What is Prayer? (VIII)

This is the 12th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is What is Prayer? (VII).

St. John of Kronstadt (d. 1908AD) offers a summary of the many metaphors and direct answers which Orthodox saints and teachers have given to describe what prayer is.  Better than offering techniques about how to pray, St. John gives us a rich treasury of what prayer is, reasons for prayer, and the blessings bestowed upon those of us who pray.  From his description of what prayer is we gain greater insight into how and why prayer is not simply an occasional activity in which we engage, but rather is something we do continually throughout the day and throughout the days of our lives.

“Prayer is the lifting up of the mind and heart to God, the contemplation of God, the daring converse of the creature with the Creator, the soul reverently standing before Him, as before the King and the Life Itself, giving life to all; the oblivion of everything that surrounds us, the food of the soul; its air and light, its lifegiving warmth, its cleansing from sin; the easy yoke of Christ, His light burden.

Prayer is the constant feeling (the recognition) of our infirmity or spiritual poverty, the sanctification of the soul, the foretaste of the future blessedness, angelic bliss, the heavenly rain, refreshing, watering, and fertilizing the ground of the soul, the power and strength of the soul and body, the purifying and freshening of the mental air, the enlightenment of the countenance, the joy of the spirit, the golden link, uniting the creature to the Creator, courage and valor in all the afflictions and temptation of life, the lamp of life, success in all undertakings, dignity equal to the angels, the strengthening of faith, hope and love.

Prayer is intercourse with the holy angels and saints, who pleased God since the beginning of the world.  Prayer is the amendment of life, the mother of heartfelt contrition and tears; a powerful motive for works of mercy; security of life; the destruction of the fear of death; the disdain of earthly treasures; the desire for heavenly blessing; the expectation of the universal Judge, of the common resurrection and of the life of the world to come; a strenuous effort to save ourselves from eternal torments; unceasing seeking for mercy (forgiveness) of the Sovereign; walking before God; the blissful vanishing of self before the all-creating and all-filling Creator; the living water of the soul.

Prayer is holding all men in our hearts through love; the descent of heaven into the soul; the abiding of the most Holy Trinity in the soul, in accordance with that which has been said: ‘We will come to him and will make our abode with him.’”  (in TREASURY OF RUSSIAN SPIRITUALITY, pp 350-351)

We have explored in this blog the and seven preceding blogs ideas from Orthodox writers about what prayer is.  We will in the next set of blogs turn our attention to how we go about praying.  We conclude this blog with a prayer by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow (d. 1867AD):

My LORD, I know not what I ought to ask of you. You and you alone know my needs. You love me more than I am able to love you. O Father, grant unto me, your servant, all which I cannot ask. For a cross I dare not ask, nor for consolation; I dare only to stand in your presence. My heart is open to you. You see my needs of which I myself am unaware. Behold and lift me up! In your presence I stand, awed and silenced by your will and your judgments, into which my mind cannot penetrate. To you I offer myself as a sacrifice. No other desire is mine but to fulfill your will. Teach me how to pray. Do yourself pray within me. Amen.  (Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church , Kindle Loc. 164-70) 

For some prayers that I learned as a teenager see my blog series which began with My “O Lord” Prayers: A Story.”

Next: Praying

What is Prayer? (VII)

This is the 11th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is What is Prayer? (VI).

In the previous blog, we encountered several different metaphors which St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD) uses to describe prayer.  Here Chrysostom continues with more metaphors concerning prayer, and a note that a poor man who can pray is wealthier than the rich man who is deprived of prayer.

“Surely, prayer is a harbor for those caught in a storm; it is an anchor for those tossed by the waves; it is a staff for those who stumble.  Prayer is a treasure for the poor, security for the rich, a cure for the sick, a safeguard for those in good health.  It keeps our blessings inviolable and quickly changes our ills to good.

If temptation comes, it is easily repelled.  If loss of possessions or any of the other things which cause grief to our souls befall us, prayer is quick to drive them all away.  Prayer is a refuge from every sorrow, a basis for cheerfulness, a means for continual pleasure, a mother for our philosophy and way of life.  Even if the man who can pray with diligence is destitute of all things, he is richer than any other man.  Yet, one who has been robbed and deprived of prayer may sit on the very throne of a king, but he is poorer than the poorest man.”  (St. John Chrysostom, THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE NATURE OF GOD, p 209-210)

By using such rich and varied metaphors, Chrysostom helps us move away from imagining that prayer is but a technique.  Prayer is many things and accomplishes many things in our lives.  Prayer involves our entire being, it is not just something we say, but something we believe and a relationship with our Creator.

