Prayer as Relationship with God

This is the 36th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Prayer: Conversing with God (II).

In the previous couple of blogs we considered the notion that prayer is conversation with God.  St Theodoros the Great Ascetic states that prayer, which is conversing with God, “enables us to become akin to God.”   This is one of the great blessings of prayer: not that we receive things from God but that we come into a relationship with Him.

“Whatever a man loves, he desires at all costs to be near to continuously and uninterruptedly, and he turns himself away from everything that hinders him from being in contact and dwelling with the object of his love. It is clear therefore that he who loves God also desires always to be with Him and to converse with Him. This comes to pass in us through pure prayer. Accordingly, let us apply ourselves to prayer with all our power; for it enables us to become akin to God.”   (The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 11429-32)

The notion that in prayer we seek not the gifts but the Giver, comes from the earliest days of Christianity.  Origen who died a martyr’s death in 254 was one of the most original and creative thinkers in Christian history.  Fr. Stylianopoulos writes:

“The first to reflect theologically on prayer as communion was Origen, perhaps the greatest Christian thinker of all time.  In his work On Prayer Origen conceived of the highest purpose of prayer as participation in the life of God.  Prayer was neither to inform God about our material needs nor to change His providential purposes in our lives, but rather to lift up our hearts and minds to heaven in order to gaze at the divine glory and be illuminated with the radiance of God.  In prayer the believer is ‘mingled’ … with the Spirit of the Lord whose glory fills heaven and earth.  The praying believer is purified and changed into a new creation and the whole of life becomes ‘a single great prayer.’  … The element of communion shows that prayer is not merely a means to an end but an end in itself.  Through prayer we seek not merely the gifts of God but God Himself, that is, to be with Him, live in Him, and delight in His presence.  Saint Isaac the Syrian (d. 550AD) says that the primary purpose of prayer is to attain divine love.”  (Theodore Stylianopoulos, THE WAY OF CHRIST, p 103)

We delight in God’s presence.  This is also true wisdom.  It is the way in which prayer brings us peace.

“True wisdom is gazing at God. Gazing at God is silence of the thoughts. Stillness of mind is tranquility which comes from discernment.”   (St. Isaac the Syrian, Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church ,  kindle Loc. 3696-98)

Prayer is a window to the spiritual world.

“The fathers and mothers of the desert perceived God through prayer…” (Nonna Verna Harrison, GOD’S MANY-SPLENDORED IMAGE, p 58)

Prayer opens the eyes of heart to see God.  Since Christ says it is the pure in heart who see God, prayer has a purifying effect.  In the presence of the Holy God we are moved to repent of our sins.  Repentance is one fruit of the prayer life.

Next:  Prayer as Relationship with God (II)

Prayer: Conversing with God (II)

This is the 35th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Conversing with God.

We will turn once again to the wisdom of St. John Chrysostom (d 407AD) on prayer.  In this quote he reiterates points he himself and others made regarding prayer, and also gives a fair summary of many of the ideas we have already encountered in this collection of quotes on prayer.

“God, after all, looks not for beauty of utterance or turn of phrase, but for freshness of spirit; even if we say just what comes to mind, we go away with our entreaties successful. 

… Often we do not even need a voice.  I mean, even if you speak in your heart and call on him as you should, he will readily incline towards you even then.

  … he is not the one to say, ‘Now is not a good time to approach, come back later.’ …

There is no need either of doorkeepers to introduce you, or of managers, guardians or friends; rather, when you make your approach in person, then most of all he will hear you, at that time when you ask the help of no one.  So we do not prevail upon him in making our requests through others to the degree that we do through ourselves.  You see, since he longs for our friendship, he also does everything to have us trust in him; when he sees us doing so on our own account, then he accedes to us most of all. 

This is what he did too in the case of the Canaanite woman: when Peter and James came forward on her behalf, he did not accede; but when she persisted, he promptly granted her petition. 

… Let us too study how to converse with God;

let us learn how we must make this entreaty.  There is no need to take ourselves to a library, nor outlay money, nor hire teachers or orators or debaters, nor devote a great deal of time to learning this oratorical skill.  It is instead sufficient to want to do it, and the skills fall in place.  In this tribunal you will be able to speak not only for yourself but also for many others.

And what is the object of this skill in pleading? 

