Abba Macarius was asked, ‘How should one pray?’ The old man said, ‘There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one’s hands and say, “Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.” And if the conflict grows fiercer say, “Lord, help!” He knows very well what we need and he shews us his mercy.
—from the Apophthegmata Patrum (Sayings of the Desert Fathers), trans. Benedicta Ward
LOOK: The Parable of the Mustard Seed by Roman Zilinko
LISTEN: “The Jesus Prayer” in Ukrainian [HT: Global Christian Worship]
Ісусе, Ісусе, сину Божий, помилуй, помилуй нас.
Transliteration: Isuse, Isuse, Synu Bozhyy, pomyluy, pomyluy nas.
English translation: Jesus, Jesus, Son of God, have mercy, have mercy on us.
I don’t know the name of this vocal ensemble, when the recording was made, or the origin of the melody they sing. (Can anyone help me out there?)
The text, though, is a famous one, used regularly in the Eastern Orthodox tradition and known as the Jesus Prayer, or the Prayer of the Heart. It originated with the early Christian monks of the Egyptian desert around the fifth century, and was first written down in Greek. Another variation is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
An invocation of Christ’s name and presence, the Jesus Prayer is meant to be recited in repetition as a form of meditative prayer. Some Christians use it in conjunction with a breath prayer, breathing in as they say internally, “Jesus, Son of God,” and breathing out on “have mercy.”
It’s most often prayed in the first-person singular—“have mercy on me”—and used in private devotions, but in this corporate chant on the video, it’s prayed in the first-person plural, “us.” In light of Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine and the war being fought there, I hear in these Ukrainian women’s voices a lament for their country.
Lord, have mercy. Spare the Ukrainian people. Stop the violence and destruction. Protect, provide. Heal the wounded and the traumatized, and comfort the grieving. Thwart the evildoers; turn their hearts to you in repentance. Grant wisdom to the leaders working for peace. In short: “Lord, help!”
The folk icon featured above is by contemporary Ukrainian artist, art historian, and curator Roman Zilinko, who works at the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum in Lviv. “My artworks continue the tradition of the Ukrainian icon painting of the Carpathian region, which flourished in the 16th and 19th centuries,” Zilinko says. Its distinctive features are “naive and flat painting, but rich in colors and ornaments.” To view more of Zilinko’s icons, click here.
The above icon shows a religious procession, with two people carrying khorugvs (religious banners)—one of the Virgin Mary and Child, one of Christ Pantocrator. Foregrounded in the center is Christ, crucified on a tree that recalls the tree of life from Revelation 22, whose leaves are for the healing of nations. The suffering Christ goes before the people and is right in their midst. He is their companion, their deliverer, their wounded healer, their life.
Zilinko has named the icon The Parable of the Mustard Seed, after Jesus’s saying about how the kingdom of heaven starts out small but then grows into something enormous and lush (Matt. 13:31–32). Christ has indeed grown his church mightily in Ukraine; Christianity has been the primary religion there since the tenth century. Zilinko portrays the Christians of Ukraine as a sea of people who stand behind their Savior with hands clasped in prayer and faces radiant with hope.
Let us join them in intercession for a swift end to the war and lasting peace in the region, and for the ability of refugees to return home.
If you find yourself at a loss for words, I suggest praying the Jesus Prayer from the video.