by Corepiscopa (Dr.) Mani Rajan
Prayer is an inseparable and prominent aspect of Christian life. But there are fundamental questions about the content and nature of prayer. Prayer cannot be reduced to the outpouring of one’s impulses. There are several verses in scripture that reveal about prayer. However, the sacred tradition of the Church which is a living transmission of the Holy Spirit should also be known to the faithful.
The very word ‘living transmission’ or tradition of the Church is looked down upon by some people who do not really understand the richness of it. Tradition is a long-cherished belief, custom or practice prevalent in the Church since the time of Jesus and His disciples. In other words, tradition is the oral transmission of certain Christian doctrines and customs from generation to generation. Tradition is not baseless or unscientific. Jerome speaks of tradition as “the living transmission accomplished in the Holy Spirit.” St. Basil of Caesarea, the Great, remarked: “both scripture and tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.” For example, we stand while we pray facing east. Standing (with kneeling down which is a reminder of the crucifixion and a symbol of venerating the crucified Christ) denotes our rise from the fall due to sin. We face east in prayer expecting the second coming of Jesus Christ For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shines even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be (Mathew 24:27). It is believed that the position of the Garden of Eden is in the east and we aspire to return to the place from where we were expelled. To sum up, the Syrian Orthodox Church relies much on the tradition which the Disciples of Christ received from the mouth of Jesus Christ and what they saw in the life and work of Jesus Christ.
To the new generation, it is a matter of confusion that they are deceived by the notion that everything necessary for salvation is in the Bible. This is the teaching of the Church of England (Article VI) – “Holy scripture contains all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read their in, nor may be proved thereby, is not required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” However, the Syrian Orthodox Church considers that whatever is orally given is equally important as the written scripture. Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full (2 John 12; 3 John 13, 14). Those things, which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you (Philippians 4:9). Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Prayer must always begin with the praise of the Trinity – “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” However, quite a few laity and even clergy are departing from this tradition of the Church. Prayer includes thanksgiving and praise, petition, intercession of saints and intercession for the departed ones. This again is important since the definition of the Church includes all the living, the departed and those who are to join the Church. We pray in the company of the living and the departed. Therefore, any public prayer must include prayer for the departed because they are alive and join us in prayer.
As mentioned above, prayer includes thanksgiving and praise. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker (Psalms 95:1-6). In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Prayer includes petition or beseech or plead or invoke or entreat or cry out for oneself and for fellow beings. Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me (Romans 15:30). Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, salutes you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God (Colossians 4:12). The petitions can be of different type such as for healing both physical and spiritual; that we think is useful to us though not far sighted.
Prayer includes intercession of saints for we are praying in their company and this is one of the tenets of the Syrian Orthodox Church. And Stephen, kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:60). St. Mary at the wedding of Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus said unto him, They have no wine. Jesus said unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother said unto the servants, Whatsoever he says unto you, do it. (John 2:1-5). There are several other instances in the OT and NT that will shed light upon the intercession of saints and their relics (cf 2 Kings 2:14; 2 Kings 13:20-21; Isaiah 37:35; Acts 5:15-16; Acts 19:11-12).
Prayer for departed ones is also an integral part of any public prayer. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in you (Romans 8:11). Jesus went down to sheol (Hebrew) or hades (Greek) for those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? (Ephesians 4:9). For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him (Luke 20:38). By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19). Syrian Orthodox prayer will have all the above elements which are a must for public prayer. However, private prayer has no hard and fast rules. But one has to remember that prayer is wings by which we fly up high to God, and a ladder by which we ascend to heaven. It is a means by which we become partners with Angels. Blessed are those who make prayer their companion day and night.