The art of praying: being of sober mind and contrite spirit, approaching him in a flood of tears, seeking nothing of this life, longing for things to come, making petition for spiritual goods, not calling down curses on our enemies, bearing no grudges, banishing all disquiet from the soul, making or approach with heart broken, being humble, practicing great meekness, directing our tongues to good report, abstaining from any wicked enterprise, having nothing in common with the common enemy of the world – I mean the devil, of course.”  (COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS  Vol 1, pp 47-49)

Next:  Prayer as Relationship with God

Prayer: Conversing with God

This is the 34th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Intercessory Prayer (IV).

While prayer is in the popular mind sometimes reduced to presenting to God a “honey-do” list of wants and needs that we hope the Lord will complete ASAP, the beginning of this series we have seen how prayer is much more our establishing and growing in our relationship to God than asking things from God.  We stand in His presence, and even when there are no words involved, we are conversing with our Creator.

“The day when God is absent, when he is silent – that is the beginning of prayer.  Not when we have a lot to say, but when we say to God ‘I can’t live without you, why are you so cruel, so silent?’  … If we listen to what our hearts know of love and longing and are never afraid of despair, we find that victory is always there the other side of it.

And there is that time when there is a longing in the heart for God himself, not for his gifts, but for God himself. … There is longing for home, but a home that has no geography, home where there is love, depth and life.” (Anthony Bloom, BEGINNING TO PRAY, pp xvii-xviii)

Standing in God’s presence and conversing with God both move us from just wanting what He might give us to wanting most of all a relationship with Him.  No longer do we value the gifts more than the Giver of the gifts.  The relationship with Him is what we desire and really need.  As St. John writes in his Gospel:

“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”  (17:3)

We are transformed in prayer from knowing about God to knowing God.  Our inner life and self is formed by prayer so that we come to realize and fulfill our relationship to our Lord, God and Creator.  Though His gifts in this world are a joy and a blessing, we also are seeking that which is eternal and not just temporal.  The relationship with God continues beyond death (Romans 8:38-39 and Romans 14:8).

“Especially important is pure prayer – prayer which is unceasing and uninterrupted. Such prayer is a safe fortress, a sheltered harbor, a protector of virtues, a destroyer of passions. It brings vigor to the soul, purifies the intellect, gives rest to those who suffer, consoles those who mourn. Prayer is converse with God, contemplation of the invisible, the angelic mode of life, a stimulus towards the divine, the assurance of things longed for, ‘making real the things for which we hope’ (Heb. 11:1).”   (St Theodoros the Great, The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 11051-61)

Prayer indeed lifts us to heaven because it places us in God’s presence.  Prayer is powerful indeed because through prayer we enter into the divine life which the incarnate Christ has offered to us (2 Peter 1:4).

“You may judge how great the power of prayer is even in a sinful person, when it is offered wholeheartedly, by the following example from holy tradition. When at the request of a desperate mother who had been deprived by death of her only son, a harlot whom she chanced to meet, still unclean from her last sin, and who was touched by the mother’s deep sorrow, cried to the LORD: ‘Not for the sake of a wretched sinner like me, but for the sake of the tears of a mother sorrowing for her son and firmly trusting in thy loving kindness and thine almighty power, Christ God, raise up her son, O LORD!’ And the LORD raised him up. (From the life of St. Theodore of Edessa.) “  (St. Seraphim of Sarov, Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church , kindle Loc. 3820-25)

It is not we who have the power of prayer  but rather the Holy Spirit in us.  And that power is, at least obviously from the above story, not the result of our personal holiness.  True and pure prayer can come even from a sinner who humbly seeks the mercy of God.  A heart truly moved by compassion is one which is close to the heart of God.

Next:  Prayer: Conversing with God (II)

Intercessory Prayer (IV)

This is the 33rd blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Intercessory Prayer (III).

St. John of Kronstadt  – d. 1908AD – offers us the following instruction on praying for others:

Frieze of Vice

“When you see faults and passions in your neighbor, pray for him; pray for everybody, even for your enemy.  If you see that your brother is proud and stubborn, and behaves proudly either to you or others, pray for him, that God may enlighten his mind and warm his heart with the fire of His grace, and say: ‘Lord, teach meekness and humility to Your servant, who has fallen into Satan’s pride, and drive from his heart the darkness and burden of the evil one’s pride.’  If you see a wrathful brother, pray thus: “Lord, make this servant of Yours good through Your grace.’  If a mercenary and greedy one, pray thus: “Lord, You Who are our incorruptible Treasury and inexhaustible riches, grant that this servant of Yours, created according to Your image, may recognize the deceitfulness of riches, and that, like all earthly things, they are vain, fleeting, delusive. For the days of men are like grass, or like the spider’s web, and You alone are our riches, peace, and joy.’ 

