Prayer - Part 1

The goal of the Christian's life on earth is salvation in our Lord Jesus
Christ and, at the same time, communion with God. The means for this
communion is prayer, and through his prayer the Christian is joined in one
spirit with the Lord (I Cor. 6:17). Prayer is the focal point and foundation
of spiritual life and the source of salvation. Without prayer, as St. John
Chrysostom says, there is no life in the spirit. Without prayer man is
deprived of communion with God and can be compared to a dry and barren tree,
which is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matt. 7:19).

In prayer, the Christian concentrates together all his spiritual acts.
Prayer draws down to him the grace of God and is an invaluable instrument of
spiritual defense in the Christian's struggles against the sinful passions
and vices. By prayer our thoughts, desires and deeds are sanctified, for he
who prays receives the blessing of the Lord on his deeds, for, as Holy
Scripture tells us, unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it
labor in vain (Ps. 127:1). Nothing so helps us to grow in virtue as our pure
and pious prayers to God. Thus it was the shared opinion of all the Holy
Fathers that prayer is the mother of virtues. By repeated and fervent
prayer, man is made more worthy of God's mercy and more capable of receiving
the gifts of grace which God, by reason of His infinite goodness, is already
to bestow on us out of His immeasurable bounties.

In prayer, the Christian prays not only for himself, but for all men, for we
all are the children of God. We must pray for the salvation of our neighbor
just as we pray for our own salvation, and the best means of correcting our
neighbor is to pray for him, because prayer for our neighbor has far greater
effect than denunciation of his sins. In addition, we pray not only for the
living, but also for the departed, that God may forgive them their sins and
grant them repose in the heavenly mansions of the righteous.

As with any spiritual endeavor, however, the Christian must learn how to
pray properly. As St. Tikhon of Zadonsk cautions us: Of no value is that
prayer in which the tongue prays but the mind is empty; the tongue speaks,
but the mind lies silent; the tongue calls God, but the mind wanders amongst
created things. We must, therefore, pray in fear and trembling and try in
every way to ensure that our minds are with our words, or, as St. John of
the Ladder tells us, to enclose our mind in the words of our prayer, [so
that] the heart may respond to the words of the prayers.

The reading of prayers and prostrations are essential, of course, but these
only express the state of prayer, while the prayer itself should come from
the heart. And it is only such prayer, from the bottom of the heart and of
the soul, that is the life of the spirit. True prayer, however, is a gift of
God, and this gift is not granted to us without diligence and struggle.
Therefore it is necessary for us to pray that the Lord should deem us worthy
of this gift and grant us the grace to offer up to Him our sincere, pure and
heartfelt prayer, for we are only able to pray when strengthened by the Holy
Spirit. Therefore we must be mindful that the Holy Spirit is drawn to a soul
cleansed of the stain of sin and worldly passions, and only in such a soul
will He abide.

Our prayers will gradually grow more perfect as we improve the manner of our
lives and cleanse our hearts of sinful passion. This banishment of sinful
ways from our lives brings as its reward our success in prayer. At the same
time, we must say that prayer cannot achieve perfection in isolation, but
must be accompanied by all the virtues, for as we grow in virtue, so does
our prayer grow ever more perfect.

Therefore we say that a Christian does not achieve true prayer at once, but
only gradually, through various exertions and labor. All of life's deeds
require toil and patience, but nowhere more than in the striving after the
supreme virtue prayer.
Conditions for Prayer.

The first condition for the attainment of true prayer is a fervent desire to
be saved and be pleasing to God a readiness to sacrifice all for the sake of
God and the salvation of one's soul. As Bishop Theophan the Recluse states:
Consider prayer to be the first and foremost duty in your life and as such
keep it in your heart. Go about your prayers as to the fulfillment of your
primary duty, and not as to something to be done between tasks.

