Praying (IX)

This is the 21st blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Praying (VIII).

In the wisdom of Holy Tradition, we encounter an idea which St. John Chrysostom repeats in several of his writings [see for example What is Prayer?  (VI)].  Taking his cues from how the world  was experienced in his day, Chrysostom contrasts how we can approach God in prayer with how the people of his day would go about seeking assistance from people of power in their society.   For in the 4th Century those seeking help from people in power needed to find advocates to intercede for them before the person of power, or they needed to bribe enough people to get the ear of the powerful.   For Chrysostom, the merciful God does not put between Himself and us layers of hierarchies which we have to weave through or beg for help in order to get access to the Lord God.

Icon of the Parable of the Prodigal Son

Chrysostom states that  the loving God hears our cries for help despite the din of noise that might be raised from all of those who think they are closer to God than us and who think they have a self-determined task to protect the holiness of God and keep others away from Him.  God is not unfair in His mercy nor does He follow human notions of favoritism.  God listens for and hears our prayers.  As Jesus taught in the parable of the prodigal son, the father was looking for his son and saw his saw coming even when the son was still at a great distance away (Luke 15:20).

“When we entreat human beings for assistance, then we must meet with porters beforehand, entreat parasites and flatterers, and embark on a long journey.  However, where God is concerned, nothing of this sort is required; rather, you can beg him without the interventions of an intercessor and money, and He approves your supplication without expense.  It suffices for you simply to shout with the heart and offer tears, and he will immediately enter into your soul and assist you.”  (St. John Chrysostom, ON REPENTANCE AND ALMSGIVING, p 51)

Prayer is an act based in love – in God’s love for us His creatures, and His desire to hear our voice and bestow His love on us.  Prayer is an act of love on our parts for others and for all of God’s creation.  Christ taught us to love God and love neighbor, and to love others as He loved us.  This is the basis for our prayer.

“When you pray, endeavor to pray more for others than for yourself alone, and during prayer represent to yourself all men as forming one body with yourself, and each separately as a member of the Body of Christ and your own member, ‘for we are members one of another.’  Pray for all as you would pray for yourself, with the same sincerity and fervor; look upon their infirmities and sicknesses as your own; their spiritual ignorance, their sins and passions, as your own; their temptations, misfortunes, and manifold afflictions as your own.  Such prayer will be accepted with great favor by the heavenly Father, that most gracious, common Father of all, with Whom ‘there is no respect of persons,’ ‘no shadow of alteration,’ that boundless Love that embraces and preserve all creatures.”    (St. John of Kronstadt in TREASURY OF RUSSIAN SPIRITUALITY, p 361)

Prayer is a way for us to practice the love that Christ teaches us in the Gospel.  Prayer is an act of Christian love – or perhaps more accurately, prayer is an expression of who we are in Christ. If we follow St. Paul’s teaching, “let all you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14), we realize prayer is an expression of our love for God, for others and for all of creation.

“I have said that one of the problems which we must all face and solve is: where should I direct my prayer?  The answer I have suggested is that we should direct it at ourselves.  Unless the prayer which you intend to offer to God is important and meaningful to you first, you will not be able to present it to the Lord.  If you are inattentive to the words you pronounce, if your heart does not respond to them, of if your life is not turned in the same direction as your prayer, it will not reach out Godwards.  So the first thing is, as I said, to choose a prayer which you can say with all your mind, with all your heart and with all your will – a prayer which does not necessarily have to be a great example of liturgical art, but which must be true, something which should not fall short of what you want to express.”     (Anthony Bloom, BEGINNING TO PRAY, p 26)

Next:  Praying (X)