Frieze of Slander

If you see an envious man, pray thus: ‘Lord, enlighten the mind and the heart of this Your servant, that he may recognize the great innumerable, and unsearchable gifts which he has received through Your boundless generosity; for in the blindness of his passion he has forgotten You and Your rich gifts, and although enriched with Your benefits, yet reckons himself poor, and looks enviously upon the blessing which You, O our unspeakable Benefactor, has bestowed  upon each one of your servants, even against their own will, but in accordance with Your purpose.  Take way, Most Gracious Master, the Devils’ veil from the eyes of the heart of Your servant; grant him contrition of heart, tears of repentance and gratitude, so that the enemy who has ensnared him alive in his toils may not rejoice over him and any not wrest him from your hands.’ 

If you see a drunken man, say in your heart: ‘Lord, look mercifully upon Your servant, allured by the flattery of the belly and carnal merriment; make him understand the sweetness of temperance and fasting, and of the fruit of the spirit arising therefrom.’  When you see a man passionately fond of eating, and finding all his happiness in this, say, ‘Lord, You are our sweetest Food,  that never perishes, but leads us into life eternal!  Purify Your servant from the filthiness of gluttony, so carnal and so far from Your spirit, and grant that he may know the sweetness of your life-giving , spiritual food, which is Your Flesh and Blood, and your holy, living, and acting word.’  In this or in a similar manner pray for all who sin, and do not dare to despise anyone for his sin, nor be vindictive, as through this you would only aggravate the wounds of those who sin; but rather correct them by means of such advice, threats, and punishments as may tend to stop or restrain the evil within the limits of moderation.”   (MY LIFE IN CHRIST, p 64-65)

Next:  Prayer: Conversing with God

Intercessory Prayer (II)

This is the 31st  blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Intercessory Prayer.

“Do not pass any opportunity for praying for any man; either at his request or at the request of his relatives, friends, of those who esteem him, or of his acquaintances.  The Lord looks favorably upon the prayer of our love, and upon our boldness before him.  Besides this, prayer for others is very beneficial to the man himself who prays for others; it purifies the heart, strengthens faith and hope in God, and enkindles our love for God and our neighbor.”  (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST, p 202)

St. Silouan (d. 1938AD) advocates that whenever we grieve for someone because of their problems, losses, failures or sins, we should not leave them to our pity or even compassion but should then be moved to pray for them.  Our feelings for others should move us to pray for them, to intercede with God to have mercy on them.  The drowning man is not saved by our compassion for him but by our taking action to save him.  The hungry man is not fed by our pity for him but by our giving him food.  So too our grief for others, a wonderful sign of a compassionate heart, becomes love when we are moved to pray for the one who has caused us to feel grief.

Icon of Christ at Dachau

“… I realized that when the Lord gives us to grieve over someone, and the desire to pray for him, it means that the Lord would be gracious unto that man.  Therefore, if it befalls you to sorrow over anyone, you must pray for that person, because the Lord for your sake would be gracious unto him.  So do you pray then.  The Lord will hear you, and you will glorify God.”  (ST SILOUAN THE ATHONITE, p 494)

Our concern and compassion for others often rises in our hearts just from the daily experiences of life we see others go through.  Realistically we know that we are not protected from all sorrows, we cannot avoid all grief, even through prayer and fasting.  People while they were engaged in prayer, in churches, have been attacked and martyred.  So our prayers also must ask for the strength to endure suffering.