A habit of absentminded, inattentive and careless prayer breeds a coldness
towards God, dejection, a weakening of the faith and a darkening of the
mind, and these in their turn lead to spiritual numbness. For prayer to be
fruitful it must be fervent, offered up with an awareness of the need for
what we are asking (Col. 4:2) and it must be untiring and relentless,
pursuing its purpose with the firm resolve of the widow in Our Lord's
parable who seeks protection from her adversary (Luke 18:2-8). At the same
time, however, we must ensure that our supplications be worthy of God and of
His glory and not opposed to His divine will. Surely we must pray: Lord, let
Thy, and not my, will be done in all things!

There are different degrees of prayer and for the beginner the effort of
prayer consists mainly in attentively reading or listening to prayer, in
standing, bowing and making the Sign of the Cross. Here a great deal of
self-exertion and patience is called for, because our attention becomes
distracted in this process and our heart may not feel the words of the
Prayer. Through this verbal prayer through the diligent exercise of it the
Christian, with the help of God, gradually trains his mind to collect
itself, to understand and penetrate into the words of the prayer and to
pronounce them without becoming distracted by outside thoughts.

The Christian must remain constantly mindful of God and must walk in fear of
God. He is always before the eyes of God as God is invisibly with him always
and everywhere. One's Guardian Angel is also always by his side. One must
also be mindful of the fact that earthly life is not eternal. Death, which
passes no one by and carries us off in many ways, must always be brought to
remembrance as well as the fearsome Day of Judgment, where we all shall have
to answer for our every sinful word, deed and thought. We must always call
to mind Hell and the eternal torment which awaits all sinners, as well as
the Kingdom of Heaven prepared for the faithful who lived in righteousness.
In this way we may lead our lives in the fear of the Lord.

When we pray we must remember that if our prayers will rise speedily to God,
they must be said with charity, for prayer said without love is not heard.
According to St. John Chrysostom, charity is the wing of prayer. As the Holy
Fathers also teach us, we should begin our prayers with glorification of the
Creator of all, with a sincere thanksgiving to God for all His mercies, for
all the trials and sorrows sent down for our benefit and the benefit of our
neighbors. Then we must make a confession of sins in repentance of heart
after which we will be deemed worthy to entreat the King of Heaven in
Mechanics of Prayer.

The Church of Christ teaches us prayers composed by righteous and holy men.
The Holy Fathers and Ascetics of the Church, enlightened by the grace of
God, have composed many beautiful prayers, filled with holy thoughts and
deep feeling for the guidance and admonition of Christians. We hear these
prayers in Church during the Divine Services, but for private prayer at
home, each Christian must recite the prayers contained in the Prayerbook.

When we begin to pray, we do not immediately break off from our daily tasks
and just start praying, but we must prepare ourselves. As the Prayerbook
says: Stand in silence for a few moments until all your senses are calmed.
Furthermore, as Holy Scripture tells us: Before offering a prayer, prepare
yourself; and do not be like a man who tempts the Lord (Sirach 18:23). In
addition to this, before entering into prayer, one must prepare himself not
only inwardly, but also outwardly.

During prayer one should stand straight with ones eyes fixed on the icon or
lowered to the ground, while, at the same time, the eyes of the soul,
together with one's soulful aspirations, should be lifted up to God. This
outward attitude of piety in prayer is both necessary and beneficial, for
the disposition of the soul is in conformity with the disposition of the

One must also prepare himself for prayer in the soul, the essence of which
consists of purging all vengeful thoughts from one's heart (Mark 11:25-26),
in an awareness of one's own sinfulness and with the contrition and humility
of soul that such awareness brings. For the only sacrifice pleasing to God
is a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not
despise (Ps. 50:17). As the Holy Fathers teach us, whosoever does not avow
himself a sinner, his prayer shall not be pleasing to the Lord.

In his daily devotions, the Christian must adhere to a strict home rule of
prayer. All the great ascetics had such a rule and kept to it diligently.
The extent of our home rule of prayer is determined for each of us in
accordance with our manner of life and the state of our spiritual and
physical strength. It is better that we offer up a few prayers, made,
however, in proper devotion, than that we say many prayers in haste, a
danger difficult to avoid if we take upon ourselves too heavy a burden.