“Isidore said:

‘Prayer is a work of the heart, not of the lips.  For God does not pay attention to the words of the one who is praying to him, but rather to his or her heart.  It is better to pray in the silence of the heart than to pray only with words, without the mind paying attention.

It is useless to pray when trust and hope are missing.

Our spirit contemplates God perfectly only if it is not obstructed by earthly anxieties.’”   (Defensor Grammaticus – 7th Cent – in DRINKING FROM THE HIDDEN FOUNTAIN, p 367)

We come again to the notion that prayer is a way of life, not just one activity in which we occasionally engage.  In prayer we are conversing with God, an activity that ought to be present at every moment of our lives for we are always to remember God and His saving deeds.  I think especially of Psalm 106 and Psalm 107.

“To describe it with the boldest expression, payer is a conversation with God.

Even if we speak with a low voice, even if we whisper without opening the lips, even if we call to him only from the depths of the heart, our unspoken word always reaches God and God always hears.

Sometimes, however, besides speaking, we lift our head and raise our arms to heaven.

In this way we are underlining the desire that the spirit has for the spiritual world.  We are striving with the word to raise the body above the earth.  We are giving wings to the soul for it to reach the good things on high.”  (Clement of Alexandria in DRINKING FROM THE HIDDEN FOUNTAIN, p 366)

Next:  What is Prayer? (VIII)

What is Prayer? (VI)

This is the 10th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is What is Prayer? (V).

In this blog we have two quotes from St. John Chrysostom (d. 408AD) on prayer.  We encounter the variety of metaphors he used to help explain what prayer is:  a weapon, a haven, a treasury, a wealth, a harbor, and a foundation.  We also in these metaphors see his creativity in addressing issues of prayer.  He is not advocating a technique, but wants his flock to understand the richness of prayer, the multitude of reasons why we pray and the abundance of benefits we receive from prayer.

“Prayer is a great weapon, prayer is a wonderful adornment, security and haven, a treasury of good things, wealth beyond threat.  When we make requests of human beings, we need an outlay of money, servile flattery, much to-ing and fro-ing and negotiating.  Often, in fact, it is not possible to make a direct approach to their lordships personally to grant a favor: it is necessary first to wait upon their ministers of managers or administrators with money and words and every other means, and only then through them to be in a position to receive the request.  With God, on the contrary, it is not like this: it not so much on recommendation of others as on our own request that he grants the favor.”  (St. John Chrysostom, OLD TESTAMENT HOMILIES Vol 3, p 125)

Chrysostom takes an example about what prayer is like from what would have been the experience of his flock in the world of the Roman Empire.  Prayer is request and petition before God.  St. John describes how when we need a favor from others we may have to do a great amount of work to get them to agree to our request, including an outlay of money or enlisting the help of others to intercede with the person whose help we seek.

But, Chrysostom says, not so with God.  We can approach Him directly in prayer.  We don’t need intercessors, or to make a huge cash outlay.  St. John says God welcomes our prayers and is more favorable to our own requests rather than our relying on others to petition for us.

In another passage he also implores us to pray especially for those who are not believers.

“The more impious they are, all the more let us intercede for them and beg God that they may some day give up their madness.  For this will be acceptable in the presence of God, our Savior, ‘… who wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’   Therefore, let us never stop making intercession on their behalf.  For prayer is a mighty weapon, an unfailing treasure, a wealth which is never expended, a harbor that is always calm, a foundation for tranquility.

Prayer is the root and source and mother of ten thousand blessings.  It is more powerful than the empire itself.”  (St. John Chrysostom, THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE NATURE OF GOD, p 156)

More powerful than the empire itself.”

 To paraphrase Chrysostom in our modern age:  Our prayer is more powerful than the United States of America itself.   Do we believe this?   Or are we so awed with our country’s military might and great wealth that we think our prayer is insignificant.   It is not the strength of  our military or all its technology and weapons, nor the amount of wealth of our nation that moves God.  He is however moved by our humble prayers.

This is something for those of us who are Christian and live in America to think about, especially this July 4th Independence Day.  Do we really believe that prayer is more powerful than our military?  Do we believe our prayers are worth more than all the wealth of the richest country in the world?  Do we believe that “In God we trust”?  How many of us will spend the day in prayer, or even remember to pray once during the day?

