St. John of Kronstadt (d. 1908AD) offers a summary of the many metaphors and direct answers which Orthodox saints and teachers have given to describe what prayer is. Better than offering techniques about how to pray, St. John gives us a rich treasury of what prayer is, reasons for prayer, and the blessings bestowed upon those of us who pray. From his description of what prayer is we gain greater insight into how and why prayer is not simply an occasional activity in which we engage, but rather is something we do continually throughout the day and throughout the days of our lives.
“Prayer is the lifting up of the mind and heart to God, the contemplation of God, the daring converse of the creature with the Creator, the soul reverently standing before Him, as before the King and the Life Itself, giving life to all; the oblivion of everything that surrounds us, the food of the soul; its air and light, its lifegiving warmth, its cleansing from sin; the easy yoke of Christ, His light burden.
Prayer is the constant feeling (the recognition) of our infirmity or spiritual poverty, the sanctification of the soul, the foretaste of the future blessedness, angelic bliss, the heavenly rain, refreshing, watering, and fertilizing the ground of the soul, the power and strength of the soul and body, the purifying and freshening of the mental air, the enlightenment of the countenance, the joy of the spirit, the golden link, uniting the creature to the Creator, courage and valor in all the afflictions and temptation of life, the lamp of life, success in all undertakings, dignity equal to the angels, the strengthening of faith, hope and love.
Prayer is intercourse with the holy angels and saints, who pleased God since the beginning of the world. Prayer is the amendment of life, the mother of heartfelt contrition and tears; a powerful motive for works of mercy; security of life; the destruction of the fear of death; the disdain of earthly treasures; the desire for heavenly blessing; the expectation of the universal Judge, of the common resurrection and of the life of the world to come; a strenuous effort to save ourselves from eternal torments; unceasing seeking for mercy (forgiveness) of the Sovereign; walking before God; the blissful vanishing of self before the all-creating and all-filling Creator; the living water of the soul.
Prayer is holding all men in our hearts through love; the descent of heaven into the soul; the abiding of the most Holy Trinity in the soul, in accordance with that which has been said: ‘We will come to him and will make our abode with him.’” (in TREASURY OF RUSSIAN SPIRITUALITY, pp 350-351)
We have explored in this blog the and seven preceding blogs ideas from Orthodox writers about what prayer is. We will in the next set of blogs turn our attention to how we go about praying. We conclude this blog with a prayer by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow (d. 1867AD):
My LORD, I know not what I ought to ask of you. You and you alone know my needs. You love me more than I am able to love you. O Father, grant unto me, your servant, all which I cannot ask. For a cross I dare not ask, nor for consolation; I dare only to stand in your presence. My heart is open to you. You see my needs of which I myself am unaware. Behold and lift me up! In your presence I stand, awed and silenced by your will and your judgments, into which my mind cannot penetrate. To you I offer myself as a sacrifice. No other desire is mine but to fulfill your will. Teach me how to pray. Do yourself pray within me. Amen. (Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church , Kindle Loc. 164-70)
For some prayers that I learned as a teenager see my blog series which began with My “O Lord” Prayers: A Story.”