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Prayer

All of the virtues and pow­ers of God are attained pri­mar­i­ly by prayer. With­out prayer, there is no spir­i­tu­al life. As the Russ­ian bish­op, Theo­phan the Recluse, has said, “If you are not suc­cess­ful in your prayer, you will not be suc­cess­ful in any­thing, for prayer is the root of every­thing.” (Theo­phan the Recluse, 19th c., The Art of Prayer, Igu­men Chari­ton, ed.)

And when you pray, you must not be like the hyp­ocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the syn­a­gogues and at the street cor­ners, that they may be seen by men. Tru­ly, I say to you, they have their reward. But 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. (Matthew 6:5–6)

Prayer must be in secret. This is the first rule giv­en by Christ. The per­son who prays must do so in such a way that he would not be seen by men to be pray­ing.

In the spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tion of the Church, the words of Christ “go into your room” have been inter­pret­ed in two ways. First of all, they have been under­stood to be a lit­er­al com­mand­ment. The pray­ing per­son must close him­self off phys­i­cal­ly dur­ing times of prayer in order to pray secret­ly and to avoid being seen.

Sec­ond­ly, these words of Christ have been under­stood to mean that the pray­ing per­son must enter with­in him­self, pray­ing secret­ly in his mind and heart at all times, with­out dis­play­ing his inte­ri­or prayer to oth­ers. Thus the “room” which one must “go into” is the “room of the soul.”

The room of the soul is the body; our doors are the five bod­i­ly sens­es. The soul enters its room when the mind does not wan­der here and there, roam­ing among the things and affairs of the world, but stays with­in, in our heart. Our sens­es become closed and remain closed when we do not let them be pas­sion­ate­ly attached to exter­nal sen­so­ry things and in this way our mind remains free from every world­ly attach­ment, and by secret men­tal prayer unites with God its Father.

God who sees all secret things sees men­tal prayer and rewards it open­ly with great gifts. For that prayer is true and per­fect which fills the soul with divine grace and spir­i­tu­al gifts. (St. Gre­go­ry Pala­mas, 14th c., How All Chris­tians Must Pray With­out Ceas­ing)

Thus, in the spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tion of the Chris­t­ian teach­ers of prayer, the uni­fi­ca­tion of the mind and the heart with­in the soul is seen to be the ful­fill­ment of the basic con­di­tion of prayer as com­mand­ed by Christ. (cf. The Art of Prayer, Igu­men Chari­ton, ed.)

And in pray­ing, do not heap up emp­ty phras­es as the hea­then do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not he like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:7–8)

God knows the needs of His peo­ple. Man prays in order to unite his mind and heart with God. He prays in order that God’s will would be done in his life. He prays so that what­ev­er he needs from God would be giv­en. He prays so that he would con­scious­ly and with full aware­ness express the fact that all that he is, has and does is depen­dent on God. It is man who needs to pray. It is not God who needs man’s prayers.

True Chris­t­ian prayer must be brief. It must be sim­ple and reg­u­lar. It must not be many-word­ed. Indeed it need not have words at all. It may be the total­ly silent inner atti­tude of the soul before God, the ful­fill­ment of the words of the psalmist:

Com­mune with your hearts…and be silent. Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 4:4, 46:10)

The teach­ing about brevi­ty and silence in prayer is found in all of the spir­i­tu­al teach­ers. St. Dim­it­ry of Ros­tov sums up this teach­ing when he says that the pub­li­can prayed only “God be mer­ci­ful to me a sin­ner” and was jus­ti­fied; the repen­tant thief prayed only “Remem­ber me…” and received par­adise; and the prodi­gal son and the tax-col­lec­tor, Zac­cha­eus, said noth­ing at all, and received the mer­cy of the Father and the for­give­ness of Christ. (Luke 15:20, 18:13, 19:5, 22:42; cf. St. Dim­it­ry of Ros­tov, 17th c., The Art of Prayer, Igu­men Chari­ton, ed.)

Ask, and it will be giv­en to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every­one who asks receives, and he who seeks, finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (…) If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your chil­dren, how much more will your Father who is in heav­en give good things to those who ask Him!

What­ev­er you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glo­ri­fied in the Son; if you ask any­thing in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13–14)

Tru­ly, tru­ly I say to you, if you ask any­thing of the Father, He will give it to you in my name. Until now you have asked noth­ing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:23–24)

What­ev­er one asks in the name of Jesus will be giv­en. This does not mean that man can ask God for any­thing at all. He can­not ask for what is not need­ed, or for what is evil. He can ask, how­ev­er, and must ask for “good gifts,” for what­ev­er can be asked in the name of Christ, for what­ev­er is holy and sin­less and good. If one asks for good things in faith, he will cer­tain­ly receive them if God thinks that he should have them for his life and sal­va­tion. This is the promise of the Lord Him­self.

If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask what­ev­er you will, and it shall be done for you. (John 15:7)

And what­ev­er you ask in prayer, if you have faith, you will receive. (Matthew 21:22, cf Luke 18:1–8)

Every prayer direct­ed to God in faith is answered. This does not mean that what is asked is always giv­en, for God knows bet­ter than the per­son who prays what is good for him. For this rea­son the spir­i­tu­al teach­ers warn man against being too long and insis­tent in his con­crete demands of the Lord. God knows best what is need­ed, and in order to prove this to His ser­vants, He may at times yield to their insis­tent demands and give what they want, but should not have, in order to show them quite clear­ly that they should have trust­ed in His wis­dom. Thus it is always best to be silent and brief in prayer, and not too specif­i­cal­ly demand­ing. It is always best to pray: “Give what is need­ed, O Lord. Thy will be done.”

How many times have I prayed for what seemed a good thing for me, and not leav­ing it to God to do, as He knows best, what is use­ful for me. But hav­ing obtained what I begged for, I found myself in dis­tress because I had not asked for it to be, rather, accord­ing to God’s will… (St. Nilus of Sinai, 5th c., Texts on Prayer)