“The Lord teaches, besides other, higher matters, of which there is no time to speak now, that if we are stirred up to pray alone in our houses and bedrooms this also encourages prayer to God in church, and inner prayer of the mind encourages spoken prayer. If someone only wants to pray when he attends God’s Church, and has no concern at all for prayer at home, in the streets or in the fields, then even when he is present in church he is not really praying.” (St. Gregory Palamas, Homilies, p. 51)
Almighty God and Creator, You are the Father of all people on the earth. Guide, I pray, all the nations and their leaders in the ways of justice and peace. Protect us from the evils of injustice, prejudice, exploitation, conflict and war.
Help us to put away mistrust, bitterness and hatred. Teach us to cease the storing and using of implements of war. Lead us to find justice, peace and freedom. Unite us in the making and sharing of tools of peace against ignorance, poverty, disease and oppression.
Grant that we may grow in harmony and friendship as brothers and sisters created in Your image, to Your honor and praise. Amen.
(My Orthodox Prayer Book, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Kindle Location 824-834)
“In the abundance of your mercy, O Jesus, You called publicans, sinners and unbelievers. Like them, despise me not, but as precious myrrh accept this song…” (Akathist to the Sweetest Lord Jesus)
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13)
A friend sent me the following Prayer of St Paisios (d. 12 July, 1994). It is a beautiful prayer for the needs of all the people of God.
Our Lord Jesus Christ:
Do not abandon your servants who live far away from the Church. May your love convict them and bring them back to you.
Lord have mercy on your servants who are suffering from cancer.
On your servants who suffer either from small or serious ailments.
On your servants who suffer from physical infirmities.
On your servants who suffer from spiritual infirmities.
Lord have mercy on our leaders and inspire them to govern with Christian love.
Lord have mercy on children who come from troubled homes.
On troubled families and those who have been divorced.
Lord have mercy on all the orphans of the world, on all those who are suffering pain and injustices since losing their spouses.
Lord have mercy on all those in jail, on all anarchists, on all drug abusers, on all murderers, on all abusers of people, and on all thieves. Enlighten these people and help them to straighten out their lives.
Lord have mercy on all those who have been forced to emigrate.
On all those who travel on the seas, on land, in the air, and protect them.
Lord have mercy on our Church, the bishops, the priests and the faithful of the Church.
Lord have mercy on all the monastic communities, male and female, the elders and eldresses and all the brotherhoods of Mt. Athos.
Lord have mercy on your servants who find themselves in the midst of war.
On your servants who are being pursued in the mountains and on the plains.
On your servants who are being hunted like birds of prey.
Lord have mercy on your servants who were forced to abandon their homes and their jobs and feel afflicted.
Lord have mercy on the poor, the homeless and the exiled.
Lord have mercy on the nations of the world. Keep them in your embrace and envelope them with your holy protection. Keep them safe from every evil and war. Keep our country in your protective embrace day and night. Embrace her with your holy protection defending her from all evil and war.
Lord have mercy on those who have been abandoned and have suffered injustice. Have mercy on families that are going through trying times. Pour your abundant love upon them.
Lord have mercy on your servants who suffer from spiritual and bodily problems of all kinds.
Lord have mercy on those who are despairing. Help them and grant them peace.
Lord have mercy on those that have requested that we pray for them.
Lord grant eternal rest to all those who have passed on to eternal life throughout the ages.
“The Holy Spirit confers true humility. However intelligent, sensible, and clever a man may be, if he does not possess the Holy Spirit within him, he cannot know himself properly; for without God’s help he cannot see the inner state of his soul. But when the Holy Spirit enters the heart of man, he shows him all his inner poverty and weakness, the corruption of his soul and heart, and his remoteness from God. The Holy Spirit shows a man all the sins that coexist with his virtues and righteousness: his laziness and lack of zeal for salvation and for the good of others, the selfishness that informs what appear to be his most unselfish virtues, the crude self-love that lurks where he nevers suspected it. In brief, the Holy Spirit shows everything in its true aspect. Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, a man begins to experience true humility, distrusting his own powers and virtues and regarding himself as the worst of mankind.