Next:  What is Prayer? (VII)

What is Prayer? (V)

This is the 9th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is  What is Prayer? (IV).

One aspect of prayer that does come up frequently in the Orthodox spiritual literature is the effects of sin and the Fall on us all.

“According to the Fathers, the fall impaired the capacity of creatures to see the divine light, but did not destroy it.  The universal aspiration towards God has, it is true, become a ‘groaning’, a ‘sigh of creation’, but it is still prayer, which is the essential activity of all created things.  ‘Everything that exists prays to thee’.”  (Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 27)

All of creation was designed to give praise to God the Creator, and humans were to be the ones to serve as the conductors of this chorus of praise.  But through our sin, we lost our role as the conductors guiding creation in praise of the Creator.  Instead of songs of praise, there are now only groans of pain from creation because of us.  We’ve already encountered this idea:

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”  (Romans 8:18-24)

Truly we were created each to be priests of God celebrating a daily liturgy and offering praise in the created world which was intended to be God’s real temple (Many ancient writers and modern scholars believe Genesis 1 is really about God creating His temple in which we were to worship Him).

Prophet Moses

But our sins have led God in His Holiness to distance Himself from the temple He created.  Yet He has not abandoned us but has continued to speak to us through the prophets, the scriptures and through His Son, the incarnate Word.  And He has continued to listen to our groans, lamentations and prayers.

So prayer, instead of being our natural and normal way of being, becomes something we must consciously choose to do.  We have to will to pray.  We have to choose to conform our will to God’s.

“Without inner spiritual prayer there is no prayer at all, for this alone is real prayer, pleasing to God.  It is the soul within the words of prayer that matters, whether the prayer is at home or in church, and if inner prayer is absent, then the words have only the appearance and not the reality of prayer.

Prophet & Psalmist David

What then is prayer?  Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God in praise and thanksgiving to Him and in supplication for the good things that we need, both spiritual and physical.   The essence of prayer is therefore the spiritual lifting of the heart towards God.  The mind in the heart stands consciously before the face of God, filled with due reverence, and begins to pour itself out before Him.  This is spiritual prayer, and all prayer should be of this nature.  External prayer, whether at home or in church, is only prayer’s verbal expression and shape; the essence or the soul of prayer is within a man’s mind and heart.”   (St. Theophan – d. 1894AD – in THE ART OF PRAYER, p 53)

Prayer is a conscious activity of fallen humans, but it is not merely a technique.

“The mystery of prayer is not consummated at a certain specific time or place.  For if you restrict prayer to particular times or places, you will waste the rest of the time in vain pursuits.  Prayer may be defined as the intellect’s unceasing intercourse with God.  Its task is to engage the soul totally in things divine, its fulfillment – to adapt the words of St. Paul (cf 1 Cor 6:17) – lies in so wedding the mind to God that it becomes one spirit with Him.”     (Nikitas Stithatos – d. 1090AD, THE PHILOKALIA  Vol 4, pp 128-129)

We can note in the quotes above, some difference in understanding of what prayer is.  But whether a church father or mother places more or less emphasis on technique, they do agree that ultimately prayer has everything to do with being in God’s presence.

Next:  What is Prayer?  (VI)

What is Prayer? (IV)

This is the 8th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is What is prayer?  (III).

In the long history of Orthodox Christianity, as we have already seen, there has developed a rich treasury of images, metaphors and definitions regarding what prayer is.  Evagrios the Solitary (d. 399AD) writes:

“Prayer is the flower of gentleness and of freedom from anger.

Prayer is the fruit of joy and thankfulness.

Prayer is the remedy for gloom and despondency.”  (THE PHILOKALIA   Vol 1, p 58)

St. Isaac the Syrian  (7th Century) wrote:

“Again he was asked, ‘What is prayer?’  And he replied: ‘The mind’s freedom and rest from everything of this world and a heart that has completely turned its gaze toward the fervent desire belonging to the hope of future things.”  (THE ASCETICAL HOMILIES, p 345)

Bishop Kallistos Ware offers this explanation of what prayer is, based upon the writings of several Orthodox Saints from later centuries:

