Prayer That Never Ends (II)

This is the 43rd  blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Prayer That Never Ends.

“Make it your care to pray without ceasing, for prayer is light to the soul, and it acts as a guard to the body.  Pray not just when you are standing in prayer, but also when you are moving around or doing something, and even when you are asleep, and when you are eating.  When your mouth is occupied with nourishment, let your heart be occupied with prayer.  While your right hand is looking after your body’s needs at table, let your mind be given to praise and thanksgiving to him who provides for your needs.  In this way your food will be blessed and hallowed in your body, without your being concerned about this.”  (Babai – d. 484AD? – in THE SYRIAC FATHERS ON PRAYER AND THE SPIRITUAL LIFE,  p 149)

Prayer, as can be seen in these many quotes from ancient and modern Orthodox writers, is the constant occupation of Christians.  There is no time which is not a time for prayer.

“Not to sin is truly blessed; but those who sin should not despair, but grieve over the sins they have committed, so that, through grief they may again attain blessedness. It is good, then, to pray always and not to lose heart, as the LORD says. And again the apostle says, ‘Pray without ceasing’, that is by night and by day and at every hour, and not only when coming into the church, and not bothering at other times. But whether you are working, lying down to sleep, travelling, eating, drinking, sitting at table, do not interrupt your prayer, for you do not know when he who demands your soul is coming. Don’t wait for Sunday or a feast day, or a different place, but, as the Prophet David says, ‘in every place of his dominion’.”   (St. Ephrem the Syrian,  Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church , kindle   Loc. 3331-37)

Prayer in this tradition might sometimes be characterized as multi-tasking – pray always in all circumstances and every place.  Whatever else you may be doing or may have to do, always also pray.    But prayer is also more than just another thing we do, for as we have seen it becomes our very life.  Our life becomes prayer when we direct our entire being towards God.  Our life is prayer when we choose to make an offering to our Lord God every thought, or word we say, or thing we do.

“There is also another sense in which the Apostle’s words must be interpreted.  ‘Pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess 5:17) must be taken in the sense of prayer performed by the mind:  whatever a man is doing, the mind can always be directed towards God, and in this way it can pray to Him unceasingly.”  (St. Dimitri of Rostov, THE ART OF PRAYER, p 50)

The benefits of this continual conversation with God are ultimately union with Creator of the Universe.  Such a union between God and humanity is the very thing that the incarnation of God in Christ achieves.  The incarnation thus makes pure prayer possible in this world in our daily lives.   In prayer we continue to live at each moment of our lives the union with Christ which we receive through the sacraments of baptism, confession, chrismation and communion.

“The intellect joined to God for long periods through prayer and love becomes wise, good, powerful, compassionate, merciful and long-suffering; in short, it includes within itself almost all the divine qualities.”  (St. Maximos the Confessor, The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 12703-4)

Prayer is an essential element to the understanding of salvation as theosis.

This is the penultimate blog in this series.  Unlike prayer which never ends, this blog series is coming to its end.

Next:  Prayer That Never Ends (III)

The Exaltation of the Cross (2012)

“On the cross time and eternity intersected, our history became united for a moment with what is beyond it. The Son of God lifted up His human flesh on the cross. And later human history could follow one of two paths: either – pierced once and for all by the cross, having seen eternity once and for all, having been blinded once and for all to the temporary – it could become authentic Christian history, that is, eschatological in its essence, and exodus, a breakthrough, the eternal yearning of the winged, God-manly spirit; or it could fall down again, forget how the gates to eternity are open, even forget about eternity itself, begin to measure and to weigh, to rejoice over small national successes and be distressed at small national failures. “ (Mother Maria Skobtsova, Essential Writings, pg. 129)

As Christians, we have the opportunity to stand at the Cross of Christ and for one moment to see the world as God sees the world:  to understand the depth of His love for his creation (John 3:16), to experience God’s willingness to humble and empty Himself in order to save the world from sin and death (Philippians 2:6-8).  In that moment we understand that we are called to imitate Christ and love the world and one another as He loved us (John 13:34-35).  That is the moment in which we can up the cross and follow Christ (Mark 8:33-35), or to turn our eyes away from the Crucified Lord and to follow our own heart’s desires.  On the cross Jesus rejected any notion of “an eye for an eye” or any type of vengeance or retributive justice when He asked His Father to forgive His executioners.

“The way to God consists in a daily cross (cp. John 16:33): no one can ascend to heaven in comfort – we know where the road of comfort leads to!” (The Wisdom of St. Issac of Ninevah by Sebastian P. Brock, pg. 20)

Jesus taught us: Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.   (Matthew 7:13-14)

When we are put to the test – attacked or threatened as Christians – do we endeavor to follow and imitate Christ and the way of the Cross?  or  Do we prefer to follow the  morality of “an eye for an eye” or  of vengeance?    Christ did tell us to cut off our own hand or pluck out our own eye if it causes us to sin, He never commanded us to treat our enemies so.

While some evolutionary biologists believe we are genetically predestined to go to war and that we cannot escape our biology, Christ taught and showed us another way, the way of the cross in which we rise above thoughts of vengeance, feelings of hatred, or a biology of self preservation.  As. St. Paul says in the New Testament:

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves,

but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written,

“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”

(Romans 12:19)

The Last Judgment