In the Prayerbook the Church provides all Christians with a rule of morning
and evening prayers. This is a moderate rule and is of special help to those
who are just learning to pray. As one fulfills his devotional obligations,
one must not be thinking only of reciting all of the prescribed prayers, but
must strive to arouse and strengthen in the soul the proper prayerful
feelings and devotional attitude. One must strengthen himself against the
temptations of sloth and must seek not to excuse himself from prayers on the
grounds of lack of time. One must not let off reading the prayers even when
fatigued after a day of hard work, since such prayer, done with such great
effort, is especially pleasing to God. One must be prepared to sacrifice
some moments of bodily repose for the Lord, for by rushing through one's
prayers in the anxiety for bodily rest, one will only deprive himself of
both physical and spiritual repose.

An unhurried and devout recitation of the words will greatly help in keeping
attention on the prayers. If one only has a little time for prayer, it would
be far better to say fewer prayers, but with careful thought and attention,
than to rush through many prayers without proper attention. But, one must
also not allow the omitted prayers to go unheeded; these can be completed
later when there is time. While saying a prayer, especially if reading it
from a book, one must not hasten from one word to the next, lest there be a
failure to grasp the truth of the text and to receive it into the heart.

The Holy Fathers recommend for greater spirituality of mind and heart the
rule of executing bows, prostrations, and making the Sign of the Cross,
during prayer, as an expression of heartfelt feelings of penitence,
humility, deep piety, fear of God and devotion to Him, for when one's body
is prostrate, the soul ascends heavenwards to God!
St. John Chrysostom on Prayers.

In his earthly ministry, St. John Chrysostom was well known as a superb
homilist and for his efforts received the well-deserved title Golden-mouth.
In his sermons, St. John was especially concerned for the spiritual and
moral development of his flock and, as a result, he was especially
interested in teaching them how to pray. As trees cannot live without water,
so man's soul cannot live without prayerful contact with God, he taught. If
you deprive yourself of prayer, you will do as though you had taken a fish
out of water: as life is water for a fish, so is prayer for you.

To live in God means that one must always and everywhere be with God, and
without prayer, such a union is impossible. Therefore the Holy Father, St.
John, did not limit conversation with God in prayer to one set time of day
or to one definite place. As he taught, one can say prolonged prayers while
walking to the square, while walking about the streets. While sitting and
working in a workshop, one can dedicate his spirit to God. One can say
prolonged and fervent prayers, I say, both coming in and going out. While in
public, St. John did not recommend that prayer be said with the lips, for
the power of prayer lies not in words uttered by the lips, but by the heart.
One can be heard without uttering any words. While walking about a square,
one can pray in thought with great zeal, and while sitting with friends and
doing any sort of thing, one can call upon God with a great cry (I mean an
internal cry) without making it known to any of those present.

While not diminishing the role and importance of prayer set for definite
hours, St. John, nonetheless, sees the time of prayer in much broader terms.
We can obtain benefit from praying during our entire lives by devoting to it
the greater part of our time. He even asked Christians to pray during the
night, for he knew from experience what benefit such prayers bring. Prayers
at night are often purer because the mind is more at ease and there are
fewer worries. These prayers can be short and few, but, as St. John says,
let us rise during the night. If you do not say many prayers, then say one
with attentive concern and this is enough. I demand no more. If not in the
middle of the night, at least towards morning.

Fasting also proves to be an invaluable aid to man in the achievement of
perfect prayer. While fasting, as the Saint notes, a man does not doze off,
does not talk a lot, neither does he yawn or grow weak in prayer as often
happens to many when not fasting.