Patriarch Abraham stands before God

“Prayer is essentially a state of standing before God. In the words of St. Dimitri of Rostov (17th cent): ‘Prayer is turning the mind and thoughts towards God.  To pray means to stand before God with mind, mentally to gaze unswervingly at Him and to converse with Him in reverent fear and hope.’ This notion of ‘standing before God’ recurs again and again in St. Theophan (19th Cent) : ‘The principle thing is to stand with the mind in the heart before God, and to go on standing before Him unceasingly day and night, until the end of life.’  . . .  This state of standing before God may be accompanied by words, or it may be ‘soundless’: sometimes we speak to God, sometimes we simply remain in His presence, saying nothing, but conscious that He is near us, ‘closer to us than our own soul’ (St. Nicholas Cabasilas – 14th Cent).  As Theophan puts it: ‘Inner prayer means standing with the mind in the heart before God, either simply living in His presence, or expressing supplication, thanksgiving, and glorification.’” (THE ART OF PRAYER, p 17)

St. John the Theologian

Prayer can involve thinking or saying words, assuming pious postures and/or specific times.  It also can be in the words of St. Theophan, simply living in God’s presence.  As our faith in God becomes more who we are and what we think, our life becomes prayer.  As we grow in faith, we decreasingly compartmentalize our life.  We eventually don’t have a “church face.”  We cease to have a religious self/life, as versus our work life, home life, family life, recreational self.  We become one person, always aware of the presence of God and thus always standing in His presence.  This integration of all the aspects of our daily life and personality is part of the healing that comes in Christ.  Christianity restores both wholeness and holiness to us.  As one person comments, sin is always complex and complicated, holiness is simple.  In holiness we don’t have to pretend anything, we simply are who we are.   As God spoke to Moses, “I am who I am.”   This is the voice of holiness and wholeness.

“Only God is good by nature, but with God’s help man can become good through careful attention to his way of life. He transforms himself into what he is not when his soul, by devoting its attention to true delight, unites itself to God, in so far as its energized power desires this. For it is written: ‘Be good and merciful as is your Father in heaven’ (cf. Luke 6:36; Matt. 5:48).”  (St. Diadokos of Photiki, THE PHILOKALIA,  kindle 7544-49)

Next:  What is Prayer?  (V)

What is prayer? (III)

This is the 7th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is What is prayer?  (II).

“Prayer is by nature a dialogue and a union of man with God.  Its effect is to hold the world together.”  (St. John Climacus – d. 649AD-  quoted in THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE, p 48)

In the Orthodox Tradition, prayer obviously is not merely an activity in which Christians occasionally engage.  Prayer, as St. John Climacus says is “a union of man with God” (theosis) whose “effect is to hold the world together.”

Think about that.

Think about what it means for your prayer life.  If we conceive of prayer as presenting a wish list to God, or a shopping list, or a set of demands, then we will never enter into that prayer which is a union between God and humanity.  If we treat God like our personal servant, valet, Genie or Santa Claus whose job it is to answer our prayers (meaning “accede to our demands”), then we never approach union with God.  The reality is God is Lord, and we are supposed to be His servants, not He ours.  We do pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” not “My will be done on earth and in heaven.” 

As noted in the previous blogs,  prayer as a way of life, as the life to which we Christians are invited, is more than just an activity that we occasionally consciously engage in.  If our life is oriented toward our Savior, then all we do becomes prayer, and our lives become part of the transfiguration which creation so eagerly awaits.

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”  (Romans 8:18-24)

“The Kingdom of heaven is within each of us.  To pray is, quite simply, to enter into this inner Kingdom of our heart, and there to stand before God, conscious of His indwelling presence; to ‘pray without ceasing’ is to do this constantly.  Although the full glory of this Kingdom is revealed to but few in this present age, we can all discover at any rate some part of its riches.  The door is before us and the key in in our hands.”  (Bishop Kallistos Ware in ABBA: THE TRADITION OF ORTHODOXY IN THE WEST, p 32-33)

Prayer forms us, informs us, reforms us and transforms us for it is uniting ourselves – heart, mind, soul, body and strength – to the Holy Trinity.  We cooperate with God.  Prayer is synergy in which we become doers of God’s will: “on earth as it is in heaven.”

“Prayer is a struggle for men, both in church and in solitude, even though prayer is a ladder that lifts man up from the dust and an animal existence to God.  But He who, in the flesh, stood with other men at the bottom of the ladder of life, and in spirit at its top, went joyfully to prayer in the synagogue, and spent whole nights in solitude at prayer.”  (St. Nikolai Velimirovic – d. 1956AD  HOMILIES  Vol 1, p 86)

Prayer is also work, It is not a passive enterprise but one which requires our energy, will, desire, and strength.  Prayer is not God alone, or Jesus alone.  It is the Holy Spirit praying in us, with us, and for us.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”   (Romans 8:26-28)

We are God’s fellow workers (1 Corinthians 3:9) who are to work out our salvation with God (Philippians 2:9).