The Holy Spirit teaches true prayer. No one, until he receives the Spirit, can pray in a manner truly pleasing to God. This is so, because anyone who begins to pray without having the Holy Spirit in him, finds that his soul is dispersed in all directions, turning to and for, so that he cannot fix his thoughts on one thing. Moreover he does not properly know either himself, or his own needs; he does not know how or what to ask from God; he does not even know who God is. But a man with the Holy Spirit dwelling in him knows God and sees that He is his Father. He knows how to approach Him, how to ask and what to ask for. His thoughts in prayer or orderly, pure, and directed to one object alone–God; and by his prayer he is truly able to do everything.” (Metropolitan Innocent of Moscow, The Art of Prayer, p. 232)
In the text of the The Apostolic Tradition (3rd Century AD), we find the following teachings about when to pray.
If you are at home, pray at the third hour [i.e., 9:00 a.m.] and bless God. But, if you are elsewhere then, pray to God in your heart. For at that hour Christ was seen fixed to the wood. Hence even in the Old Testament the law ordered that the bread of proposition should be offered at the third hour as a type of the body and blood of Christ; and the immolation of the irrational lamb is a type of the perfect Lamb. For Christ is the shepherd, and he is also the bread that came down from heaven [see John 6:41].
Pray likewise at the sixth hour [i.e., noon]. For when Christ was fixed to the wood of the cross the day was broken and there was a great darkness [see Matthew 27:45]. So let a powerful prayer be offered at that hour in imitation of the voice of him who prayed and caused darkness to overshadow all creation because of the unbelieving Jews.
Let a great prayer and a great blessing be offered also at the ninth hour [i,e., 3:00 p.m] to imitate the manner in which the soul of the righteous praises God, who does not lie, who remembers his holy ones and has sent his Word to glorify them. At that hour Christ, pierced in his side, poured forth blood and water [see John 19:34] and, illuminating the rest of the day, brought it to evening. And so, when he began to fall asleep, while causing the following day to begin, he imaged the resurrection.
Pray as well before your body rests on its bed. But toward midnight, rise up, wash your hands and pray…It is necessary to pray at that hour. For the ancients who have recounted the tradition to us told us that at that hour the entire creation rests for a moment in order to praise the Lord: the stars, the trees, the waters stop for a short space of time, and the whole army of angels who serve him praises God at that hour along with the souls of the righteous. That is why those who believe should hasten to pray then. And the Savior bears witness to this when he says, “Behold, a cry is heard in the middle of the might of one saying, Behold, the bridegroom is coming; rise up to meet him” [Matthew 25:6]. And he continues, “Watch,therefore, for you do not know the hour when he is coming” [Matthew 25:13].
And at cockcrow rise up and pray once more. For at that hour, at cockcrow, the children of Israel denied Christ [see Matthew 26:74-75 par.], whom we know by faith. In the hope of eternal light at the resurrection of the dead,our eyes are turned toward that day.
(Boniface Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Fathers, 175-176)
“One can see them scattered in the desert waiting for Christ like loyal sons watching for their father, or like an army expecting its emperor, or like a sober household looking forward to the arrival of its master and liberator. For with them there is no solicitude, no anxiety for food and clothing. There is only the expectation of the coming of Christ in the singing of hymns. Consequently, when one of them lacks something necessary, he does not go to a town or village, or to a brother, or friend, or relation, or to parents, or children, or family to procure what he needs, for his will alone is sufficient. When he raises his hands to God in supplication and utters words of thanksgiving with his lips, all these things are provided for him in a miraculous way.” (Benedicta Ward, The Lives of the Desert Fathers, p 50)
While one’s personal prayer life and joining in the prayer at the Liturgy are integrally linked and inseparable in the spiritual life of Orthodox Christians, they are also two distinct types of prayer. When one joins the community at the Liturgy, we are joining to pray communal prayers, to join our heart and mind to those of all the other believers assembled together. It is both how we compose the Body of Christ and experience the Body of Christ in our own person.
