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Prayer: An Introduction to an Orthodox Christian Perspective

What is Prayer?

Prayer, by reason of its nature, is the conversation and union of man with God, and by reason of its action, upholds the world and brings about reconciliation with God; it is a bridge over temptations, a wall against afflictions, a crushing of conflicts, food of the soul, enlightenment of the mind, an axe against despair, a cure for sorrow.

Let us rise and listen to what that our holy queen of the virtues cries with a loud voice and says to us[1]: Come unto me, all you that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and you shall find rest for your souls and healing for your wounds. For my yoke is easy and is a remedy for great sins.

Let your prayer be completely simple. For both the publican and the prodigal son were reconciled to God by a single phrase. Have all courage, and you will have God for your teacher in prayer. Just as it is impossible to learn to see by word of mouth, because seeing depends on one’s own natural sight, so it is impossible to learn the beauty of prayer from the teaching of others. Prayer has a teacher all its own – God – Who teaches man knowledge, and grants the prayer of the one who prays, and blesses the years of the just.

The Ladder of Divine Ascent, St John Climachus, Step 28, On Prayer

Icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent

How to Pray

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father (God) who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name.

Your Kingdom come. Your will be done.

On earth, as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Gospel according to Matthew 6:5-13

Icon of Publican and Pharisee

Persevere in Prayer

And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’.

And he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you?’

I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and rise and give him as many as he needs.

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you;

Seek, and you will find;

Knock, and it will be opened to you.

For everyone who asks receives;

And he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone?

Or if he asks for fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?

Or is he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?

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 who ask Him?

Gospel according to Luke 11:5-13

Orthodox monk with prayer rope

Pray Without Ceasing

One must learn to call upon the name of God, more even than breathing at all times, in every kind of occupation. The Apostle says, ‘Pray without ceasing’.[2] That is, he teaches us to have the remembrance of God in all times, places and circumstances. If you are making something you must call to mind the Creator of all things, if you see the light, remember the Giver of it, if you see the Heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, wonder and praise the Maker of them. If you put on your clothes, recall whose gift they are and thank the one who provides for your life. In short, let every action be a cause of your remembering and praising God and you will be praying without ceasing and therein your soul will always rejoice.

The Way of the Pilgrim, Chapter 4, page 81.

Pilgrims with the Holy Light at Pascal service - Jerusalem

The Jesus Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Or simply: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Icon of Christ the Good Shepherd

Prayer as Healing and Food for the Soul

The Holy Spirit is very much like a dear mother. A mother loves her child and has pity on it; and the Holy Spirit likewise has pity on us, forgives and heals us, enlightens and rejoices us. And the Holy Spirit is to be known through humble prayer.

The soul that loves the Lord cannot help praying, for she is drawn to Him by the grace she has come to know in prayer. Many people like to read books, and this is right, but it is best of all to pray; while he who reads newspapers or bad books condemns his soul to go hungry – hungry because the food of the soul and her true satisfaction lie in God. In God are life, joy, gladness, and the Lord loves us more than words can describe, and this love is made known by the Holy Spirit.

If you want to pray in your heart but by you are not able, repeat the words of your prayer with your lips and keep your mind on the words you are saying, as St John Climachus explains. In time the Lord will give you interior prayer without distraction, and you will pray with ease.

But do not forget the pattern of spiritual life: God bestows His gifts on the simple, lowly and obedient soul. The one who is obedient and temperate in all things – in food, in speech, in movement – receives the gift of prayer from the Lord Himself, and prayer continues without difficulty in his heart.

When we love someone, we like to think about that person, talk about that person, be with that person. Now the soul loves the Lord, as her Father and Creator, and stands before Him in awe and love; in awe because He is the Lord; in love because the soul knows Him for her Father – He is all mercy, and His grace sweeter than everything else.

Saint Silouan the Athonite, By Father Sophrony, pages 295-296.

St Silouan the Athonite

[1] It proclaims the very words that Christ spoke.

[2] 1 Thessalonians 5:17

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