What is Prayer? (IV)

This is the 8th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is What is prayer?  (III).

In the long history of Orthodox Christianity, as we have already seen, there has developed a rich treasury of images, metaphors and definitions regarding what prayer is.  Evagrios the Solitary (d. 399AD) writes:

“Prayer is the flower of gentleness and of freedom from anger.

Prayer is the fruit of joy and thankfulness.

Prayer is the remedy for gloom and despondency.”  (THE PHILOKALIA   Vol 1, p 58)

St. Isaac the Syrian  (7th Century) wrote:

“Again he was asked, ‘What is prayer?’  And he replied: ‘The mind’s freedom and rest from everything of this world and a heart that has completely turned its gaze toward the fervent desire belonging to the hope of future things.”  (THE ASCETICAL HOMILIES, p 345)

Bishop Kallistos Ware offers this explanation of what prayer is, based upon the writings of several Orthodox Saints from later centuries:

Patriarch Abraham stands before God

“Prayer is essentially a state of standing before God. In the words of St. Dimitri of Rostov (17th cent): ‘Prayer is turning the mind and thoughts towards God.  To pray means to stand before God with mind, mentally to gaze unswervingly at Him and to converse with Him in reverent fear and hope.’ This notion of ‘standing before God’ recurs again and again in St. Theophan (19th Cent) : ‘The principle thing is to stand with the mind in the heart before God, and to go on standing before Him unceasingly day and night, until the end of life.’  . . .  This state of standing before God may be accompanied by words, or it may be ‘soundless’: sometimes we speak to God, sometimes we simply remain in His presence, saying nothing, but conscious that He is near us, ‘closer to us than our own soul’ (St. Nicholas Cabasilas – 14th Cent).  As Theophan puts it: ‘Inner prayer means standing with the mind in the heart before God, either simply living in His presence, or expressing supplication, thanksgiving, and glorification.’” (THE ART OF PRAYER, p 17)

St. John the Theologian

Prayer can involve thinking or saying words, assuming pious postures and/or specific times.  It also can be in the words of St. Theophan, simply living in God’s presence.  As our faith in God becomes more who we are and what we think, our life becomes prayer.  As we grow in faith, we decreasingly compartmentalize our life.  We eventually don’t have a “church face.”  We cease to have a religious self/life, as versus our work life, home life, family life, recreational self.  We become one person, always aware of the presence of God and thus always standing in His presence.  This integration of all the aspects of our daily life and personality is part of the healing that comes in Christ.  Christianity restores both wholeness and holiness to us.  As one person comments, sin is always complex and complicated, holiness is simple.  In holiness we don’t have to pretend anything, we simply are who we are.   As God spoke to Moses, “I am who I am.”   This is the voice of holiness and wholeness.

“Only God is good by nature, but with God’s help man can become good through careful attention to his way of life. He transforms himself into what he is not when his soul, by devoting its attention to true delight, unites itself to God, in so far as its energized power desires this. For it is written: ‘Be good and merciful as is your Father in heaven’ (cf. Luke 6:36; Matt. 5:48).”  (St. Diadokos of Photiki, THE PHILOKALIA,  kindle 7544-49)

Next:  What is Prayer?  (V)