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Prayer in the Spirit

All Chris­t­ian prayer must be prayer in the Spir­it; and all gen­uine prayer most cer­tain­ly is. Men pray to the Father, through Christ the Son and Word of God in the Holy Spir­it. This is the case wher­ev­er men pray, what­ev­er their method, whether they know it or not. For prayer is not man’s lone­ly cry across emp­ty spaces to a far-off God. Prayer is man’s being in God; being in the Holy Spir­it, as made in Christ’s image, the dwelling place of God.

Do you not know that you are God’s tem­ple and that God’s Spir­it dwells in you?… God’s tem­ple is holy, and that tem­ple you are. (I Corinthi­ans 3:16–17, cf. Deuteron­o­my 30:9–14, Psalms 139:7–14, Romans 10:5–13)

Chris­t­ian prayer is done con­scious­ly in the Holy Spir­it, with all faith and aware­ness. It is addressed to and through Christ, to the Father. In the Ortho­dox Church there is only one prayer among all the prayers of the Church addressed to the Holy Spir­it. This is the prayer O Heav­en­ly King which begins all prayers and clear­ly cre­ates the con­di­tions in which all prayer is performed.

O Heav­en­ly King, the Com­forter, the Spir­it of Truth,

You are every­where and fill all things,

Trea­sury of bless­ings and Giv­er of Life,

Come and abide in us, cleanse us from every impu­ri­ty and save our souls,

O Good One.

Even on Pen­te­cost Sun­day in the Ortho­dox Church the three spe­cial prayers of the feast are addressed to Christ and the Father.

The prayer to God for the com­ing of the Spir­it is itself a sign that the Spir­it is already in man enabling him to call to the Father. This is the mys­tery of man’s nature and exis­tence; that he is only tru­ly man when the Holy Spir­it is in him. This is the mys­tery of God’s gra­cious work in man. It is the mys­tery of prayer and life itself.

One calls God “Our Father” only in the Spir­it. One calls Jesus “Lord” only in the Spir­it. One prays to God in any man­ner or form only in the Spir­it. The words of the psalms, the prayers of the Saints, the litur­gi­cal wor­ship of the Church, is the “breath­ing of God’s Spir­it” in man. (Father John of Kro­n­stadt, My Life in Christ) For all prayer, like the scrip­ture itself, is by the inspi­ra­tion of God.

Even when men do not know how to pray or for what they should ask, it is the Holy Spir­it who prays in them that they would have what is need­ed, that God’s will would be done.

Like­wise the Spir­it helps us in our weak­ness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spir­it Him­self inter­cedes for us with signs too deep for words. And He who search­es the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spir­it be- cause the Spir­it inter­cedes for the saints accord­ing to the will of God. (Romans 8:26–27)

Thus the prayer in the Spir­it, as well as the prayer for the Spir­it, has as its pur­pose the “acqui­si­tion of the Spir­it” so that by the “fruits of the Spir­it” man would be holy and divine by God’s grace. This is the basic mys­tery of the spir­i­tu­al life. For as Saint Augus­tine has said, the per­son who seeks the Lord has already been found by Him. The very seek­ing in prayer, when one knows not how to pray, makes a per­son already the dwelling place of God.

In his first let­ter to the Corinthi­ans the Apos­tle Paul speaks of a spe­cial kind of prayer in the Spir­it. It is the spir­i­tu­al gift of “speak­ing in tongues.” With this par­tic­u­lar gift the per­son prais­es God in a lan­guage he can­not under­stand. His “spir­it prays” with ecsta­t­ic utter­ances, but his “mind remains unfruit­ful.” Accord­ing to the apos­tle, who him­self had this gift and says that it should not be for­bid­den, such prayer in the Spir­it is with­out ben­e­fit to man unless it is accom­pa­nied with “some rev­e­la­tion or knowl­edge or prophe­cy (i.e. the direct­ly inspired Word of God) or teach­ing.” He says that it should not be done in the pub­lic gath­er­ing of the church unless there be some inter­pre­ta­tion and that even then there should be “only two, or at most three,” and that those who are “eager for man­i­fes­ta­tions of the Spir­it should strive to excel in build­ing up the church” and should “not be chil­dren in their thinking…but in think­ing be mature.” He says that all should seek rather to proph­esy, i.e. to speak the Word of God clear­ly and plain­ly so that those who observe Chris­tians would declare “that God is real­ly among” them and not con­sid­er them mad.” He says final­ly that “all things should be done decent­ly and in order.” (cf. I Corinthi­ans 12–14)

It is appar­ent that the gift of pray­ing in the Spir­it with tongues was the cause of no small con­fu­sion and dis­or­der in the Corinthi­an Church, and that those hav­ing this gift of ecsta­t­ic prayer were dis­turb­ing and divid­ing the com­mu­ni­ty by con­sid­er­ing them­selves more spir­i­tu­al than oth­ers. St. Paul insists that not all have the same gifts, and that tongues are but one of the gifts, the last of those men­tioned, to serve as a sign not for those who already believe, but “for unbe­liev­ers.” (I Corinthi­ans 14:22) In gen­er­al it is clear that the sole pur­pose of the apostle’s extend­ed dis­cus­sion of the spir­i­tu­al gifts, and his insis­tence on giv­ing up “child­ish ways” in the pur­suit of per­fec­tion when one becomes mature, was to rebuke the mem­bers of the Corinthi­an Church for their mis­use and abuse of the spir­i­tu­al gift of tongues.

There is no evi­dence in the spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tion of the church that any of the saints had the gift of pray­ing in tongues or that such kind of prayer was ever a part of the litur­gy of the church. The only men­tion that can be found of it, to our knowl­edge, was at the bap­tism of Mon­tanus, a third-cen­tu­ry heretic who left the Church to found his own spir­i­tu­al­ist sect. If any of the saints or spir­i­tu­al mas­ters had this gift, they did not write about it or prop­a­gate it open­ly. It was unknown, for exam­ple, to Saint John Chrysos­tom by his own report, (cf. Com­men­tary on Corinthi­ans) Since a num­ber of believ­ers have this gift in our time, and since there are per­sons who seek it, it is crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant that this method of prayer be under­stood accord­ing to the coun­sels of Saint Paul and in the light of the teach­ing of the spir­i­tu­al mas­ters on prayer.