"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
This short prayer comes from the eastern Christian church and originated in the 6th century when Diadochos of Photiki taught that repeating the prayer would lead to inner stillness. It seems that any kind of repetition, mental or physical, can eventually lull the mind for a time. Transcendental Meditation, for example, works on this principle even though the mantra has no objective meaning. This type of short prayer, called "arrow prayers," was in use in Egypt as early as the 4th century. In the Roman Church until relatively recently the faithful would recite "pious ejaculations" during the course of the day in an effort to follow the command "to pray unceasingly" (Rom. 12:12). Their use has pretty much disappeared for obvious reasons.
Over the centuries the prayer has changed little. Some have adding the word "living" so that the attribution is "Son of the Living God." Others claim that the word "Mercy!" or "Lord!" is quite sufficient. In any event it takes very little effort to memorize it for use on any occasion.
According to the experts, the prayer may be used at any time, although most practitioners try to reserve 10 to 15 minutes in the day for reciting it. Actually, any time, like walking to work or washing dishes, can be used. The prayer is particularly recommended for times of stress, even insomnia.
There are no hard and fast rules for reciting the prayer, although external silence is strongly recommended, if it is at all possible. Either sitting, kneeling, walking or even lying down are all acceptable. An expert in the Jesus prayer recommends connecting the breathing with uttering the prayer:
- Inhale, say "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God"
- Exhale, say "Have mercy on me, a sinner"
- Inhale, say "Lord Jesus Christ"
- Exhale, say "Son of God"
- Inhale, say "Have mercy on me"
- Exhale, say "a sinner."
The practice has been widespread among Orthodox monks and clergy for centuries. In recent years it has gained popularity among Roman Catholics, both clergy and laity. Some have even asserted that it will have efficacious results even among non-believers.