Fr. Thomas Hopko writes:
“Liturgical prayer is not simply the prayers of individual Christians joined into one. It is not a corporate ‘prayer service’ of many persons together. It is rather the official prayer of the Church formally assembled; the prayer of Christ in the Church, offering His ‘body’ and ‘bride’ to the Father in the Spirit. It is the Church’s participation in Christ’s perpetual prayer in the presence of God in the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Heb 7.24–25, 9.24). . . . In the Orthodox Church there is no tradition of corporate prayer which is not liturgical. Some consider this a lack, but most likely it is based on Christ’s teaching that the prayer of individuals should be done ‘in secret’ (Mt 6.5–6). This guards against vain repetition and the expression of personal petitions which are meaningless to others. It also protects persons from being subjected to the superficialities and shallowness of those, who instead of praying, merely express the opinions and desires of their own minds and hearts. . . .
When one participates in the liturgical prayer of the Church, he should make every effort to join himself fully with all the members of the body. He should not ‘say his own prayers’ in church, but should pray ‘with the Church.’ This does not mean that he forgets his own needs and desires, depersonalizing himself and becoming but one more voice in the crowd. It means rather that he should unite his own person, his own needs and desires, all of his life with those who are present, with the church throughout the world, with the angels and saints, indeed with Christ Himself in the one great ‘divine’ and ‘heavenly liturgy’ of all creation before God. Practically this means that one who participates in liturgical prayer should put his whole being, his whole mind and heart, into each prayer and petition and liturgical action, making it come alive in himself. If each person does this, then the liturgical exclamations become genuine and true, and the whole assembly as one body will glorify God with ‘one mouth, one mind and one heart’…” (SPIRITUALITY, pp 127-128)
We come to the church at liturgy to join and become part of the community (common-unity), to share in the life in the Body of Christ. Communion and community are related words and concepts.
In this sense, we don’t come to the Liturgy to say our private prayers. Christ taught us to do that at home, hidden from the eyes of others – to do such private praying in the privacy of our own room (Matthew 6:6). The liturgy is a time to set aside our private prayer books and to pray the liturgy with everyone assembled. If we pray with the community, and “go to church” exactly for that purpose, then perhaps we can also learn tolerance for others. They are not there to annoy us, but are there exactly so that we can pray with them, sharing space and time in community. The people who aren’t dressed appropriately, or the crying babies, over-active children, the people coming late, those walking in and out of liturgy – these are the people we are coming to church to pray with and for. So they aren’t disrupting our liturgical prayer life, they aren’t distracting us, but are there for us to note them and pray with and for them. We come to the Liturgy to be fully aware of those with whom we belong in the Body of Christ. This is part of the love for one another of which Jesus spoke (John 15:11-17 – note that Christ taught that loving one another would increase our joy, not detract from it!).
We also come to pray with and for the needs of the community. In some places it has become common practice to turn in long lists of names of the people for whom we privately are praying. We somehow seem to think this makes the Liturgy personal. But truthfully turning in such long lists of names does exactly what Fr. Hopko says shouldn’t happen at the liturgy: It turns the Liturgy, the common prayer of the people, into “the expression of personal petitions which are meaningless to others.” You are supposed to pray personally and privately for all the people on your prayer list, but all those names aren’t meant to be expressed in the Liturgy. The liturgy prays for virtually every one on earth in its various petitions. Turning in long lists of names may seem pious and prayerful, but we are already praying for virtually everyone at the liturgy in the many categories of people we pray for in the various petitions. Naming people at the Liturgy changes the nature of prayer at the Liturgy into private petitions. It is appropriate for the local community to pray by name for people of special interest to the community that have special needs, but these should be names known by virtually everyone in the community and whose needs are well known too.
