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Prayer RULES!

December 24, 2023

Prayer RULES!
We heard today in the parable about how we as humans get so distracted with life, we tend to forget those things that are of the utmost importance. (Luke 14:14-24) We hear excuses of needing to go to work and having to tend to our households. There are always parties and friends demanding our attention and let us not forget times that we are just too tired. I hear in confession about our many distractions that have become more important than our pursuit of holiness. God has to be FIRST in our lives and in all our busyness! 
Well, let me state boldly that a Christian that does not take time to pray, is not a Christian! We must allow prayer to rule our lives instead of letting the world drag us around blindly! Listen to this wisdom from the teachings of Abba Evagrius the Monk: “As our body becomes dead and full of stench when the soul leaves it, so a soul in which prayer is not active is dead and stenches. That to be deprived of prayer should be counted worse than death is clearly shown us by Prophet Daniel, who was ready to die rather than be deprived of prayer at any hour. One should remember God more often than one breathes.” {Reflections on the Eight Thoughts", Abba Evagrius, "Early Fathers From the Philokalia," translated from the Russian text, "Dobrotolubiye," by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer, eighth edition, (London: Faber and Faber, Ltd., 1981), pp. 113 – 114}
At many times in our daily struggles, we are beat down and at other times we are deeply saddened. We don’t want to pray and we feel disconnected from God, or a bit abandoned. When this wolf is lurking nearby, he tries to separate us from the safety of our herd, our prayer life and our Christian family. It is in these times that we must force ourselves to stay connected. It is in these times that we must force ourselves to pray and to come inside the walls of this mighty fortress. St. Ambrose of Optina guides us with these words of wisdom: “If you do not feel like praying, you have to force yourself. The Holy Fathers say that prayer with force is higher than prayer unforced. You do not want to, but force yourself. The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force.”{REF: St. Ambrose of Optina (+1891) (Matt. 11:12)}
How then should we pray? Prayer is the lifting of the mind and heart to God in praise and thanksgiving to Him and in supplication for the good things that we need, both spiritual and physical. Prayers are spiritual because they are originally born in the (human) spirit and ripen there by the Grace of the Holy Spirit. The Psalmist wrote: “Out of the depths have I cried to Thee, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.” (Psalm 129) In their origin they (i.e. prayers, psalms, hymns, etc.) were purely spiritual and only afterwards came to be clothed in words and so assumed an oral form. (Bp. Theophan the Recluse) When you pray, try to let the prayer reach your heart; in other words, it is necessary that your heart should feel what you are talking about in your prayer, that it should wish for the blessing for which you are asking…. Observe, during prayer, whether your heart is in accord with that which you are saying. (St. John of Kronstadt)
In the traditional catechism of the Church three types of prayer are listed: asking, thanking, and praising. We can add a fourth type which can be called lamenting before God, questioning him about the conditions of life and the meaning of our existence, particularly in times of tragedy and confusion. We very often find all four kinds of prayer in the Bible.
The Orthodox Church follows the Old Testament practice of having formal prayers according to the hours of the day. Christians are urged to pray regularly in the morning, evening and at meal times. As well we are to have brief prayers, which can be repeated throughout the day under any and all circumstances! Many people use the Jesus Prayer for this purpose: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Of course, the form of the prayer is secondary and may vary from person to person. It is the power of the prayer to bring us to God, and to strengthen us in doing His divine will that is essential.
The Jordanville Prayer Book helps us reach fullness in prayer at home. It directs us to look inward and uncover our thorns. And it helps us look outward and begin to love all of God’s creation. The prayers we recite at home differ from those in church, since personal prayer is not the same as the communal prayer of the Church. The two types of prayer are different and should not be confused.
When we go to church to pray, we do not go there to say our private prayers. Our private prayers should be said at home, in our room, in secret, and not in church (Mt 6.5–6). This does not mean that we do not bring our personal cares, desires, troubles, questions and joys to the prayer of the Church. We certainly can, and we should. But we bring ourselves and our concerns to church to unite them to the prayer of the Church, to the eternal prayer of Christ, the Mother of God, the saints and the brothers and sisters of our own particular church family.
From the collection of Reflections on Eight Thoughts, Abba Evargrius writes: “There are five occupations which help to gain God's benevolence. The first is pure prayer; the second, psalmody; the third, reading the Holy Scriptures; the fourth, contrite remembrance of one's sins, of death and the terrible judgment; the fifth, work with one's hands….and If while still in your body you wish to serve God like the incorporeal beings, strive to have in your heart a secret unceasing prayer. For in this way your soul will come near to resembling the angels even before death.” (Abba Evagrius, "Early Fathers From the Philokalia," translated from the Russian text, "Dobrotolubiye," by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer, eighth edition, (London: Faber and Faber, Ltd., 1981), pp. 113 – 114)
Here in this fortress we pray with each other, and we should therefore discipline ourselves to pray all together as one body in the unity of one mind, one heart and one soul. Once again this does not mean that our prayers in church should cease to be personal and unique; we must definitely put ourselves into our churchly prayer. In the Church, however, each one must put his own person with his own personal uniqueness into the common prayer of Christ with his Body. This is what enriches the prayer of the Church and makes it meaningful and beautiful and, we might even say, “easy” to perform. The difficulty of many church services is that they are prayers of isolated individuals who are only physically, and not spiritually, united together. We need to be one body!
The formal Church services are normally rather long in the Orthodox Church. This is so because we go to church not merely to pray. We go to church to be together, to sing together, to meditate on the meaning of the faith together, to learn together and to have union and communion together with God. This is particularly true of the Divine Liturgy of the Church. If a person wants merely to pray in the silence of his heart, he need not—and, indeed, he should not go to the church services for this purpose. The church services are not designed for silent prayer. They exist for the prayerful fellowship of all God’s people with each other, with Christ and with God. (Orthodox River, Fr. Athanasius Kone)
Elder Joseph the Hesychast states that: “the only hope of salvation from the delusions and the heresies, the innovations and the traps of wicked people and of the devil is prayer, repentance and humility” (REF: Elder Joseph (trans. from Greek by Elizabeth Theokritoff), "Elder Joseph the Hesychast," (Mount Athos: The Great and Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi, 1999), pp. 195 – 198) We simply have to make time for this. Our life depends on this fruit! Our Prayer Rule needs to be our rule for living!
Fr. Gabriel Weller 12-24-2023

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