“The Christian life is to be lived amidst the trouble and the turmoil of life.  When we pray for others, it is proper to pray using this perspective.  We are not to pray that others escape from the problems and the cares of the world.  Rather, we are to pray that others may face life with courage, strength, and power.  The Christian life is not a life in which troubles are evaded.  Rather, the Christian life is a life where we face our problems and conquer them with the help of Christ.”  (John Mummert, ABIDING IN JESUS CHRIST, p 69)

St. Gorazd of Prague (d. 1942)

“The brethren said, ‘In what way ought we to pray before God?’  The old man said, ‘For the repentance of sinners, and the finding of the lost, and the bringing near of those who are afar off, and friendliness towards those who do us harm, and love towards those who persecute us, and a sorrowful care for those who provoke God to wrath.  And if a man doeth these things truly and with a penitent mind, the sinners will often gain life, and the living soul will be redeemed. … Now the prayer which our Lord delivered to us for the needs of the body is one which applieth the whole community, and it was not uttered for the sake of those who are strangers to the world, and with whom the pleasures of the body are held in contempt.”   (E. Wallis Budge, THE PARADISE OF THE HOLY FATHERS  vol 2, pp 333)

Next:  Intercessory Prayer (III)

Intercessory Prayer

This is the 30th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is For What Should we Pray? (IV).

In Orthodox spirituality the opposite of love is not really anger or hatred, but self-love.  True love is relational and directed toward the good of another.  “God is love” (1 John 4:8) we are taught.  God’s goodness is other directed.  First, within the Holy Trinity each of the Divine Persons, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, are eternally loving toward each other.  They are not narcissistic or solipsistic.  God eternally is love, which means each person of the Trinity always existed in relationship to each other and forever are directed in love toward each other.  Theology would say if God is love, God could never be a monad as there then would be nothing to love but Himself.  The Trinity reveals to us the manner in which God eternally is love: there always were other persons within the Godhead to love.

Second, God is love in relationship to creation.  God has freely brought creation into existence in order to share the Trinitarian love with creatures beyond their mutually shared eternal and divine nature.

Christ and his disciples feeding the thousands

We are created in God’s image: we are created to be relational beings; we are created to love.

“An old man used to say, ‘If thou hast prayed for thy companion thou hast also  prayed for thyself, but if thou hast prayed for thyself only thou has impoverished they petition…”  (E. Wallis Budge, THE PARADISE OF THE HOLY FATHERS  vol 2, p 229)

Praying for others enriches our prayer life, and generates love in us for our neighbor and even our enemies.  This is not to say that we cannot pray for ourselves as well.

“While you can and should ask for the intercession of others, you must also pray yourself.  This is how Chrysostom puts it:

‘Even if we be in sins, and unworthy of receiving, let us not despair; knowing, that by assiduity of soul we shall be able to become worthy of the request.  Even if we be unaided by advocate and destitute, let us not faint; knowing that it is a strong advocacy, the coming to God one’s self by one’s self with much eagerness.’”  (Stanley Harakas, OF LIFE AND SALVATION, p 126)

Praying for ourselves does serve to direct our thoughts and our hearts and minds to God.  Thus even prayer for ourselves is relational and puts us into God’s presence.  But our prayer if based in love will move beyond our self, to concern for those around us.  Prayer helps us to get beyond the limit of self and to become part of something greater than an isolated and alienated being, and puts us in communion with our fellow human beings, with all of creation and with our Creator.

“It pleases the Lord, the common Father of all, when we pray for each other willingly with faith and love, for He is Love, ready to forgive all for their mutual love.  The Holy Ghost said: ‘Pray one for another, that you may be healed.’ (James 5:16).  You see how pleasing to God, and how efficacious, is the prayer for one another.”  (St. John of Kronstadt  – d. 1908AD, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 2, p 134)

Intercessory prayer flows from the love which we have received from God.  Intercession is one way for us to fulfill Christ’s teaching that we are to love one another as He loved us (John 13:34-35).  In ancient Christianity, “one Christian was no Christian”  (Tertullian, d. ca 225AD) because to be a Christian meant to live in loving relationship with all other believers as to be a Christian by definition is to be baptized into Christ and to be a member of His Body, the Church.  To be a Christian is to imitate Christ, which means washing the feet of fellow disciples – being a servant to others -as we witness Christ doing on the night of His betrayal and arrest (John 13:1-20).

“Our care and concerns for other people, for our country, for our planet, are not all empty, nor are they all selfish or egotistical.  This is demonstrated in the very powerful experience of bringing concerns to God in prayer.  This is not the intercession that starts out by pointing out what mistakes God is making in the running of the world, followed by a list of things we would like Him to do about it.  That practice is simply another aspect of the ego’s desire to control, an empty soul-less activity which leads us further away from God, even while we think that because we are participating in something ‘religious’ we must be progressing in the other direction.