Next:  What is Prayer? (IV)

What is prayer? (II)

This is the 6th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is “What is prayer?” 

The Book of Psalms has been a prayer book for Christians from the beginning of the Christian movement.  The Psalms are Jewish and Old Testamental, yet they speak of Christ, are prophetic and are called in Orthodoxy, “the mind of Christ.”   The Psalms teach us how to pray and from them we learn what our Lord Jesus Christ Himself prayed.

The Psalms like all prayer inform, form us, transform us and at times reform us!   They place us in the plan and process of salvation.

“Most likely, the Psalms in the Bible finally became part of the scriptural canon because they were the most universal and relevant, the most unreservedly expressive of their kind.

If we read them with open and attentive mind, their striking and colorful words can help us to understand the essence of Scripture, what loving God actually means.  Before all else, it means offering the whole of our experience to him: joy, sadness, anger, suffering, desires, frustrations – hiding nothing from him, even our deepest thoughts.  This is what prayer is.”   (Monks of New Skete, IN THE SPIRIT OF HAPPINESS, p 191)

In the Psalter we find the complete range of human emotions, and we learn from this that there is nothing we need to hide from God.  We offer our entire life to God, including our frustrations, failures, pains, disappointments.  God cares about the entirety of our lives, and is not absent from us in our worst moments.  This again is how it is possible to make our entire life a prayer to God.  We can pray at every moment, no matter what our emotional disposition.  We can offer up to God all of our emotions and thoughts, seeking His mercy and blessings no matter what we feel in our hearts.

But prayer is not merely offering to God our every  moment of our existence, but prayer also informs, forms and transforms us.   In prayer we come to realize the importance of doing God’s will and the need for repentance in our lives in order to help bring our self-will into conformity to God’s will.

“It is true, as St. Mark the Ascetic says, ‘Prayer is called a virtue but in reality it is the mother of virtues: for it give birth to them through union with Christ.’  … Thus, prayer for the Christian is not an externally imposed duty.  It is an essential aspect of true human life, required for its fulfillment and realization. …

Prayer is a necessity for the Christian life in that it brings us into personal communion with Him in whose image we were created and toward which we are growing.  Prayer is a protective measure, a weapon against temptation and sin.  Jesus’ instructions to His disciples are ever pertinent: ‘Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ (Matt 26:41)  The experience of the Fathers is equally instructive.  ‘If a man tries to overcome temptations without prayer and patient endurance he will become more entangled in them instead of driving them away.’ (St. Mark the Ascetic)” [my apologies but I lost the source for this quote]

Prayer is that which enables us to continue in the daily struggles of life to be a Christian and live a life which is oriented toward God.

“…Christian prayer is the movement of the heart towards God, towards a God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.  Prayer is not simply the movement of the heart, but is the response of the heart to God’s love manifest in Jesus Christ.”  (Andrew Louth, DISCERNING THE MYSTERY, p 3)

Next:  What is prayer?  (III)

What is prayer?

This is the 5th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is  “Why Pray? “ and the previous blog is Why Pray?  (IV).­

So far, we have considered why we should pray, and it is true to say to be a Christian is to pray, to be a person of prayer, to make one’s very life into a constant, unceasing prayer to God.  Orthodox spiritual literature is full of comments about what prayer is.  In the next few blogs, we will explore the question, “What is prayer?”

We’ll begin by considering a quote from the Patristic father and bishop, St. John Chrysostom (d 407AD).

“Prayer is the fortress of the faithful, prayer is our invincible weapon, prayer is the cleansing of our souls, prayer is the ransom for our sins, prayer is the foundation and source of countless blessings.  For prayer is nothing more than conversation with God and association with the Master of all.  What could be more blessed than a man who is deemed worthy of constant association with the Master?”   (St. John Chrysostom, BAPTISMAL INSTRUCTIONS, p 115).

In the above quote, Chrysostom offers us that notion that prayer is the very life we live and the very air we breathe.  His bold words do not mean that we through our own efforts can save ourselves (“prayer is the ransom for our sins”), but rather that through prayer, we unite ourselves to Christ – this is the very meaning of salvation.  Prayer is turning our entire life and all of our inner thoughts into a constant dialogue with God.  Whenever we pray we are cooperating with God – working out our salvation.

