A different tradition is that of the Eastern Orthodox church, which I mentioned in chapter 12. There the “Jesus prayer” has been rightly popular: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (There are variations, but this is perhaps the best known.) This, like the Jewish Shema, is designed to be said over and over again, until it becomes part of the act of breathing, embedding a sense of the love of Jesus deep within the personality. This prayer, again like the Shema, begins with a confession of faith, but here it is a form of address. And instead of commandments to keep, it focuses on the mercy that the living God extends through his Son to all who will seek it. This prayer has been much beloved by many in the Orthodox and other traditions, who have found that when they did not know what else to pray, this prayer would rise, by habit, to their mind and heart, providing a vehicle and focus for whatever concern they wished to bring into the Father’s presence.
I have a great admiration for this tradition, but I have always felt a certain uneasiness about it. For a start, it seems to me inadequate to address Jesus only. The Orthodox, of course, have cherished the trinitarian faith, and it has stood them in good stead over the course of many difficult years. It is true that the prayer contains an implicit doctrine of the Trinity: Jesus is invoked as the Son of the living God, and Christians believe that prayer addressed to this God is itself called forth by the Spirit. But the prayer does not seem to me to embody a fully trinitarian theology as clearly as it might. In addition, although people more familiar than I with the use of this prayer have spoken of its unfolding to embrace the whole world, in its actual words it is focused very clearly on the person praying, as an individual. Vital though that is, as the private core of the Christian faith without which all else is more or less worthless, it seems to me urgent that our praying should also reflect, more explicitly, the wider concerns with which we have been dealing.
I therefore suggest that we might use a prayer that, though keeping a similar form to that of the Orthodox Jesus Prayer, expands it into a trinitarian mode:
Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth:
Set up your kingdom in our midst.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God:
Have mercy on me, a sinner.
Holy Spirit, breath of the living God:
Renew me and all the world.
Read it all.