…one of the simplest in form but richest in content of all the prayers in the long history of Christian worship.
It comes in a number of variants. In Sjögren’s book, he uses the form, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me”, but my own preferred version (mainly because of a personal attachment to the description of God as the “living and true God”) is the following:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.
Traditionally this prayer is used as a “breath prayer”: breathing in on “Lord Jesus Christ”, out on “Son of the living God”, in on “have mercy upon me”, out again on “a sinner”. Indeed, some in the Orthodox Church have spoken of the prayer becoming a “self-acting” prayer of the heart, continuing even when one is unconscious of it, in fulfilment (as they would see it) of St Paul’s injunction to “pray ceaselessly”.
I can’t claim to have even come close to this “prayer of the heart”, and in some ways the idea makes me a little uneasy (perhaps due to a western, Protestant over-privileging of the conscious mind). On the other hand, I’ve become very fond of the Jesus Prayer over the past decade, and there’ve probably been few days in that period when it hasn’t flitted across my mind at some point during the day.
I hope to post a little more about this prayer over the next couple of days. In the meantime, do check out Sjögren’s book if you come across a copy of it. Sjögren writes from a very clearly Lutheran perspective, placing the prayer firmly in the context of the church’s ministry of word and sacrament, and in particular the new birth we experience in baptism and our weekly partaking of the Lord’s body and blood in holy communion. But he also writes with great sensitivity and insight concerning the Orthodox origins of the prayer: this is no “smash and grab raid” on another tradition.