A friend tells me that turning in long lists of names to be read at the Liturgy is common in places where Communion is infrequent. He thinks it is just another practice that has emerged in churches in which actual communion has disappeared. Like the proskomedia, names are being offered because frequent Communion has disappeared. It is the substitute for the reality of the sacrament. If people are living the Christian life and joining in the community’s Eucharist, they are “in Christ” in reality, not just in name.
We “go to Church” in order to fully experience the sacramental reality of the Community’s Eucharist. That is something we cannot experience at home in our private prayer life. Our private prayer life is in fact nourished by our liturgical prayer life in community. But we should not be reducing Liturgical prayer to being just our private prayer. Individualism is meant to be overcome in Christ in whom we become part of His body, members one of another (Romans 12:5).
“Work does not prevent prayer, on the contrary, it reinforces it and makes it better. It’s a matter of love. Work, indeed, is like praying, like making prostrations. Work is a blessing. That’s why we see that Christ called his disciples and indeed his prophets while they were working, for example, while one was fishing and another was tending his sheep.” (Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios, p 159)
See also Humor: The Right Time for Prayer
At almost every Orthodox liturgical service, we offer up the prayer petition:
For this city, for every city, country, and for the faithful who dwell in them, let us pray to the Lord.
Hieromonk Gregorios comments in his book on the Divine Liturgy:
“The love that is of God is universal and ecumenical: it embraces all people, all places, all times. ‘Perfect love…loves all men equally.’ It is this love that our holy Church imitates and she desires that we believers should live in the same way. The overflowing of this love is our prayer for the city in which we live, for every city and country. Christian believers ‘live in their own homelands, but as temporary visitors…They live on earth, but behave as if they are in heaven…They love all and are persecuted by all…In a word, what the soul is to the body, Christians are in all cities of the world….Christians sustain the world.’
Since Christians are the soul of the world, they should rejoice in people’s joy and suffer with their suffering. They should love people more than their parents according to the flesh love them. For ‘the saints occupy the place of the father, surpassing all fathers according to the flesh in their love and care for the people.’” (The Divine Liturgy: A Commentary in the Light of the Fathers, pp 123-124)
“Persistence in prayer and worship is one of the signs of effective faith. If faith represents the columns on which the temple of spiritual life stands, perseverance represents the stones by which the whole edifice is constructed.
But to assess the value of the spirit of persistence in prayer, we should first consider the spirit of despondency. Despondency is the folly of pride and stiffness of neck. The desperate man follows his own stubborn counsel and chooses the torment of everlasting hell. He does not wish to yield to God or accept from his hand the sweetness and the bitterness of this life. By doing so, he refuses the crown of eternal life. The spirit of perseverance, on the other hand, is a sign of humility and surrender. The man who persists in prayer and worship does not think himself worthy of anything; his self is not dear to him. He persists in submission and obedience because he cannot cease from persistence and submission. On what else can he rely if his self is powerless and worthless in his eyes?
‘Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”’ [Jn 6.67, 68]. The spirit of persistence springs from an inward conviction that life is but one single way that leads to the kingdom of heaven. Persistence in walking along that way is then the only means of arrival, the only means of overcoming difficulties. Those who stop on the way, for whatever reason, have fallen into Satan’s snares: ‘Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you’ [Jn 12.35].
That is, so long as you walk the light attends you and leads you, but if you stop, darkness – that is, the enemy – will overtake you at once. Regression is a kind of miscarriage of the soul, a failure, and a fall into its deadly pride and its strange desire for perdition: ‘No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’ [Lk. 9.62].
It is really amazing that for those traveling along the way of prayer and worship, rest lies only in doubling their pace and increasing their struggle!” (Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life, p 164)