The Lutheran Rosary & The Jesus Prayer


Rosary with Lutheran Rose on cross.

Many Lutherans (and other Protestants) are uncomfortable at how much the Hail Mary prayer is used in the traditional rosary devotion. One division, or decade, of the rosary has 10 Hail Mary prayers, preceded by the Lord’s Prayer and followed by the Gloria Patri (and possibly the Fatima prayer.)

One way to get around that is to replace the Hail Mary with the Jesus prayer. The Jesus prayer is a very ancient devotion in the Eastern Orthodox church. ‘The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God’ by Frederica Mathewes-Green is a whole book about the Jesus prayer by a convert to the Eastern Orthodox church.

The way to think about the Jesus prayer is this: in those early days in the church, no one had personal Bibles in their home for daily Bible reading. You got your ‘dose’ of Bible from the Bible readings in church. And so hermits and early monks would snatch on some Bible words they remembered and repeat them over and over to get closer to God. It was a way of to ‘pray without ceasing’ as in I Thessalonians 5:17.

The Jesus prayer is: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’  There are many Bible passages in the Gospels in which people ask mercy from Jesus Christ, as in Mark 10:47: ‘And when he [Bartimaeus, a blind beggar] heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.’

In the Eastern Orthodox church it is customary to use a ‘prayer rope’ of knotted wool to count one’s repetitions of the Jesus prayer. Many people make thousands of repetitions of the prayer a day!

In the Lutheran rosary, it is combined with meditating on the rosary Mysteries, or Life-of-Christ meditations, just as one does when one uses the Hail Mary in the rosary. Since the Jesus prayer can be said more quickly than a full Hail Mary, one can pray a rosary more quickly to the end.

The hard part is when you are using an audio or video rosary from Catholic sources to help you learn the rosary. You can learn to say (or think) the words of the Jesus prayer when everyone else is saying a Hail Mary, but it’s a bit of a learned skill. If you want to regularly pray the rosary along with Catholic friends and you just cannot say any part of the Hail Mary, you can learn to pray your Jesus prayer silently and just pray aloud with the Our Father and Gloria Patri prayers. But it is a learned skill. I’d practice with an audio or video Catholic rosary, such as those on EWTN television, before I would try it with real people. (I recommend the ‘Holy Land Rosary’ which is on at 630 Central Time in the US.)

The first step in learning to make the rosary part of your spiritual ‘arsenal’ is to memorize the prayers you will be using, and that includes the Jesus prayer if you will be using it, along with the Lord’s Prayer and the Gloria Patri prayer. You don’t want to fumble around reciting the prayers from books if you can help it.

The Jesus prayer, all on its own, has been used as a serious prayer tradition. Using it in your Lutheran rosary is not ‘cheating’ or doing less than a full rosary, but can be a real blessing to you.

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