I expect you know the Jesus prayer — simple, humble abiding mantra of the Orthodox Church.
It appears in slight variations of form:
- Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, a sinner.
- Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
- Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, the sinner.
- Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, the sinner.
The last one is the version I prefer in my own private prayer.
I like the addition of "Son of the living God". I'm not quite sure why, but I think maybe because of the word "living" — the vitality and aliveness and ever-freshness of God who is present and real.
I also like "the sinner" instead of "a sinner".
If I say "a sinner", I am making no connection with other people.
As for instance, if I say, "I am a writer", that's just a piece of information about me alone. But if I say, "I am the writer", there is imported the sense of an unspoken "as opposed to these other people".
So, as I pray into the circumstances, relationships, events and connections of my life, if I say "I am the sinner", then I am taking responsibility for my own culpability where things have been spoilt or gone wrong, if you see what I mean.
It's as if I look at some mess that's shown up in my life and I accept responsibility.
In an ideal world, each and every one of us will do this, and that will be all that's needed for the global human community to live in peace. "I am the sinner" lays to rest all strife.
If I say, "I am a sinner", I've made a general statement about myself, but not accepted responsibility within a relationship — I haven't admitted culpability for things going wrong.
Of course, in a breakdown of relationship there's bound to be misunderstanding in both parties and likely to have been fuel added to the fire from both sides of the divide. But if I step forward and say, "I am the sinner", it seems to me very likely I will make it easier for my antagonists to relax and lay down their weapons.
And that's why I like that version best.