Archbishop Anthony Bloom in his writings challenges us to think deeply about what prayer is, and what we should not reduce it to.
“When we read the Gospel and the image of Christ becomes compelling, glorious, when we pray and we become aware of the greatness, the holiness of God, do we ever say ‘I am unworthy that he should come near to me?’ Not to speak of all the occasions when we should be aware that He cannot come to us because we are not there to receive Him. We want something from Him, not Him at all. Is that a relationship? Do we behave in that way with our friends? Do we aim at what friendship can give us or is it the friend whom we love?” (BEGINNING TO PRAY, p 5)
What are we seeking in prayer? What do we want from God? We become spiritual beings when we want a relationship with the God who created us rather than simply wanting things from Him, or for Him to do things for us. Archbishop Bloom says:
“First of all, it is very important to remember that prayer is an encounter and relationship, a relationship which is deep, and this relationship cannot be forced either on us or on God. … The second very important thing is that a meeting face to face with God is always a moment of judgment for us. We cannot meet God in prayer or in meditation or in contemplation and not be either saved or condemned. … ‘Crisis’ comes from the Greek and means ‘judgment’. To meet God face to face in prayer is a critical moment I our lives, and thanks be to Him that He does not always present Himself to us when we wish to meet Him, because ewe might not be able to endure such a meeting. Remember the many passages in Scripture in which we are told how bad it is to find oneself face to face with God, because God is power, God is truth, God is purity. Therefore, the first thought we ought to have when we do not tangibly perceive the divine presence, is a thought of gratitude. God is merciful; He does not come in an untimely way.” (Anthony Bloom, BEGINNING TO PRAY, pp 2-3)
Because prayer places us in a relationship with the Holy God, we in encountering His holiness are made ever more aware of our sinfulness and unworthiness. Prayer places us in contact with divine power, so it is not something to be taken lightly. For to come into contact with God is also to enter into judgment for we are exposed completely by One who knows our true nature and is not deceived by our efforts to hide our true selves.
God desires that we approach Him in prayer, so He calls us to this great activity, knowing we are sinners. We in response recognize the need to be humble in his presence and we recognize our need for His great mercy. Thus we call upon the Name of Jesus to invoke God’s own mercy.
“Delve deeply into the Jesus Prayer (Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner), with all the power that you possess. It will draw you together, giving you a sense of strength in the Lord, and will result in your being with Him constantly whether alone or with other people, when you do housework and when you read or pray. Only you must attribute the power of this prayer, not to the repetition of certain words, but to the turning of the mind and heart towards the Lord in these words – to the action accompanying the speech.” (St. Theophan the Recluse, THE ART OF PRAYER, pp 90-91)