.
  8. Understand that the heart is competent to pray and wounded.
    This is hard for us to grasp. We have sins and passions that come out of the heart; it is not fully functional, and we feel this when we pray. At the same time, the heart was made by God to have direct, unmediated communion with Him. We need to keep in mind that while our hearts are wounded, they are created for prayer.
  9. Know that prayer is a grace and also a work.
    We need to ask the Holy Spirit for help when we pray. Since our baptism, we are trying to draw our prayer towards His prayer within us. It is hard work to pray, to fight distraction, the thoughts and energies that appear not only instantly but even multiplied when we begin to pray. And God gives us grace so that it is balanced with our work. We realise that any sweetness we experience in prayer is all due to His grace.
  10. If you are praying the Jesus Prayer, and you have a strange or odd experience, consult your spiritual father.
    Sometimes we are tempted when we are praying. It is a reality when you are a wounded human being loved by God. Speak to your spiritual father, don’t just leave it. He will help to diagnose the problem, if a problem, and how to address it.
  11. If you practice the Jesus Prayer, you also need to participate in the liturgical life and the Sacraments of the Church.
    It is important to confess your sins, to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. While the Jesus Prayer is a powerful prayer and can bring us into the heavenly places with Him, we need Him in the Sacraments.
  12. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you to silence.
    If after some time with the Jesus Prayer you believe that the Holy Spirit is leading you to a deeper place where the prayer seems to disappear, then go. The deeper place has no words. St. Isaac the Syrian wrote that silence is the language of the world to come. It is a loaded silence. It is fruitful, full of communication, but it is non-verbal, non-discursive. The Fathers of the Church call it pure prayer, no word, no image. If you are drawn to that type of prayer by Christ, then go with Him. We ought not to be disappointed if pure prayer does not come often. We pray out of obedience and out of love because we need to.