Beloved brothers and sisters in Our Risen Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
PSALM 22 (23)
The Lord is my shepherd: therefore can I lack nothing. He shall feed me in a green pasture: and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort. He shall convert my soul: and bring me forth in the paths of righteousness, for His Name's sake. Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me. Thou shalt prepare a table before me against them that trouble me. Thou hast anointed my head with oil, and my cup shall be full. But Thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
PRAYER AS AN IMPORTANT ASPECT OF OUR SPIRITUAL LIFE
by Monk Moses
The life of prayer, which we shall discuss, is one part of a much broader topic: spiritual life in general, the life in Christ, spiritual ascension, the way to sanctification and deification (Theosis). Combined with personal inner purification and a regular sacramental life (mysteriaki zoe), a life of prayer will help significantly in the regeneration of the faithful during this difficult period in which we live.
The content of this discussion is not the property of the author. It consists primarily of material borrowed from the abundant resources bequeathed to us as an inheritance by the Holy Fathers of the Church. Also included are precious morsels gathered from the spiritual dinner table of contemporary Gerondes (Elders) of Mt. Athos.
There are many stations or steps in the journey of prayerful spiritual ascent. We shall briefly address some of the more significant ones related to our topic.
Everything flows calmly under the watchful eye of God, Who blesses and sanctifies us. And if we transgress He may intervene austerely to bring us back to our senses. Let us, therefore, always remember Him.
Liturgical books - the Horologion, Psalter, Menaia, Triodion, Pentekostarion, Parakletiki - are not only for the lectern in church but also for the prayer room in our home. These books offer great assistance to our spiritual life. It is a beautiful thing when one comes to love these books and makes them daily companions even if only for an abbreviated Orthros (Matins) or a few hymns from Esperinos (Vespers), the Apodeipnon (Compline) or to the Chairestismoi (Salutarions) to the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.
The Church has designated particular prayers for important events in our lives such as birth, sickness, engagement, marriage and death, as well as other occasions, such as the opening of a home, the beginning of a business or the start of a career. The Church has also designated prayers for prescribed hours of the day.
Saint John Chrysostom, commenting on prayer before and after meals, notes that among the reason for these prayers are the following: that we also remember the nourishment of the soul, that we avoid intoxication and over indulgence, that we develop the discernment of moderation; and that we express our gratitude to God for His gifts.
At prescribed times the Church gathers in common prayer and worship. The prayers of many faithful who have gathered are more readily received and heard by God. He is particularly attentive to such petitions. To help us receives the full benefit of ecclesiastical gatherings let us pay close attention to these words of Saint Symeon the New Theologian:
"Stand in church as if you are in heaven together with the Angels, and consider yourself unworthy to be praying together with your brothers. And be vigilant not to be looking back and forth to observe the brothers and sisters, how they are standing or chanting, but observe only yourself, your chanting and your sins."
Saint Paul noted that he who is happy should sing. Psalmody -spiritual song-is not only for church services, but for any circumstances that permit. We can chant aloud or silently, individually or as a group, before and after prayer, and even during intermissions.
According to St. Diadochos, Bishop of Photiki, in addition to the familiar ecclesiastical psalmodia, we also have another psalmodia which comes from an overflow of joy, powerful and moving, with a prayerful disposition. This Psalmody, when moved by the Holy Spirit, is accompanied by delight of the heart, spiritual tears and incredible joy.
Returning to the preparatory aspects of prayer, let us note the words of Saint Athanasius in his treatise on virginity. "The believer who is dedicated to God must be found with the Book (the Holy Bible) as the sun rises." He also provides instructions for the hours of the day and night, and how the faithful must stand before God.
It is well established that books are beneficial, but they do not always lead to prayer. And it is to be noted that a greater teacher than books is prayer itself. Innumerable ascetics have learned to pray without any books at all. Books and church gatherings cannot always be with us, but we can always learn by the inner work of prayer, which can be with us at all times. The soul of each one who truly prays becomes a temple of God and a sacred place of sacrifice. All prayers are good, audible prayers, book prayers, public prayers, silent prayers, when practiced carefully and attentively.