Speaking of the content of prayer, St. John advises first of all to thank
God for everything. Receiving all gifts from God, a Christian not only must
thank God for them, but must also ask them of Him. But, not all that is
asked of God can bring benefit to man or can be good for him. Many are not
heard because they ask for useless things, because they insist on the
fulfillment of their own will and not God's, show indulgence towards their
own weaknesses, and do not gather spiritual treasure. A man must also be
taught by reason of his limitations and sinfulness that he cannot always
correctly determine what will bring him what he asks for in prayer.

Whether we are heard or not when we pray, depends upon the following: 1) Are
we worthy to receive? 2) Do we pray according to Divine Law? 3) Do we pray
incessantly? 4) Do we avoid asking for worldly things? 5) Do we fulfill
everything that is required on our part? and, finally, 6) Do we ask for
beneficial things?

When these conditions are fulfilled, prayer acquires a truly ineffable
power. It spiritualizes a man, renews him, inspires him, and carries him
away to heavenly pastures. As St. John affirms, in truth prayer is the light
of the soul, the true knowledge of God and men, the healer of vices, the
physician of diseases, the peace of the soul, the heavenly guide which does
not revolve around the earth, but which leads up to Heaven! Therefore, the
beneficial devotion of prayer is the breath of life.
Church Prayer.

Apart from private or home prayer, which is said in private, according to
the words of the Savior, When you pray, go into your room and shut the door
and pray to your Father Who is in secret; and your Father Who sees in secret
will reward you (Matt. 6:6), as a Christian one must also participate in
church prayer, conducted during Divine Service, before the gathering of the
faithful. The importance and significance of this type of prayer at the
Divine Services is stressed in the Gospels. The Lord Himself, during His
earthly life, used to visit the Temple of Jerusalem, as well as the
synagogue, and pray therein. He often prayed, not only in solitude, but also
before the people, and the first Christians were day by day, attending the
temple together (Acts 2:46). Therefore our Holy Orthodox Church our Mother
strictly commands her children to attend Divine Services, which is
particularly essential to our salvation.

By its very significance church prayer is incomparably higher than prayer
said at home, for as St. John Chrysostom tells us, a single Lord, have mercy
uttered in church together with the congregation of believers, is worth a
hundred prostrations during lonely home prayer. Why is this so? Because our
Lord said: For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the
midst of them (Matt. 18:20).

Some say that it is not essential to go to church to pray, that one can pray
just as well at home. Beware, for you deceive only yourselves, warns St.
John Chrysostom. You can, of course, pray at home, but you cannot there pray
as you can in church, amidst so many people, speaking to God as with one
voice. When you pray to the Lord alone you will not be heard as soon as when
you pray together with your brethren, for together with them your prayer is
great: you pray in unanimity, concord, a union of love and of prayer with
the officiating priests. That is why the priests stand before us, that the
prayers of the people, who are weak in spirit, may be united with their
stronger prayers and thus be uplifted to Heaven. Such prayer has much
greater power, is far more bold and effective than private prayer recited at
home. During church prayer it is not only people who lift up their voices,
but Angels, too, come to the Lord with prayer, and the Archangels also make
their devotions to Him.
The Lord's Prayer.

When the Disciples asked Our Lord to teach them how to pray, he gave to them
the words of the Lord's Prayer, which, in St. Matthew's Gospel is worded

Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from the Evil One.

The words Our Father Who art in heaven bear witness to the truth that God is
the Father of all that exists. He not only created the universe, the entire
world material and spiritual, visible and invisible but, being the Father,
He loves His creation, cares for it, and guides it to the goals of goodness
and perfection as He has planned. The Father is He Who calls us to life, Who
loves His creation and cares for it. According to Bishop Nicholas of Ochrid,
when I open my mouth and cry: 'Father!' love expels fear, and the earth
seems to draw closer to Heaven....Egoism cries to Thee: 'My Father,' but
love says: 'Our Father!'

