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Prayer

In the Ortho­dox Church all prayer is Trini­tar­i­an. We pray in the Holy Spir­it, through Jesus the Son of God, and in his name, to God the Father. We call God “our Father” because Jesus has taught us and enabled us to do so. We have the capa­bil­i­ty of address­ing God as Father because we are made sons of God by the Holy Spir­it (see Rom 8).

In the Church we also address prayers to Christ and the Holy Spir­it, the Divine Per­sons who are one with God the Father and exist eter­nal­ly in per­fect uni­ty with him, shar­ing his divine being and will.

In the Church we also pray to the saints—not in the same way as we pray to the Per­sons of the Holy Trin­i­ty, but as our helpers, inter­ces­sors, and fel­low-mem­bers of the Church who are already glo­ri­fied with God in his divine pres­ence. Fore­most among the saints and first among the mere humans who are glo­ri­fied in God’s King­dom is Mary, the Theotokos and Queen of Heav­en, the leader among our saint­ly inter­ces­sors before God. We can also pray to the holy angels to plead our cause before God.

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.

Some­times prayer is defined as a dia­logue with God. T his def­i­n­i­tion is suf­fi­cient if we remem­ber that it is a dia­logue of silence, car­ried on in the qui­et of our hearts. In the Ortho­dox Church a more ancient and tra­di­tion­al def­i­n­i­tion of prayer calls it the lift­ing of the mind and heart to God, the stand­ing in his pres­ence, the con­stant aware­ness and remem­brance of his name, his exis­tence, his pow­er and his love. This is the kind of prayer which is also called “walk­ing in the pres­ence of God.

The pur­pose of prayer is to have com­mu­nion with God and to be made capa­ble of accom­plish­ing his Will. Chris­tians pray to enable them­selves to know God and to do his com­mand­ments. Unless a per­son is will­ing to change him­self and to con­form him­self to Christ in the ful­fill­ment of his com­mand­ments, he has no rea­son or pur­pose to pray. Accord­ing to the saints, it is even spir­i­tu­al­ly dan­ger­ous to pray to God with­out the inten­tion of respond­ing and mov­ing along the path that prayer will take us.

Pray­ing is not mere­ly repeat­ing the words of prayers. Say­ing prayers is not the same as pray­ing. Prayer should be done secret­ly, briefly, reg­u­lar­ly, with­out many words, with trust in God that he hears, and with the will­ing­ness to do what God shows us to do (see Mt 6:5–15; Lk 11 and 18; Jn 14–17).

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 as to have a brief prayer 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 prayers of a per­son 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 do. 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 com­mu­ni­ty.

In church we pray with oth­ers, 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. 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 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.