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.
AN HOMILY ON PRAYER (Part III)
By Saint John Chrysostom
"...praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication of all saints..." (Ephesians 6:18)
This is why we must pray and worship God when we rise from our bed before the dawn of the sun, when we are about to have our meals, and when we prepare to recline for sleep. We must every moment offer a prayer to God. During the winter months we should devote the greater part of the night to prayers and ascetic vigils. Moreover, we should be praying with much delight, but also with much fear, considering ourselves as fortunate and blessed for being able to worship God. Tell me, how will you look upon the sun if you do not worship the One Who sends upon your eyes that most pleasant and sweet light? How will you enjoy the meal if you do not first thank in prayer the Giver and Provider of so many gifts and blessings? With what hope will you spend the hours of the night? What dreams do you hope to see if you do not guard yourself with prayers, but recline for sleep unprotected by prayers? You will be easily despised and become the play thing of the cunning demons, who wander constantly to see which one of us they can opportunely snatch suddenly by finding us without prayer. But if these demons see us well protected by prayers, they run away like startled thieves and evil doers, seeing that a fiery sword stands by the soldier of Christ in prayer. And if anyone should be found to be barren of any prayer, such a person is readily drawn by the demons and guided toward sins and misfortunes and many evil things.
Since we fear all these things and want to be protected from them, let us guard ourselves with the holy prayers, so that God may have mercy upon us all and make us worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven through His Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, whose power and glory will endure until the end of the ages. Amen.
What Prayer Is
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 provide 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 reveals 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 else than a direct contact and personal conversation between persons, between an "I" and a "You". The person who prays is the "I" and 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 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. The existing veil between the visible and the invisible is drawn aside by prayer, and man is thus made worthy to stand before the Holy God and to speak with Him--"face to face," that is, person to person, and to express to Him the overflowing content of one's praying heart. In this way our prayer draws the Omnipotent God from heaven and includes Him in our humble and praying heart, while, at the same time, the ecstatic and suspended soul of the praying person is exalted to heaven and united with Infinite God.
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 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.
Prayer is God's greatest gift to fallen man. As such, prayer is also man's greatest power, which he can use to rediscover and restore the original beauty, the original glory and honor of his nature, created in the image and likeness of God. Prayer has indeed strengthened all the saints, and it can also strengthen us. Consequently, prayer should not be seen as simply one of the virtues, or merely a duty we must fulfill as Christians. Rather, we must see prayer as constituting the natural and perfect stance of man as a creation of God. In other words, prayer reveals the very essence of human existence and interprets what it means to be a human being, that is, a person whose existence is always understood in relation to the true and Living God. According to the ascetic Saint Neilos, "Everyone who does not wish to be united with God through prayer is actually separated from God." In the spiritual tradition of the Church, prayer is always seen as an act that is purely free and personal, and which, when practiced faithfully and devoutly, always unites the believer with God If, as it is said, we cannot really live without God, then we must also say that we cannot really live without prayer, which brings us confidently before the presence of God and makes us witnesses of His existence and Kingdom in the world.
Without prayer human beings are alienated not only from God but also from themselves. Without prayer human beings deny the underlying fervent desire of their heart, the great longing for a fuller, purer, more blessed life, which is our natural movement toward God. It is this communion with God that not only defines us as human beings, but also offers to us the victory over Satan, sin and death. A Saint, a true human being, is not some superman or superwoman, but the person who truly lives his or her personal humanity as a praying human being. This means that the actual destiny of man is to pray and to be in touch with God through prayer, as the Psalmist confirms: "I will sing to the Lord as I live" (Psalm 104:33). It is therefore not enough to simply say some prayers from time to times, in the sense of fulfilling an occasional or regular religious duty. The totality of our life must become "prayer" in the sense that our life becomes real and true and authentic when it is all a time of prayer, that is, a time of communion with God.
(To be continued)
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