“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.