The Holy Fathers of the Church and the Importance of Prayer

Archdeacon Stephen from Jerusalem to Constantinople

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


"And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.


Prayer is a universal, spiritual phenomenon, the fundamental and inseparable element of every religion and every personal piety. As such, prayer has appeared in the history of mankind with an astonishing multiplicity of forms and expressions that range from the most crude and primitive to the most spiritually sublime. The tradition of the Holy Bible and of Orthodox Christianity provides an extraordinary perspective from which to see not only the nature and meaning of prayer, but also its concrete expressions in practice. The basic presupposition of any real and truly spiritual prayer is the belief in the existence of the Living God. The believer not only believes that the Infinite and Invisible God exists, but that He also reveals Himself to people. It is through this revelation of God that it becomes possible for man to have a personal communion with God. When, therefore, the believer prays, he or she speaks directly to God and becomes aware of a communication with Him. Consequently, prayer presupposes faith in the reality and the presence of God, and means primarily that living relationship between man and God, which is nothing less than a direct and real spiritual contact and personal conversation between persons, between and "I" and "you." The person who prays is the "I" and the God who is addressed in prayer is the "you."

When therefore we say that we are praying, we mean that we are talking with and having a relationship with God, as a child speaks and relates to a father or a mother. Without this personal contact and relationship with God, provided for us through prayer, our faith in God remains theoretical, merely an intellectual conviction without practical consequences. But when we actually pray, our faith in God becomes a living and an active faith. Moreover, our every other moral and ethical act is enriched by prayer to acquire spiritual depth and meaning. The moral and ontological abyss that exists between God and man, between the infinite and the finite, is bridged with prayer. Prayer exalts the believer up to Heaven, while Heaven is condescendingly lowered to earth.

Prayer, as the mystery of the unity of man with God, is truly an incomprehensible miracle of miracles which can become a daily experience in the soul of the pious believer who prays with attention and sincerity. Saint John Chrysostom, who has taught us so many things about prayer and who has bequeathed to us so many beautiful prayers, emphasizes that prayer is the most powerful thing in the life of a person, and nothing can be compared with prayer. Prayer is the unique and priceless gift of the Creator to man, because it is through this most important divine gift of prayer that the creature is raised up to the Creator and the finite human person is empowered to converse with the Infinite God.


In the Orthodox spiritual tradition prayer has a broad, comprehensive and profound meaning. To pray does not mean simply and only to petition and to beseech, that is, to ask for something from God. This is, of course, the familiar meaning of prayer, and certainly one of the types of prayer. It is important to note, however, that there are various types of prayer, as well as various levels of prayer, which are always analogous to the spiritual experience and progress of each praying person.

Prayer begins as petition and supplication when we express our needs and our deficiencies to God. This type of prayer is the most familiar to all of us because this is the type we use most often. We are always aware of our needs and our weaknesses. Like a small child in need that runs to the loving embrace of its mother, we too also have learned to pray and to ask for help from God during the great and difficult times in our life. This means that we have confidence in the love, the beneficence and the disposition of God to help us. Faithful persons pray because they recognize that it is from God that they receive their life and all that is necessary for their natural and spiritual sustenance. Most especially however we pray for the mercy of God and for the forgiveness of our sins.

The prayer of supplication, however, must be extended to include our fellow human beings for whom we are responsible. In our petitions we must also present the needs not only of our family, but also the needs of all those people who are known to us. Moreover, we must also have a mind, in our petitions, the needs of our whole community, as well as the current events of contemporary history, including the universal deficiencies and sorrows of our time. But because we do not know with absolute confidence what is to our benefit, our petitions will be, in the final analysis, a prayer for the divine grace of God, for the realization not our will but of the will of the All-Wise and Loving God Who knows what we actually need for our bodily and spiritual life before we even ask for it.

After the prayer of supplication what usually follows is the prayer of thanksgiving. This is a higher type of prayer because the believer does not any longer seek something from God but rather express gratitude and thanksgiving to Him for the benefits and the gifts already received. We see this clearly at the cleansing of the Ten Lepers. "...And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, 'Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?" (St. Luke 17:15-18). When the prayer of supplication receives its necessary response, the believer usually expresses a prayer of thanksgiving to God Who loves mankind and grants our requests. We respond with a prayer of thanksgiving because we recognize and acknowledge the grace of God, which we have received in the past or in the present. Our faith obliges us to thank God, not only when He grants our requests, but always and for all things. "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). The holy Fathers of the Church teach that unceasing prayer is a proper goal, for spiritual growth comes through such a discipline. For centuries, Christian people have used the "Jesus Prayer" as a way to pray unceasingly from the heart: "O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

This sense of gratitude and thanksgiving must include the difficulties, the testing and the incomprehensible things that happen in our life. When immovable Christian faith and hope exist, our prayer of thanksgiving will be all the more broadened to include even our misfortunes. It is precisely our fervent communion with God in prayer that can transform even tragic events into opportunities for spiritual growth, according to the measure of our faith. Prayer of thanksgiving means that in an ever growing spiritual understanding, we come to accept all the aspects of our life as a gift of God, and in all circumstances, we turn to Him with humble thanksgiving from the depths of our soul.

