A method of meditation that consists in the control of breath and bodily movement accompanied by the repetition of the name of Jesus to bring about an absorption in the presence of God. It postulates concentration of consciousness through an intensive exercise of those bodily organs in which spiritual potentialities are supposedly located. The method demands that, in a sitting position, subjects control their breathing and flex their muscles, concentrating on the heartbeat and repeating continually, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me," while the will is relaxed in acts of forgiveness, mercy and hope in God. Its aim is not ecstasy, but a liberation of the understanding for the peaceful acceptance of union within the Word of God or the Silent Nameless One.
The origin of this kind of prayer is unknown, though hypotheses postulate the influence of ancient Indian Chakras technique on the Greek Fathers. In evagrius ponticus and macarius the egyptian there are traces of this practice; and theodoret of cyr speaks of prayerful breath control (Patrologia Graeca, 83:589), while Diadochus of Photice, hesychius of jerusalem, gregory sinaites, and Peter the Hagiorite (d. 734) mention different forms of the prayer "Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us."
In his Philocalia (Venice 1782) nicodemus the hagiorite cites 38 spiritual treatises that mention the Jesus Prayer, and in modern times the archimandrite Paissy velitchkovsky popularized this kind of devotion as a Russian spiritual practice.
There is a trace of a similar kind of prayer in the West with bernard of clairvaux (Sermones), Hugh of Balma, bernardine of siena.
Bibliography: j. hausherr, "La Méthode d'oraison hésychast," Orientalia Christiana Analecta, 9 (Rome 1927) 101–209. i. bryanchaninov, On the Prayer of Jesus: From the Ascetic Essays …, tr. father lazarus (London 1952). g. winkler, "The Jesus Prayer as a Spiritual Path in Greek and Russian Monasticism," in The Continuing Quest for God: Monastic Spirituality in Tradition and Transition, ed. w. skudlarek (Collegeville, Minn.1982), 100–113. k. ware, "The Origins of the Jesus Prayer: Diadochus, Gaza, Sinai," in The Study of Spirituality, eds. c. jones, g. wainwright, e. yarnold (New York 1986) 175–184. r. f. slesinski, "The Philosophical Presuppositions of the Jesus Prayer," Following the Star from the East: Essays in Honour of Archimandrite Boniface Luykx, ed. a. m. chirovsky (Ottawa 1992) 203–214. n. corneanu, "The Jesus Prayer and Deification," Saint Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 39:1 (1995) 3–24. k. vogt, "The Coptic Practice of the Jesus Prayer: A Tradition Revived," in Between Desert and City: The Coptic Orthodox Church Today, eds. n. van doorn-harder and k. vogt (Oslo 1997) 111–120. j. b. trapnell, "The Mutual Transformation of Self and Symbol: Bede Griffiths and the Jesus Prayer," Horizons 23 (1996) 215–241.
[f. x. murphy/eds.]