So far, we have considered why we should pray, and it is true to say to be a Christian is to pray, to be a person of prayer, to make one’s very life into a constant, unceasing prayer to God. Orthodox spiritual literature is full of comments about what prayer is. In the next few blogs, we will explore the question, “What is prayer?”
We’ll begin by considering a quote from the Patristic father and bishop, St. John Chrysostom (d 407AD).
“Prayer is the fortress of the faithful, prayer is our invincible weapon, prayer is the cleansing of our souls, prayer is the ransom for our sins, prayer is the foundation and source of countless blessings. For prayer is nothing more than conversation with God and association with the Master of all. What could be more blessed than a man who is deemed worthy of constant association with the Master?” (St. John Chrysostom, BAPTISMAL INSTRUCTIONS, p 115).
In the above quote, Chrysostom offers us that notion that prayer is the very life we live and the very air we breathe. His bold words do not mean that we through our own efforts can save ourselves (“prayer is the ransom for our sins”), but rather that through prayer, we unite ourselves to Christ – this is the very meaning of salvation. Prayer is turning our entire life and all of our inner thoughts into a constant dialogue with God. Whenever we pray we are cooperating with God – working out our salvation.
“Prayer keeps us in the sphere of God and in proper orientation to God, our fellows, ourselves, and to the rest of creation. It is a source of strength in time of trouble. Most importantly, it is one of the chief means by which believers open themselves to the grace of God and to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit as they struggle to grow toward theosis on a daily basis. Prayer keeps human life open to the power, presence, and energies of God. ‘Our lives are sustained by prayer. Without it there can be no good for us, nor any salvation take place,’ says Chrysostom.” (Stanley Harakas, LIVING THE FAITH, pp 60-61)
Prayer is our conscious participation in the life of Christ, our union with our Savior, and thus our salvation. Prayer restores in us the relationship with God which has been lost through sin. From the first sin of the first human beings, we experienced the terrible loss of the separation from God. Our own sins perpetuate this separation. Prayer is our accepting Christ’s salvation, the reunion of God and humanity.
“Prayer assuredly revives in us the divine breath which God breathed into Adam’s nostrils and by virtue of which Adam ‘became a living soul.’” (Archimandrite Sophrony, ON PRAYER, p 10)
To pray is to breathe that divine breath that Adam first received from God (Genesis 2:7). Imagine, each moment of prayer, each breath we breathe while praying is a renewal of the creation of Adam, of humans, of each of us.
Next: What is prayer? (II)