Friday, February 20, 2009

Preparing for Great Lent Pt 2: Prayer

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Yesterday evening, we held our second of three talks entitled, "Preparing for Great Lent." Our theme was prayer, based on MATT. 6:6-15. This talk was very well-attended (because parishioners are serious about deepening their prayer life, I would hope and assume), and the discussion lively. Below is an outline of the general content of the presentation on prayer. If you have any questions based upon what you read here, please forward them to me.

PRAYER - An Outline

- Prayer is essential to the Christian life. The Lord Himself prayed throughout His earthly ministry. And He taught us: "When you pray ..." "Prayer is spiritual breathing" according to St. John of Kronstadt.

- When we fail to pray, our Christian life suffers:
"If you are not successful in your prayer, do not expect success in anything. It is the root of all." (St. Theophan the Recluse)

- Prayer is work - both creative and dynamic.
"Prayer is action; to pray is to be highly effective." (Tito Colliander)

- There are two basic forms of prayer - liturgical ("When two or three are gathered in my Name ..."); and personal ("When you pray, enter into your room and shut the door"). These are complementary. We will concentrate on personal/inner prayer.

- Balancing the two avoids two temptations: 1)individual pietism; and 2) being submerged in an impersonal multitude.

- Inner prayer is taught in The Philokalia, which means the "Love of the Good/Beautiful." An excellent book for serious beginners is The Art of Prayer - An Orthodox Anthology.

- The Scriptures teach us:
"Be constant in prayer." (ROM. 12:12)
"Pray without ceasing." (I THESS. 5:17)

- St. Theophan the Recluse and then Archbishop Kallistos Ware summarize the meaning and purpose of personal/inner prayer:
"The principle thing is to stand with the mind in the heart before God, and to go on standing before Him unceasingly day and night until the end of life."

"To pray is to stand before God, to enter into an immediate and personal relationship with Him; it is to know at every level of our being, from the instinctive to the intellectual, from the sub- to the supra-conscious, that we are in God and He in us."

- There are three stages of prayer according to St. Theophan the Recluse:
1) The habit of ordinary oral prayer in church and at home.
2) The union of prayerful thoughts and feelings with the mind and heart.
3) Unceasing prayer - or prayer of the mind in the heart.

"The more the mind is purified, the more oral prayer will become prayer of the mind in the heart, and when the heart becomes quite pure, then unceasing prayer will be established."

- We do not pray over a chasm: God is in us, and we are in God. He is "'Our Father."

- Our goal is to pray regularly, consistently, and faithfully.

- Practically, this is best done with a Rule of Prayer.
What is a Rule of Prayer? A period of time - be it short - set aside exclusively for the conscious activity of prayer. A time in which nothing else is done. Usually morning and evening. A daily discipline is established.

"Rising in the morning, stand as firmly as possible before God in your heart, as you offer your morning prayers; and then go to the work apportioned to you by God, without withdrawing from Him in your feelings and consciousness. In this way you will do your work with the powers of your soul and body, but in your mind and heart you will remain with God." (St. Theophan the Recluse)

- A Rule of Prayer is built and structured upon the established prayers of the Church found in any good Orthodox Prayer Book. Every praying Orthodox Christian must own such a book.

- These prayers allow for a spirit of unity with all other Orthodox Christians.

- These traditional prayers teach us how to pray and what to pray for.

- They deepen our prayer so that we pray with the "mind of the Church," which is the "mind of Christ."
There is a doctrinal basis: Trinitarian, as we pray to the Father, in the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Real content - no vagueness.

- Perseverance is essential:
"I advise you to convince yourself and force yourself to prayer and every good action, even if you do not feel the wish for it. God, seeing such labor and application, will give good will and zeal." (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk)

- We seek spiritual sobriety - not rapture and emotion: "Be still and know that I am God."

- A brief and modest Rule of Prayer can be effective, crafted to the circumstances of our lives:
"You should not make a long prayer, for it is better to pray little, but often. Superfluous words are idle talk." (Theophylact of Bulgaria)

- Suggestions for an over-all structure to our Rule of Prayer:
• Trisagion Prayers: O Heavenly King through the Lord's Prayer
• Psalm 50(51)
• The Creed
• Hymn to the Theotokos - "It is Truly Meet ..."
• Closing Prayers

- Other prayers may be selectively chosen.

- Our own "personal prayers" are essential: for forgiveness, intercession, thanksgiving, praise, lament.

- In our personal prayer we are essentially following the Lord who ultimately prayed to His heavenly Father: "Not what I will, but what You will." Thus we are praying in order:
• To discern God's will for our lives (wisdom)
• To actualize His will for our lives (strength)
• To accept His will for us even in times of adversity (perseverance)
• To offer praise to God and our burdens before God (thanksgiving and trust)

- These spontaneous prayers will grow out of our Rule of Prayer.

- Both are guided by the Holy Spirit.

- Need to study the text of the prayers that we use, so that we grasp their meaning.
"Ponder carefully on the prayers which you have read in your prayer book; feel them deeply, even learn them by heart. And so when you pray you will express that which is already deeply felt in your heart." (St. Theophan the Recluse)
"You must make a great effort to confine your mind within the words of prayer." (St. John Klimakos)

- In time, oral prayer becomes prayer of the mind.

- The well-known "Jesus Prayer" allows us to pray throughout the day. This is monologic prayer that calls upon the Name of God incarnate and helps us to focus our dispersed thoughts, probably the greatest obstacle to genuine prayer.
"Ultimately, the praying heart is to be enlarged in order to embrace all needs and sorrows of the whole suffering humanity." (Fr. Georges Florovsky)

Next Week: Session III On Fasting

Fr. Steven

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