Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Listen Now We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
ENGAGED: The Call to Be Disciples
Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Matthew 28:19-20
Prayer: Abiding in God’s Love—Part Four
The Lord said this parable, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18: 10-14
Good morning Prayer Team!
Christ is Risen!
In Luke 18: 10-14, we read the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. Pharisees were religious leaders, paragons of virtue, ostensibly “godly” men. The publicans were tax collectors. They were ostensibly corrupt, stealing from people, taking more than what was fair in taxation and pocketing large sums of money and goods.
In the parable, the Pharisee prayed “with himself” a prayer of self-congratulations. The tax collector, on the other hand, was filled with remorse for who he was and what he was doing, and with great humility, asked for God’s mercies. The lesson of the parable, Jesus tells us, is that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)
The prayer of the publican developed further over centuries in the monastic tradition and today is called “The Jesus Prayer.” It goes as follows: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” The prayer is generally offered many times. Oftentimes, a person will offer the Jesus Prayer while utilizing a prayer rope. The prayer rope is made of black wool, tied into many knots and usually worn around the wrist. Many prayer ropes have thirty-three knots and a bead. The thirty three knots represent the thirty three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The prayer rope is worn around the wrist like a bracelet and when it is being used in conjunction with the prayer, the rope is wrapped around the fingers so that each time the prayer is offered you take your thumb and move the bracelet touching another knot. After you’ve offered the prayer thirty-three times, you’ll hit the bead and know you’ve offered the prayer thirty three times. This allows for people to pray the prayer many times without having to count. (There are longer prayer ropes with one hundred knots or more and several beads on them).
The intention of this prayer is that it becomes like a song that gets stuck in your head. We’ve all had that experience. We hear a song and it sticks with us all day. We could have a conversation or have a meal or be distracted but when the distraction is over, the song is still there. It may even continue to beat in our heads during a conversation or a meal.
This prayer asks for God to be merciful to us. It acknowledges that we are sinners. It reminds us to be humble. If the root of sin is pride, the antidote to pride is humility. It is impossible to be humble and proud at the same time. Just like it is impossible to be sinful and virtuous at the same time. We can be both humble and proud on the same day, but not in the same moment of the day. We can be both virtuous and sinful on the same day but not in the same moment of the day. In the moment one is praying sincerely, one is humble. In the moment one if being virtuous, one is being Godly. The intention of this prayer is for us to offer it so often that it is stuck in our head, the theme of humility and holiness gets stuck in our head and affects our actions all day long.
Where, then, is the pitfall? If the prayer is offered subconsciously all the time, if we never really internalize what we are saying, then the prayer doesn’t have much meaning. It is possible to utter the words of prayer without praying. Remember we can SAY a prayer without PRAYING it. Some people wear prayer ropes without ever praying the Jesus Prayer. They are just a religious trinket worn for good luck, or even worse, out of a sense of pride.
There can be a benefit of wearing a prayer rope, which is that if we see it on our wrists, it hopefully reminds us to be humble and to act in a Christian way. We are hopefully less likely to raise a fist in anger if we are wearing a prayer rope around it.
Back to the benefits of the Jesus Prayer, the prayer is VERY easy to remember. It can be offered with or without a prayer rope. It can be offered anywhere at any time. And it is so short, it can be offered in time with our breathing—on every breath or every other breath. Many people use it to help fall asleep or in times of stress or pray it while driving. You can pray it for a minute or for many minutes. Some people offer it at work, while doing mundane things like making copies (in time with the copy machine).
One other way to use the Jesus Prayer is to pray it for other people. For instance, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on John.” (Don’t put “a sinner” after the name of another person though). When I pray for others using the Jesus Prayer, it helps me slow down and pray more deliberately for each person, rather than just praying through a list of names quickly. If I run out of people to pray for, then I pray in generalities, for doctors, for people who are sick, for first responders, for teachers, etc.
The biggest benefit of the Jesus Prayer is that it gets Jesus and humility in our minds, and as we have discussed previously, what is in our minds affects what is in our mouths, our actions and shapes the course of our lives.
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Make praying the Jesus Prayer part of your daily prayer habit.
With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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