The worshipful prayer of doxology and praise confirms in a way the following affirmations: "You Lord are God and I am a human person, Your creation. You exist forever and eternally, while I have been created by You and depend upon You." Our life must always be based upon the truth. And the basic truth in this instance is that God is God and man is man, God is the Creator and man is the creation, and not the other way around. When we, therefore, accept this fundamental truth and worship selflessly our Most Benevolent Creator, we secure our authenticity and spiritual freedom, our health and maturity as human beings. The free and selfless worship and praise of God makes us truly free and enlightened human beings, who reflect that glory and that honor with which our Creator has endowed us from the beginning. God Himself, or course, does not need to be glorified by us. But it is proper and right precisely for the regenerated human nature of mankind to praise and to worship God, using the most pure and most perfect type of prayer. Sacred Scripture is full of hymns of praise with which to worship God. When God is praised and glorified by man it is the human person that is magnified and honored precisely because we are able to recognize and honor God Who is infinitely superior to us. By glorifying God the human person fulfills his or her destiny-to be and to act like a child of God who turns to God in humble yet confident prayer of love and selfless devotion.



Saint John Chrysostom writes:

"Prayer is the beginning of every good thing, and the mediator of salvation and eternal life...The greatest thing we have to say about prayer is that every praying person converses with God Himself, and this to the extent that being human, one can speak with God...One cannot adequately express in words this honor. For this honor exceeds even the magnificence of the Angels themselves...At the time of prayer we are forgetful of our human nature, considering ourselves to be in the midst of Angels and carrying out the same worship as they. For all the other things are very different and separated-I mean between us and the Angels-but the work of prayer is common to both Angels and humans".

Saint Neilos the Ascetic writes:

"Prayer is the conversation of the mind with God. Moses, who attempted to approach the burning bush on earth, was prevented until he had removed the sandals from his feet; how do you expect to see and to become conversant with the One Who is above every perception and every thought, if you do not remove from yourself every passionate thought? First of all pray for the reception of tears; for through contrition and grief the wildness which co-exists in your soul may be softened, and, having confessed to the Lord your transgressions, you may receive forgiveness from Him".

Saint John Climacus (of the Ladder) writes:

"The quality and the grace of prayer which is done, as it should, with fervent love and desire for God, has so much great power, that it unites human beings with their Creator and raises their mind to be inseparably bonded with Him. The energy of such prayer, moreover, can hold the world together and keep it from being annihilated by the many sins done each day".

Saint Isaac the Syrian writes:

"When man becomes humble, he is at once encircled by the mercy of God, and it is then that the heart becomes aware of divine intervention, and discovers a certain power of faith and reassurance moving within itself. Again, when man becomes aware of this divine help and knows that it is within him and empowers him, the heart is then directly filled with joy and faith. It is from this that man understands prayer to be a refuge of assistance, a source of salvation and a treasury of reassurances and conviction, a haven where man finds rescue from the temptations, a light to those in darkness, a staff of support for the infirm, a shelter at the time of temptations, a medicinal help at the height of illness, a shield of protection during unseen warfare, an arrow aimed at demons, and, in general it may be said, that all good things find their way into the heart of man through prayer".

Saint Symeon the New Theologian writes:

"When the heart is praying, the mind must be within the heart to always revolve around it and protect it, and from there within, from the depths of the heart, the mind will offer up prayers to God. And when from within the depths of the heart the mind tastes and sees that the Lord is good and delights therein, the mind will no longer wish to leave the place of the heart. And then the mind will want to say the same words spoken by the holy Apostle Peter: "It is good for us to be here" (St. Matthew 17:4).

Saint Gregory of Sinai writes:

"Faith alone is not sufficient for grace; active prayer is also required. For true faith which reveals in practice the life of Jesus comes through the Spirit in active love. Therefore, one who does not see faith activated in his life possesses only a dead and lifeless faith."

Saint Gregory Palamas writes:

"The power of prayer lies in its holy work to bring to perfection the ascent of man and to unite him to God, and thus to be the bond between rational beings with their Creator, especially when prayer, through fervent contrition, succeeds in transcending those passions and thoughts which tend to accompany prayer. For it is impossible for a passionate mind to be united with God".

Saint Callistos and Ignatios Xanthopoulos write:

"This work (of prayer of the heart) is not something one achieves in one or two days, but after much time and timely effort. There is need for much time in training and a great struggle to expel the enemy and to allow Christ to dwell in us".

Saint Gregory, Archbishop of Thessaloniki writes:

"All of us Christians, without exception, have an obligation to always be in a state of prayer...Every Christian simply must struggle always with the work of prayer and to pray without ceasing, as Saint Paul actually exhorts all Christians to "pray unceasingly" (I Thess. 5:17). Not only must we all be always praying, but we must also teach all the others-monastics and lay people, wise and ordinary people, men and women and children-and encourage them to pray at all times as well".


Please note: The Fifteen days of the Holy Dormition Fast is a precious time to dedicate to prayer and worship. Please make every effort to use it wisely and with sincere devotion to the Almighty God and to our Theotokos.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George