Prayer as Relationship with God

This is the 36th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Prayer: Conversing with God (II).

In the previous couple of blogs we considered the notion that prayer is conversation with God.  St Theodoros the Great Ascetic states that prayer, which is conversing with God, “enables us to become akin to God.”   This is one of the great blessings of prayer: not that we receive things from God but that we come into a relationship with Him.

“Whatever a man loves, he desires at all costs to be near to continuously and uninterruptedly, and he turns himself away from everything that hinders him from being in contact and dwelling with the object of his love. It is clear therefore that he who loves God also desires always to be with Him and to converse with Him. This comes to pass in us through pure prayer. Accordingly, let us apply ourselves to prayer with all our power; for it enables us to become akin to God.”   (The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 11429-32)

The notion that in prayer we seek not the gifts but the Giver, comes from the earliest days of Christianity.  Origen who died a martyr’s death in 254 was one of the most original and creative thinkers in Christian history.  Fr. Stylianopoulos writes:

“The first to reflect theologically on prayer as communion was Origen, perhaps the greatest Christian thinker of all time.  In his work On Prayer Origen conceived of the highest purpose of prayer as participation in the life of God.  Prayer was neither to inform God about our material needs nor to change His providential purposes in our lives, but rather to lift up our hearts and minds to heaven in order to gaze at the divine glory and be illuminated with the radiance of God.  In prayer the believer is ‘mingled’ … with the Spirit of the Lord whose glory fills heaven and earth.  The praying believer is purified and changed into a new creation and the whole of life becomes ‘a single great prayer.’  … The element of communion shows that prayer is not merely a means to an end but an end in itself.  Through prayer we seek not merely the gifts of God but God Himself, that is, to be with Him, live in Him, and delight in His presence.  Saint Isaac the Syrian (d. 550AD) says that the primary purpose of prayer is to attain divine love.”  (Theodore Stylianopoulos, THE WAY OF CHRIST, p 103)

We delight in God’s presence.  This is also true wisdom.  It is the way in which prayer brings us peace.

“True wisdom is gazing at God. Gazing at God is silence of the thoughts. Stillness of mind is tranquility which comes from discernment.”   (St. Isaac the Syrian, Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church ,  kindle Loc. 3696-98)

Prayer is a window to the spiritual world.

“The fathers and mothers of the desert perceived God through prayer…” (Nonna Verna Harrison, GOD’S MANY-SPLENDORED IMAGE, p 58)

Prayer opens the eyes of heart to see God.  Since Christ says it is the pure in heart who see God, prayer has a purifying effect.  In the presence of the Holy God we are moved to repent of our sins.  Repentance is one fruit of the prayer life.

Next:  Prayer as Relationship with God (II)