The Orthodox Rosary or "The Jesus Prayer"
If anyone prays this rosary to Me, heaven will open to him and My Mercy shall save him
(message to Vassula, January 18, 1990 )
Bishop Kallistos Ware Writes:
There is one type of private prayer, widely used in the west since the time of the Counter-Reformation, which has never been a feature of Orthodox spirituality - the formal 'Meditation,' made according to a 'Method' - the Ignatian, the Sulpician, the Salesian, or some other. Orthodox are encouraged to read the Bible or the Fathers slowly and thoughtfully; but such an exercise, while regarded as altogether excellent, is not considered to constitute prayer, nor has it been systematized and reduced to a 'Method.' Each is urged to read in the way that he finds most helpful.
But while Orthodox do not practise discursive Meditation, there is another type of personal prayer which has for many centuries played an extraordinarily important part in the life of Orthodoxy - the Jesus Prayer:
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."
Since it is sometimes said that Orthodox do not pay sufficient attention to the person of the Incarnate Christ, it is worth pointing out that this - surely the most classic of all Orthodox prayers - is essentially a Christo-centric prayer, a prayer addressed to and concentrated upon the Lord Jesus. Those brought up in the tradition of the Jesus Prayer are never allowed for one moment to forget the Incarnate Christ.
As a help in reciting this prayer many Orthodox use a rosary, differing somewhat in structure from the western rosary; an Orthodox rosary is often made of wool, so that unlike a string of beads it makes no noise.
The Jesus Prayer is a prayer of marvelous versatility. It is a prayer for beginners, but equally a prayer that leads to the deepest mysteries of the contemplative life. It can be used by anyone, at any time, in any place: standing in queues, walking, traveling on buses or trains; when at work; when unable to sleep at night; at times of special anxiety when it is impossible to concentrate upon other kinds of prayer. But while of course every Christian can use the Prayer at odd moments in this way, it is a different matter to recite it more or less continually and to use the physical exercises which have become associated with it. Orthodox spiritual writers insist that those who use the Jesus Prayer systematically should, if possible, place themselves under the guidance of an experienced director and do nothing on their own initiative.
For some there comes a time when the Jesus Prayer 'enters into the heart,' so that it is no longer recited by a deliberate effort, but recites itself spontaneously, continuing even when a man talks or writes, present in his dreams, waking him up in the morning. In the words of Saint Isaac the Syrian: 'When the Spirit takes its dwelling-place in a man he does not cease to pray, because the Spirit will constantly pray in him. Then, neither when he sleeps, nor when he is awake, will prayer be cut off from his soul; but when he eats and when he drinks, when he lies down or when he does any work, even when he is immersed in sleep, the perfumes of prayer will breathe in his heart spontaneously' (Mystic Treatises, edited by Wensinck, p. 174).
Orthodox believe that the power of God is present in the Name of Jesus, so that the invocation of this Divine Name acts 'as an effective sign of God's action, as a sort of sacrament' (Un Moine de l’Église d’Orient, La Priére de Jésus, Chevetogne, 1952, p. 87). 'The Name of Jesus, present in the human heart, communicates to it the power of deification ... Shining through the heart, the light of the Name of Jesus illuminates all the universe' (S. Bulgakov, The Orthodox Church, pp. 170-171).
Alike to those who recite it continually and to those who only employ it occasionally, the Jesus Prayer proves a great source of reassurance and joy. To quote the Pilgrim: 'And that is how I go about now, and ceaselessly repeat the Prayer of Jesus, which is more precious and sweet to me than anything in the world. At times I do as much as 43 or 44 miles a day, and do not feel that I am walking at all. I am aware only of the fact that I am saying my Prayer. When the bitter cold pierces me, I begin to say my Prayer more earnestly, and I quickly become warm all over. When hunger begins to overcome me, I call more often on the Name of Jesus, and I forget my wish for food. When I fall ill and get rheumatism in my back and legs, I fix my thoughts on the Prayer, and do not notice the pain. If anyone harms me I have only to think, "How sweet is the Prayer of Jesus!" and the injury and the anger alike pass away and I forget it all ... I thank God that I now understand the meaning of those words I heard in the Epistle - "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thes. 5:17)' (The Way of a Pilgrim, p. 17-18).