Intercession is not a matter of telling God what to do, even with the best of possible intentions.  Nor is it a question of trying to change God’s mind about something.  Intercession is simply a matter of bringing the concerns of our own lives – friends, relatives, but also enemies and competitors – to the throne of God and leaving them there.  Any person and any subject can be brought to God. … We do not pray for specific outcomes, and we do not demand particular results, since to do so would place our own desires as the point of the prayer, whereas in reality the sole and entire aim of prayer is to discover the will of God.  It may seem rather obvious to state that we do not discover the will of God by simply repeating our own demands over and over again.”   (Archimandrite Meletios Webber, BREAD & WATER, WINE AND OIL , p 57)

Next:  Intercessory Prayer (II)

For What Should we Pray? (IV)

This is the 29th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is For What Should we Pray (III).

Christ the High Priest

Prayer is an act of love: for God and His gracious blessings, for our neighbors as well as our enemies, and for all of creation.  We humans were created by God to be priests, to offer up ourselves, each other and all of creation to God in thanksgiving.  We were brought into existence to be mediators between creation and Creator: that is the very role we humans were to have in creation from the beginning.  That is what our dominion over creation was to be – before the Fall caused separation and enmity between ourselves and God, between male and female, between ourselves and others, between ourselves and the rest of creation.

To pray for others is to return to our original God-given purpose as human beings.

“Let us therefore supplicate Him . . . let us assist the needy with prayers of intercession.  The community of the Church can do much, if with a repented soul and contrite spirit, we offer up our prayers!  It is unnecessary to cross the ocean, or to undertake a long journey.  Let every man and woman and child, whether meeting together in Church, or remaining at home, call upon God with much earnestness, and He will doubtless accede to our petitions.”  (St. John Chrysostom – d. 407AD – in THROUGH THE YEAR WITH THE CHURCH FATHERS, p 179-180)

To pray for others, to intercede before God for them, is to reclaim our natural position as relational beings, rather than as alienated and autonomous ones.  Intercessory prayer is the restoration of love in our souls as we accept our God-given relationship to the Creator and to His creation.   The monastics who formed communities for the express purpose of prayer and who arose prominently in Christianity in the 4th Century took upon themselves the ministry of intercession for the world.  It was a way in which they tried to restore humanity and humaneness to all people, the fallen, in the world.

“In Christianity, from the 4th century onwards, this ministry of intercession tended to be concentrated in the prayers of the monks.  An Egyptian bishop of the time wrote to the hermits; ‘The universe is saved by your prayers; thanks to your supplications, the rain descends on the earth, the earth is covered in green, the trees are laden with fruit’ (Serapion of Thmuis – 4th C AD…).”     (Olivier Clement, ON HUMAN BEING, p 94)

Monasticism in this way is an effort to recapture what it meant to be human for our ancestors Adam and Eve in the Garden of Paradise.

“The Church has always taught that Christians, by their active presence and their intercession, safeguard cosmic order and human society, and raise them to the status of offerings.  The most ancient ‘apology’ for Christianity that we know, that of Aristides (2nd C. AD), composed at the time of the first persecutions, plainly states, ‘Of this there is no doubt, that it is because of the intercession of Christians that the world continues to exist’ (XVI.6).  This notion has its roots in the Old Testament, where Abraham, by prodigious bargaining, secured the preservation of Sodom, provided there should be found in it only ten righteous men.  Christians are called to supply the righteous who were lacking Sodom.”  (Olivier Clement, ON HUMAN BEING, p 93)

Praying for others, intercessory prayer, is an act of love and is a way to fulfill Christ’s command that we love one another as He loved us.

“If you make a habit of praying for the salvation of others, God will give you an abundance of spiritual gifts, the gift of the Holy Spirit, who loves the soul that cares for the salvation of others, because He Himself wishes to save us all by every possible means, if only we do not oppose Him and do not harden our hearts.

Prayer for others is very beneficial to the man himself who prays; it purifies the heart, strengthens faith and hope in God, and arouses love for God and our neighbor.”    ( St. John of Kronstadt – d. 1908AD – in THROUGH THE YEAR WITH THE CHURCH FATHERS, p 178)

Next:  Intercessory Prayer

For What Should we Pray (III)

This is the 28th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is For What Should We Pray? (II).

Because a primary purpose of prayer is to put us into our proper relationship to the Lord God, one of the outcomes of prayer is for us to accept the role of being God’s servants.  We pray not to see what we can get God to do for us, but in order to understand His will so that we can accomplish it.  Thus Jesus taught us to pray to God as Father and to say: “Thy will be done…”  We want God’s will be to be accomplished and we agree to be the doers of the eternal and loving will of the Holy Trinity.