“Prayer keeps us in the sphere of God and in proper orientation to God, our fellows, ourselves, and to the rest of creation.  It is a source of strength in time of trouble.  Most importantly, it is one of the chief means by which believers open themselves to the grace of God and to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit as they struggle to grow toward theosis on a daily basis.  Prayer keeps human life open to the power, presence, and energies of God.  ‘Our lives are sustained by prayer.  Without it there can be no good for us, nor any salvation take place,’ says Chrysostom.”  (Stanley Harakas, LIVING THE FAITH, pp 60-61)

Prayer is our conscious participation in the life of Christ, our union with our Savior, and thus our salvation.  Prayer restores in us the relationship with God which has been lost through sin.  From the first sin of the first human beings, we experienced the terrible loss of the separation from God.  Our own sins perpetuate this separation.  Prayer is our accepting Christ’s salvation, the reunion of God and humanity.

“Prayer assuredly revives in us the divine breath which God breathed into Adam’s nostrils and by virtue of which Adam ‘became a living soul.’”  (Archimandrite Sophrony, ON PRAYER, p 10)

To pray is to breathe that divine breath that Adam first received from God (Genesis 2:7).  Imagine, each moment of prayer, each breath we breathe while praying is a renewal of the creation of Adam, of humans, of each of us.

Next:  What is prayer?  (II)

Why Pray? (IV)

This is the 4th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is  “Why Pray? “ and the previous blog is Why Pray?  (III).

As we have already seen, prayer is not simply an activity that Christians engage in, but it is a way of life that leads us to union with God (theosis).  St. John Cassian (d. 435AD) wrote:

“Such should be our aim: to achieve, already in this life, this breathing in unity as a foretaste of the life and the glory of heaven.  Such is the goal of perfection . . .  that the whole of our life and all the motions of our heart may become one single uninterrupted prayer.  (John Cassian…)”   (Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 211)

Prayer was and is the means by which God intended us to be in continual communion with Him.  The Genesis narrative of the Fall (Genesis 3) however tells us of how our communion with God was broken, and even the nature of prayer changed.

“Prayer, originally, is not the work of man alone.  Neither is it performed for his comfort or for the fulfillment of his needs or demands.  The greatness of prayer lies in its being the work of spiritual beings in general.  It is neither of this age, nor for this age.  Thus, if we restrict prayer to the satisfaction of man’s needs and demands or to responding to his pleas in this life, it loses its essential greatness.  Through hallowing the name of God, paying homage to him, thanking and honoring him with pure praise, man is transformed into a spiritual being.  He thus joins the heavenly host in their transcendent ministry.

However, we ask God for temporal things because we have fallen from our original spiritual status in which we lacked nothing.  Although this is alien to the original concept of prayer, God in his graciousness has come down to our level and promised to listen to our prayers when we bring him our needs and complaints, which he knows only too well.  He thus assures us that he will never abandon us for our sins and that our tribulations are a matter of concern to him.”  (Matthew the Poor,  Orthodox Prayer Life, pp 26-27)

Despite the human rejection of a relationship to God as Lord, God has continued to love us and provide us with the means to work toward Him, to seek Him, to cooperate with Him, and to be united to Him in our life time: namely prayer.   We experience loss and separation from God through our own sinfulness, but then God gives us hope and attempts to stir in us that love of God which we gave up through selfish pursuit.

God has given us a gift, an antidote to the effects of the Fall. We are not predestined to sin, to continually moving away from God.  God has given us the gift of prayer as a means to counteract the effect of the Fall, the temptation to sin, and the fear of death. We can choose to cooperate with God and prayer is our tool to achieve this synergy with the Triune God of love.

“The only means by which you can spend the day in perfect holiness, peace, and without sin, is the most sincere, fervent prayer as soon as you rise from sleep in the morning.  It will bring Christ into your heart, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, and will thus strengthen and fortify yours soul against any evil; but still it will be necessary for you carefully to guard your heart.”  (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST, p 20)

The answers to the question, “Why pray?”, are varied, but for the Christian, prayer is what constitutes our life.  Everything we do is prayer, for everything we do we submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  When we consciously choose to follow Christ we are already praying.  When we on any given day decide to serve Christ in whatever manner, we are offering prayer to our Savior.

Next:  What is Prayer?