My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE PRACTICING ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN HAS A PRAYER LIFE
"Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. So He said to them, when you pray, say: Our Father in heaven..." (St. Luke 11:1-4).
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17).
"He who is able to pray correctly, even if he is the poorest of all people, is essentially the richest. And he who does not have proper prayer, is the poorest of all, even if he sits on a royal throne" (St. John Chrysostom).
The life of the Orthodox Christian is Christ centered and prayer centered. Prayer is the elevation of the mind and the heart to God in praise, in thanksgiving, and in petition for the spiritual and material goods we need. Our Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to enter into our inner room and there pray to God the Father in secret. This inner room means the heart, the core of our being.
The Holy Apostle Paul advises us to always pray in our spirit. He commands prayer for all Christians without exception and asks us to pray unceasingly. Orthodox Christians engage in both corporate and personal prayer. One's individual prayer life is balanced with participation in the liturgical services of the Church where the entire parish gathers for prayer and worship.
"Prayer needs no teacher. It requires diligence effort and personal ardor, and then God will be its teacher." (St. Meletius the Confessor). "The crown of every good endeavor and the highest of achievements is diligence in prayer. Through it, God guiding us and lending a helping hand, we come to acquire the other virtues. It is in prayer that the saints experience communion in the hidden energy of God's holiness and inner union with it, and their intellect itself is brought through unutterable love into the presence of the Lord. 'Thou hast given gladness to my heart', wrote the psalmist (Psalm 4:7); and the Lord Himself said that 'the Kingdom of heaven is within you' (cf. St. Luke 17:21). And what does the kingdom being within mean except that the heavenly gladness of the Spirit is clearly stamped on the virtuous soul? For already in this life, through active communion in the Spirit, the virtuous soul receives a foretaste and a prelude of the delight, joy and spiritual gladness which the saints will enjoy in the eternal Light of Christ's Kingdom. This is something that Saint Paul also affirms: 'He consoles us in our afflictions, so that we can console with which we ourselves have been consoled by God' (2 Corinthians 1:4). And passages in the Psalms likewise hint at this active gladness and consolation of the Spirit, such as: 'My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God' (Psalm 84:2); and: 'My soul will be filled with marrow and fatness' (Psalm 63:5).
Just as the work of prayer is greater than other work, so it demands greater effort and attention from the person ardently devoted to it, lest without him being aware the devil deprives him of it. The greater the good a person has in his care, the greater the attacks the devil launches on him; hence he must keep strict watch, so that fruits of love and humility, simplicity and goodness--and, along with them, fruits of discrimination--may grow daily from the constancy of his prayer. These will make evident his progress and increase in holiness, thus encouraging others to make similar efforts.
Not only does Saint Paul instruct us to pray without ceasing and to persist in prayer (cf. I Thessalonians 5:17; Romans 12:12), but so also does the Lord when He says that God will vindicate those who cry out to Him day and night (cf. St. Luke 18:7) and counsels us to 'watch and pray' (St. Matthew 26:41). We must therefore pray always and not lose heart (cf. St. Luke 18:1). To put things more succinctly: he who persists in prayer has to struggle greatly and exert himself relentlessly if he is to overcome the many obstacles with which the devils tries to impede his diligence--obstacles such as sleep, listlessness, physical torpor, distraction of thoughts, confusion of intellect, debility, and son on not to mention afflictions, and also the attacks of the evil spirits that violently fight against us, opposing us and trying to prevent the soul from approaching God when it truly and ceaselessly seeks Him.
He who cultivates prayer has to fight with all diligence and watchfulness, all endurance, all struggle of soul and toil of body, so that he does not become sluggish and surrender himself to distraction of thought, to excessive sleep, to listlessness, debility and confusion, or defile himself with turbulent and indecent suggestions, yielding his mind to things of this kind, satisfied merely with standing or kneeling for a long time, while his intellect wanders far away" (Saint Makarios of Egypt).
Once you begin to outwardly order your life, prayer is the first discipline you should develop. What is prayer? It is the mutual and personal encounter with the Almighty God. It is through prayer that we open ourselves to the invisible, imperceptible power of God. The perfect example of personal prayer is the one given to us by the Lord Himself, The Lord's Prayer: Our Father Who art in Heaven..." To pray is to stand before God with our mind in our heart.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Saint Luke, "How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him" (St. Luke 11:13). We pray so that God can help us to become more like Him in our actions. We also pray for our renewal and the growth of our soul. We pray to give thanks to God for all He provides for us. We also pray to seek forgiveness for our sinfulness. We can also pray to seek help for others as well as ourselves.
Our life is to become one of a constant and unceasing prayer where we are continually in a personal relationship with our Creator. This is our main challenge, to draw close to God. We are united to God through prayer and worship. Prayer must be brief. It must be simple and consistent. It can be the totally silent inner attitude of the soul before the Lord, the fulfillment of the words of the psalmist: "commune with your hearts...and be silent. Be still, and know that I am God." Spiritual teachers warn against being too long and demanding of the Lord because prayer directed to God in faith is answered.
According to Father Cleopa there are the following stages of prayer:
- prayer of the lips - when prayer is just said
- prayer of the mind - when mind comprehends the prayer
- prayer of the heart - when mind descends into heart
- active prayer - when heart starts praying alone even in sleep
- all-seeing prayer - when unseen world including Angels becomes visible together with future, past
- ecstasy prayer - when mind is taken to Heaven
- contemplative prayer - when people can be taken to Heaven
Prayer, with fasting and almsgiving, is one of the three "pillars of piety" (St. Matthew 6:1-18). The Holy Orthodox Church teaches that all of the virtues and powers of God are attained primarily by prayer.
As we approach the Great Fast we, as Orthodox Christians, focus on contrite and heartfelt prayer to our Savior Jesus Christ. For centuries, Orthodox Christians 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."
No Christian can claim to have a spiritual life without having a prayer life first.
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Glory Be To GOD For All Things!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God