“The best sort of prayer is one that submits to the will of God.  One of the great events in the prayer life of Jesus is the situation where he is in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The end of his life is near.  When we see him praying, we hear him saying the words, ‘father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’  Jesus was one who constantly surrendered to the will of God.”  (John Mummert, ABIDING IN JESUS CHRIST, p 29)

Thus one of the main things for which we pray is that God’s will be done, and we offer ourselves to God as as servants willing to accomplish His plan.

“Pray to obtain the gift of tears.

Pray that the Lord may soften the hardness of your soul.

Pray that the Lord may forgive the sins you confess to him.

Don’t pray that what you want may come to pass.  It does not necessarily coincide with the will of God.

Pray rather as you have been taught, saying: ‘Your will be done in me!’

Pray that the will of God may be done in everything.  He, in fact, wants what is good and useful for your soul, while you are not always seeking that and only that.”    (Evagrius of Pontus – d. 399AD – in DRINKING FROM THE HIDDEN FOUNTAIN, p 368)

St. Paul preaching at Corinth

Praying that God’s will be done does not mean abdicating our responsibilities in and for the good of creation and our fellow human beings.  We work with God for our salvation. We are not passive receptors of God’s grace but rather are energized by the Holy Spirit to work out our salvation.   There is a synergy not a blind determinism or predestination at work.  God does not do for us those things we are supposed to do for ourselves,  for Him and/or for our neighbor.

“God gives us strength but we must use it.  When, in our prayers, we ask God to give us strength to do something in His Name, we are not asking Him to do it instead of us because we are too feeble to be willing to do it for ourselves.  … He is not going to be crucified for you every day.  There is a moment when you must take up your own cross.  We must each take up our own cross, and when we ask something in our prayers, we undertake by implication to do it with all our strength, all our intelligence and all the enthusiasm we can put into our actions, and with all the courage and energy we have.  In addition, we do it with all the power which God will give us.  If we do not do this, we are wasting our time praying.”  (Anthony Bloom, BEGINNING TO PRAY, pp 35-36)

Praying that God’s will be done is not a prayer that then advocates passivity while we wait to see what happens.  It is a prayer saying, “I am Your servant, help me to do your will.”

Next:  For What Should we Pray? (IV)

For What Should We Pray? (II)

This is the 27th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is For What Should We Pray?

Christ the Servant washing His disciples’ feet

Prayer does not inform God about our needs.  Rather prayer establishes and maintains our relationship to our Lord, God and Creator.  It shapes and forms us. Prayer does not change God into our servant ordering Him to do our will, but teaches us that we the servants and He is the Lord upon whom we depend.

“… they consider praying unnecessary; they say that God knows everything without our asking, and forget that it is said: ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’  (Matt 7:7).  Our requests (prayers) are necessary expressly to strengthen our faith, through which alone can we be saved.”  St. John of Kronstadt  – d. 1908AD, MY LIFE IN CHRIST, p 13)

Prayer serves to teach us our relationship to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Prayer is not necessary for God, but is necessary for us for it defines both ourselves as humans and also our relationship with our Creator.

In prayer, we can bring up to God our most basic needs in life.

“When you wish to eat or drink, call on the name of the Lord, and ask a blessing of Him for your food and drink, saying, ‘Lord, bless.’  And think here that you will taste and enjoy the good things of your Lord.  For everything that is God’s is good, as was said above, The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof (Ps 23:1).”   (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk – d. 1783AD, JOURNEY TO HEAVEN, p 82)

We can also ask for the greatest spiritual blessings.

“In one place it is said that the Father ‘will give good things to those that ask Him’ (Matt. 7:11); elsewhere, that He will ‘give the Holy Spirit to those that ask Him’ (Luke 11:13). From this we learn that those who pray to God with steadfast faith in these promises receive not only remission of sins but also heavenly gifts of grace. The Lord promised these ‘good things’ not to the righteous but to sinners, saying: ‘If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those that ask Him?’ (Luke 11:13). Ask, then, unremittingly and without doubting, however poor your efforts to gain holiness, however weak your strength; and you will receive great gifts, far beyond anything that you deserve.”  (St. John of Karpathos (7th Century?), The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 9127-37)

Prayer, even when we are not sure what words to say or what our real needs are, does place us in the presence of our Lord.  Conscsiously acknowledging the Lordship of God and standing in his presence is the beginning of communion with the Triune God.