As there is no healthy plant without roots, there can be no life of prayer without the Mysteria (Sacraments), especially Holy Communion (Eucharist). For, as Abba (Father) Apollo says,: "He who withdraws from communing with the Sacred Mysteries, causes God Himself to withdraw from him." It is customary for monks to complete prayers begun in their cell when they have gathered in church. And common prayers started in church are completed in their cells. The Mysterion (Sacrament) of Holy Eucharist, in which they participate during Divine Liturgy is continued on the sacred altar of their hearts with ongoing prayer.
THE NATURE OF PRAYER
What, after all, is the nature of prayer? Is it worth the toil, concern and effort that goes into it? Let us examine the words of the Holy Fathers for insight.
Saint John Chysostomos says:
"Prayer is a harbor in the storms of life, an anchor for those who are storm-tossed, the treasure of the poor, the security of the rich, the healing of the sick, the preservation of health. Prayer banishes evil things and preserves the good."
And the God-bearing ecumenical Father continues:
"Prayer silences the passions of the soul, assuages the rebellion of anger, dismisses envy, dissipates evil desire, withers the love of worldly things, and brings great peace and serenity to the soul."
The essence of prayer becomes clear from what it offers. Saint John Climacus (Ladder) says that prayer is the means which unites man with God. The most ascetic Saint Gregory of Sinai, who wanted to traverse the universe to teach everyone the benefits of prayer, penetrates the matter more deeply proclaiming:
"Prayer is a pleasant fire for beginners, 'a light made fragrant when activated for the advanced. Prayer informs the heart; it is the hope of salvation, the sign of purification, a symbol of holiness, the knowledge of God, the engagement of the Holy Spirit, the joy of Jesus, the gladness of the soul, the mercy of God, the sign of reconciliation, the seal of Christ, the ray of intelligible sun, the confirmation of Christianity, proof of angelic life."
Serious obstacles to prayer are too much sleep, too much food, too much talk and luxurious living. These contribute to forgetfulness of God and a sluggish body, while making vigilance and exaltation of the spirit difficult. They do not help in purification and they confuse mind, heart and judgment, which should be calm, peaceful and in quietude during prayer.
How should I pray? When should I pray? How extensive should my prayer be? Questions such as these reveal an absence of fervent and continuous prayer. For the one who loves prayer intensely there are no bounds. He will simply pray at every opportunity. Today's prayer is a continuation of yesterday's. And today's prayer will be continued tomorrow. It is said that a holy man never used the dismissal prayer "Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers..." ["Δι΄ ευχών των Αγίων Πατέρων ημών , Κύριε Ιησού Χριστέ ο Θεός ημών, ελέησον και σώσον ημάς"]because his prayer life had no end.
Difficulty in making prayer a daily experience is indicative of a serious weakness in our spiritual life. But, with recognitions and acknowledgment of this weakness, we should not be disheartened. Rather, we should let it be a stimulus to intensified and more persistent efforts. We can learn to pray virtually anywhere we may be, whenever we think of it. But there should be special times, in addition to church services, when we conduct our individual prayers, And as Abba (Father) Isaac suggests for each monk within his cell, we must seek the most quiet place available for our prayers.
Once Abba (Father) Makarios of Egypt was asked how we should pray and he answered in this way:
"It is not necessary to babble foolishly at great lengths, but to extend your arms and to say: 'Lord, have mercy on me as you desire and know best. And if there is a war about to break out, say: 'Lord, help me." For He knows what is best for us and provides His mercy."
We have prayer with words, and we can also make our entire life a prayer, a sacrifice of consecration to God, a prayer without words, which is perhaps the strongest and greatest prayer. Let us sit, patiently, tirelessly, as permanent disciples listening to God speak. Ignorant, innocent, humble, poor, dumb before the all-merciful Father, let us beseech His mercy, His salvation and His salutary help with "ineffable signs." With a silent humble prayer, let us allow God to speak in our life, let us allow Him to do whatever He desires with us, that we may become similar to the saints, His ever obedient children, and be restored to our pristine and original beauty, making his life our own life.
Abba (Father) Isaac says that when you approach God to pray, "Think of yourself as an insignificant an, a creeping creature of the earth, a leech, a stammering infant."
[to be continued]
With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
[Please note: It is out of agape that I bring all these inspiring articles of the Holy Fathers of the Church to all of you because I know how you yearn to hear them. I pray that they will help you build up your life in Christ and strengthen your personal faith and commitment to Him and Him alone.]