Friday, 25 November 2011

Prayer and praying

Prayer at it's simplest is speaking to God, but different traditions approach this in different ways. So it is fascinating, and stimulating, to see how others pray. Here are some guidelines taken from Eastern Orthodoxy:

Prayer is a conscious, intentional and purposeful act of uniting with God one's mind, heart, soul and body, with every thought, feeling, word and deed, in every time, place, and circumstance.  The sole purpose of prayer is to glorify God by discovering and doing His will.

Prayer is also directed to Christ Himself, as God's divine Son, in the Holy Spirit.  Prayer is also addressed to the Holy Spirit, especially when one begins to pray to God the Father and to His Son, Jesus Christ.  Prayers are also made to the Holy Trinity -- the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, One in essence and undivided.  And prayers are also made to Christ's Mother, Mary, and to the saints, asking them to pray and intercede for us with God.

Three Ways of Prayer
Christians are taught to pray in three ways.  These three ways enable and empower each other.  When prayer is an honest and real dialogue with God, they are always held together; they are not separated.  In truth, if any of these three ways is missing, a person'a prayer is at best superficial, weak, and one-sided.  At worst it is deformed and distorted to the point where it ceases to be prayer at all.  This is especially true when any of the three ways is willfully suppressed or rejected.

In long, fancy words the three essential ways of prayer for a Christian are:
(1)  The corporate liturgical and sacramental worship of the Christian ecclesial community whereby the baptized believer enters into the ceaseless and eternal glorification of God the Father by His divine Son and Word, Jesus Christ, in and through the power and operation of the Holy Spirit, together with the bodiless hosts of heaven and the assembly of saints;
(2)  The maintenance of a set rule (kanon, regula, pravilo) of prayer done in secret at specific times of the day and week within one's room, the door being shut, according to texts (or memozied words, especially if the person is illiterate) prescribed and guided by a pastor and/or spiritual elder, which rule always includes "O Heavenly King" and the Trisagion prayers concluding with the Lord's Prayer.  It may also include psalmody, the Creed, scripture reading, silence and intercession; and
(3)  The practice of continuous and unceasing spritual prayer of the mind united with the heart usually accomplished, at least at first, by the verbal repetition of a short line of a psalm, or a short prayer, most often a form of the Jesus Prayer such as the shorter "Lord have mercy," or the longer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

My parents, like all devoted Christians without much formal religious education, knew these three forms of prayer.  Without any theological training, they practiced them and taught them to their children in three short rules which were never to be broken.  These rules were:

1.  Go to church,
2.  Say your prayers,
3.  Remember God.
Saying Set Prayers
Christians always begin praying by using set prayers.  They begin with words provided by God in the Bible and liturgy.  The central set prayers for Christians are the Psalms, the Trisagion (Holy! Holy! Holy!), the Alleluia (Praise the Lord!), the Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy), the Lord's Prayer (Our Father...), the Doxology to the Holy Trinity (Glory to the Father ...), and the acclamation to the Theotokos (Rejoice, O Virgin...)

The "Our Father" is the paradigmatic and quintessential prayer for Christians (see Matthew 6:7-13 and Luke 11:1-4).  It is, to use a biblical way of speaking, the prayer of prayers.  All other prayers are either abbreviations or elaborations of the Lord's Prayer.  If they are not, then they are not acceptable prayers for Christians.  The saints teach us that we should be very careful if we pray something that is not specifically contained in the Lord's Prayer.  They warn us as well never to pray anyting contrary to it.

Beginning with set prayers in words given to us by God, we may then move on to prayers in our own words, inspired by God, or to prayers beyond words and thoughts, in the silence of God's Holy Spirit in a realm too high and too deep for words or thoughts of any kind at all.  But we never begin in our own words.  To do so is disobedient, dangerous, and foolish.  If we begin to pray in our own words, and certainly if we try exclusively to pray in our own words, we will almost surely end up making prayers that are insulting to God and contrary to His holy will.
Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, St. Vladimir's Seminary, 2002

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