Prayers/Breath Prayers

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John Cassian (One of the Desert Fathers)

Intro and Background

Breath prayer is an ancient Christian practice involving praying two short lines of scripture—one as you inhale and one as you exhale. This practice is based on God's instructions to meditate on the scriptures (Psalm 1:2, Joshua 1:8) and to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

The Jesus Prayer

The most common form of breath prayer, known as The Jesus Prayer, was popularized by the Desert Fathers. It goes like this:

Inhale slowly and say, "Lord Jesus Christ, son of God,"

Exhale slowly and say, "Have mercy on me, a sinner."[1]

For a revised version see Prayers/Heidi Bakker. For more background and information see Prayers/The Jesus Prayer

The Abba prayer (breath prayer)

This is a contemporary prayer, adapted from the Our Father prayer, that comes from a book by Brennan Manning[2]

Abba,[3] I belong to You.

John Cassian's Prayer (Psalm 70:1)

“O God, come to my assistance; Lord, make haste to help me."[4]

Other Examples (spontaneous / devotional)

Example Breath Prayers –taken from scripture[5]
Scripture Breath in Breath out
See: Matthew 6:8, John 14:23 Father in heaven make my heart your home
Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God the LORD is one
1 Samuel 3:10 Speak LORD for your servant is listening
Psalm 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd I shall not want
See: Psalm 46:10, Psalm 42:5 Be still, my soul and hope in the LORD
Psalm 51:10 (ASV) Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me.
Psalm 51:15 (ESV) O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
Psalm 70:1 (NIV) Hasten, O God, to save me come quickly, Lord, to help me.
See: Psalm 70:1 (Cassian[6]) O God, incline unto my aid O Lord, make haste to help me.
Psalm 86:11 Grant me an undivided heart that I may fear your name
Psalm 103:2 Bless the LORD, O my soul and forget not all His benefits
See: John 10 Good (or Beautiful) Shepherd let me hear your voice
John 20:28 My LORD and my God
See: Philippians 4:7 Peace of Christ guard my heart and mind
Revelation 4:8 Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty
See: Isaiah 6:3 The whole earth is filled filled with His glory
Isaiah 6:8 LORD, Here am I send me!
Isaiah 51:12 I, even I, am he who comforts you who are you, that you should fear

Liturgical Breath Prayers (formal)


Additional Resources

Breath Prayer - Richard Foster

As Christians over the centuries have sought to follow the biblical injunction to "pray without ceasing," they have developed two fundamental expressions of Unceasing Prayer. The one is more formal and liturgical; the other is more conversational and spontaneous. The first has its origin in the Eastern Christian hesychastic tradition and is usually called aspiratory prayer or breath prayer. The idea has its roots in the Psalms, where a repeated phrase reminds us of an entire Psalm, for example, "O LORD, you have searched me and known me" (Ps. 139:1). As a result, the concept arose of a short, simple prayer of petition that can be spoken in one breath, hence the name "breath prayer." Gregory of Sinai says, "One's love of God should run before breathing."

The most famous of the breath prayers is the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." As you can tell, this prayer is derived from Jesus' parable on self-righteousness, in which the tax collector beat his chest and prayed, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" (Luke 18:13). It came together in its present form and was used extensively in the sixth century and then was revived in the Eastern Church in the fourteenth century.

In the nineteenth century an anonymous Russian peasant tells the moving story of his search to pray without ceasing in The Way of a Pilgrim. Once he learned the Jesus Prayer, he prayed it continuously until the prayer moved from his mind into his heart and finally throughout his whole body-becoming so internalized that it was present with him at all times, whether he was awake or asleep. This particular book has had an influence upon Christians far beyond the borders of the Eastern Church.

But the Jesus Prayer is only one example. It is also possible to discover your own individual breath prayer...

(from Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home By Richard J. Foster)


  1. See Luke 18:38.
  2. Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God, 1st ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2009), 46.
  3. Abba is the Aramaic word for father. In literal English it could translated as daddy, papa, or my own dear father. See also Mark 14:36 and Romans 8:15.
  5. The following examples are paraphrases of the Bible taken primarily from the English Standard Version.