Metropolitan Philaret (d. 1867AD) of Moscow taught this prayer:

“O LORD, grant that I may greet the coming day in peace. Help me to rely on your holy will at every moment. In every hour of the day, reveal your will to me. Bless my time with all who surround me. Teach me to treat whatever may happen to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all is sent by you. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it will bring. Direct my will. Teach me to pray, and pray yourself in me. Amen.”   ( Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church ,  Kindle Loc. 159-64)

Next:  For What Should we Pray (III)

For What Should We Pray?

This is the 26th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Praying (XIII).

“The aim of prayer is so that we should acquire from it love of God, for in prayer are to be found all sorts of reasons for loving God.”  (THE WISDOM OF ST ISAAC OF NINEVEH, p 22)

We are to love God with all our soul, heart, mind and strength, this is the first commandment in the teachings of Jesus Christ, and is also the heart of Torah.   Therefore it is a worthy request in prayer to petition God and seek His help to teach us how to love Him.   It is in asking God to help turn our hearts to Him in love that we come to realize love is not an emotional response to God but rather is something we must choose or will to happen.  This is agape love which is not infatuation nor romantic but is steadfast and abiding, a love which we bring with us into every situation and which is not altered by time or place.  It is neither fickle or fleeting as an emotion but is steadfast.  It is not a reaction to things, but a chose way of acting toward God or others.  Love is a commandment (John 13:34) from Christ we are to obey!  It is in Christ commanding us to love that we again realize love is not merely an emotional reaction but rather something we must willfully choose.

This love of God which we seek is the corollary to standing in God’s presence.  They are intertwined experiences.   They help us to understand that prayer does not reduce God to a genie, maid, magician or change Him into Santa Claus.  As retired Archbishop Lazar critically points out:

“This is how inane and degenerate the concept of prayer has become.  If there is no economic or material benefit to it, why bother to pray?  We pray for material things, we pray that we will not have to suffer and endure anything in this life, even though Christ directly promised us that His true followers would have to endure much.  For many, prayer life has turned into a form of egotism, a self-satisfaction, a self-endorsement, a plea for instant gratification.   …   We do not have to pray in order to inform God, to let Him know something He does not know.  We pray in order to draw ourselves closer to God, because we really cannot know someone that we do not talk to…”  (Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, FREEDOM TO BELIEVE,  pp 93-94)

Thus there is a right and wrong way to pray as well as appropriate and inappropriate things for which to ask in prayer.  Prayer is not mostly about asking God for things or miracles or meeting our needs.

Prayer lifts us up to God, puts us in a relationship to the Holy Trinity.  In as much as God created us to be relational beings and not alienated, autonomous singularities, prayer helps us to become true human beings created in God’s image and likeness, created to live in loving relationships.  Prayer restores our awareness of our relationship to and dependence on our Creator as it goes against the effects of the ancestral sin.  Prayer leads to true communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We become in the words of St. Peter, “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).   Communion with God is thus what we are seeking foremost from prayer, but then in that context prayer can be fulfilled in many ways.

“The work of prayer is one and the same for all, but there are many kinds of prayer and many different prayers. Some converse with God as with a friend and master, interceding with praise and petition, not for themselves but for others. Some strive for greater (spiritual) riches and glory and for confidence in prayer. Others ask for complete deliverance from their adversary. Some beg to receive some kind of rank; others for complete forgiveness of debts. Some ask to be released from prison; others for remission from offences.”  (St. John Climacus   (d. 649AD),  Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church , kindle   Loc. 2982-86)

Prayer is a supremely sublime activity of ultimate meaning.

Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins

“Do not be foolish in the requests you make to God, otherwise you will insult God through your ignorance. Act wisely in prayer, so that you may become worthy of glorious things. Ask for things that are honourable from him who will not hold back, so that you may receive honour from him as a result of the wise choice your free will had made. Solomon asked for wisdom – and along with it he also received the earthly kingdom, for he knew how to ask wisely of the heavenly King, that is, for things that are important.” (St. Isaac of Nineveh (7th C), Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church , kindle Loc. 3572-77)

The things we ask of God also reflect our understanding of Him as Creator, Lord and Master of our lives and the entire universe.

Next:  For What Should We Pray? (II)