The universe created by God is diverse, for, on the one hand, it is our
world the world of nature and man and, on the other hand, it is spiritual
the world of the Angelic Host and the Church Triumphant-known biblically as
Heaven. Therefore God is called the Father of our natural-human world and
the Heavenly Father Who art in Heaven, that is, the Father of the spiritual
world. Heaven also implies that purity and sanctity of divine life to which
man is called, and which does not exist in him if he is entirely captivated
by Sin. As Bishop Nicholas says: Heaven is very, very far for a man whose
heart and soul have turned away from Thee...but Heaven is very, very close
for a man whose soul is open and awaits Thy coming.

The Lord's Prayer consists of seven petitions, and these are things that we
should ask of our Heavenly Father.

(1) Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.

In the first petition, we should beseech our Heavenly Father that His name,
which is always holy in itself, be hallowed, with His blessing, both in us
and through us (Matt. 5:16). The Lord is the fullness and perfection of
sanctity but, by glorifying Him, we sanctify ourselves and the surrounding

(2) Thy kingdom come.

In the second petition, we ask the Lord to help us and make us worthy,
through His grace, of the Kingdom of Heaven which begins, as Christ Himself
said, here on earth, within us. But it will only come to us in the fullness
of its power when Sin ceases to hold undivided sway in us and righteousness,
peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17) abide in us.

(3) Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.

In the third petition, we beseech God the Father that He not allow us to
live out our earthly lives according to our sinful ways, but according to
His will, which is always good, and acceptable, and perfect (Rom. 12:2). By
obeying the will of God, we begin to establish the Kingdom of God within

(4) Give us this day our daily bread;

In the fourth petition we beseech God to give us our daily bread everything
we need in life, spiritual as well as physical. Our spiritual bread is the
grace-bestowing Sacraments of the Church, instituted for our salvation.
First and foremost, our daily bread means Holy Communion, of which the Lord
said: I am the bread of life...and the bread which I shall give for the life
of the world is My flesh (John 6:48, 51). Material bread means all that is
necessary for human existence, directly associated with the surrounding
world. The words this day warn us against too many cares, and teaches us to
ask only for what is most essential, because the Lord says: But seek first
His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as
well. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be
anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day
(Matt. 6:33-34).

(5) And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against

In the fifth petition the Lord teaches us how to ask forgiveness for our
sins from the Heavenly Father, and how they may be forgiven. And whenever
you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that
your Father also Who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if
you do not forgive, neither will your Father Who is in heaven forgive your
trespasses (Mark 11:25-26). Man's sins are called trespasses against God in
this petition and here we beg for God's mercy. This is our confession,
asking for His forgiveness. Whoever seeks forgiveness should resort to the
healing power of repentance and forgive his neighbor, the trespasser. When
we forgive our trespassers, then God will also forgive us our sins (Mark

(6) And lead us not into temptation,

In the sixth petition we ask of the Lord that He not allow us to fall into
sin. We ask Him to preserve us from all that confuses our spirit and from
temptations that are beyond our strength to reject. If we encounter on our
earthly path trials and temptations sent for our purification from sin and
spiritual fortification, then we ask God to send us His timely help. God is
faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with
the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to
endure it (I Cor. 10:13). For because He Himself has suffered and been
tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted (Heb. 2:18), St. Paul
says, indicating the Helper and Accomplisher of our salvation, the Lord
Jesus Christ.

(7) But deliver us from the Evil One.

In the seventh and final petition, we ask that we be protected against and
saved from Evil and the Devil, who is a murderer from the beginning and
works for our destruction. As St. Peter says, the Devil prowls around like a
roaring lion, seeking some one to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). Remembering the Enemy
of our salvation, the Lord urges us to be vigilant and sober of spirit, to
have courage to accomplish a feat, teaches us to pray for one another, and
by prayer to the Heavenly Father, to fortify ourselves spiritually and free
ourselves from misfortune and disaster.

Thus the Lord's Prayer is the unfailing model and rule for all prayers. The
Church uses it in all the sacramental orders, and in all the Divine
Services. As St. John Chrysostom says, it is the crown of all prayers.




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