Prayers You Can Say Every Day
April 19, 2010 Length: 10:41
In this episode, Jason talks about using a prayer book, saying extemporaneous prayers, and praying without ceasing.
You’ve prepared yourself to pray: you’ve focused your attention, you’re standing in front of your icon corner, but now there’s a problem: what do you say? How do you speak to the Lord of the Universe? Fortunately, the Church gives us a great deal of guidance on how to pray to God.
Perhaps the most useful spiritual tool in developing a transforming prayer life is a prayer book; in fact, almost all Orthodox teachers agree that every Christian should use a prayer book in his or her prayer rule. Lorenzo Scupoli says the prayers in a prayer book are “poured out of the hearts of saintly men and women when, moved by the Holy Spirit, they expressed before God the desires of their heart. The spirit of prayer is contained in them; so, if you read them as you should, you too will be filled with this spirit.” Another Orthodox writer concurs, saying, “The words of these prayers give direction and expression to our desire and need to pray. They teach us what kind of things we should pray for and how to express ourselves reverently and humbly before God and His saints.” This is why St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain advises, “Read the prayers set out there, paying attention to every word, thinking the thoughts expressed there and trying to reproduce in your heart the same feelings as stir in the prayer you read.”
Many people particularly benefit from praying morning and evening prayers, which you can find in most prayer books (as well as in The Orthodox Study Bible). St. Theophan the Recluse even says, “I would consider the morning and evening prayers as set out in the prayer books to be entirely sufficient for you. Just try each time to carry them out with full attention and corresponding feelings. To be more successful at this, spend a little of your free time at reading over all the prayers separately. Think them over and feel them, so that when you recite them at your prayer rule, you will know the holy thoughts and feelings that are contained in them.”
St. Theophan gives an additional piece of advice for saying morning and evening prayers—as we saw Unit 11, we need to prepare ourselves:
So, morning or evening, immediately before you begin to repeat your prayers, stand awhile, sit for awhile, or walk a little and try to steady your mind and turn it away from all worldly activities and objects. After this, think who He is to whom you turn in prayer, then recollect who you are; who it is who is about to start this invocation to Him in prayer. Do this in such a way as to awake in your heart a feeling of humility and reverent awe that your are standing in the presence of God. It is the beginning of prayer, and a good beginning is half the complete task.
While using a prayer book is especially helpful for a full spiritual life, we must also pray to God in our own words. St. Nicodemus teaches that “one’s own prayer has its recognized place and part in the work of prayer.” In fact, he declares that impulses to pray on one’s own are “a proof of progress in the work of prayer; and the more frequent (the impulses) are, the more the spirit of prayer fills the heart in which they are born. It should all end in praying always in one’s own words alone. Though in actual fact it does not happen so, but one’s own prayer always enters into the set prayers.”
For what should we pray on our own? St. Basil the Great lists four steps in effective personal prayer:
- Glorify God.
- Give thanks to Him for the mercies He has shown you.
- Confess your sins and trespasses.
- Ask Him to grant what you need, particularly in relation to your salvation (we should also add here intercession for others).
Evangelical Protestant churches use the acronym ACTS for this process—they obviously use a different order to fit their mnemonic device, but the elements are the same: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
These elements are evident in a prayer composed by Lorenzo Scupoli to illustrate the process:
O Lord my God! I sing and praise Thy ineffable glory and Thy infinite greatness. I thank Thee that, by Thy goodness alone, Thou hast given me to exist and to share in the life-saving blessings of Thy dispensation by incarnation, that Thou hast often saved me, even without my knowledge, from calamities which threatened me, and delivered me from the hands of my unseen foes. I confess to Thee that countless times have I stifled my conscience and fearlessly transgressed Thy holy commandments, and so shown myself ungrateful for Thy many and varied bounties. O my most merciful Lord, let not my ingratitude be too great for Thy mercy, but overlook my sins and trespasses, look with kindness on the tears of my contrition, and, according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies, help me even now, grant me what is needful for my salvation, and guide my life towards pleasing Thee, so that, unworthy as I am, I too may glorify Thy holy name.
St. John of Kronstadt wonderfully expresses the way in which we should pray: “God is truth, and my prayer should be truth as well as life; God is light, and my prayer should be offered in the light of the mind and the heart; God is fire, and my prayer should be ardent; God is perfectly free, and my prayer should be the free outpouring of my heart.”
PRAY WITHOUT CEASING
As we’ve noted in earlier units, the Holy Apostle Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). How is this possible? One method used by Orthodox Christians for centuries is the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Many monks and nuns work to mentally say this Prayer in tempo with their breathing, until they are continually saying the Prayer (to the point that, if they stop, they immediately notice its absence). St. Gregory Palamas points out that the Jesus Prayer is nonetheless not restricted to monastics: “Let no one think, my brother-Christians, that it is the duty only of priests and monks to pray without ceasing, and not of laymen. No, no; it is the duty of all of us Christians to remain always in prayer.” Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi adds, “The prayer is a duty for each one of the faithful, of every age, nationality, and status; without regard to place, time or manner. With the prayer divine Grace becomes active and provides solutions to problems and trials which trouble the faithful, so that, according to the Scriptures, ‘Everyone that calls on the Lord shall be saved’ (Acts 2:21).”
Albert Rossi recommends that the average layperson should say the Jesus Prayer for 10–15 minutes in the morning (or, if this is impossible, in the evening). St. Nicodemus concurs: “As soon as you wake up in the morning, pray for a while, saying: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me.’
Many Orthodox Christians derive value from saying the Prayer during other times of the day, particularly when engaging in such semi-automatic tasks as driving, doing dishes, walking, being unable to sleep, etc. St. Gregory Palamas teaches, “For when we sit down to work with our hands, when we walk, when we eat, when we drink we can always pray mentally and practice this mental prayer.” Many saints also point out that the Prayer is particularly effective when we are troubled by improper thoughts and desires; as St. Hesychios the Priest says, “Whenever we are filled with evil thoughts, we should throw the invocation of our Lord Jesus Christ into their midst. Then, as experience has taught us, we shall see them instantly dispersed like smoke in the air. Once the intellect is left to itself again, we can renew our constant attentiveness and our invocation. Whenever we are distracted, we should act in this way.”
St. Gregory Palamas concludes, “At first it may appear very difficult to you, but be assured, as it were from Almighty God, that this very name of our Lord Jesus Christ, constantly invoked by you, will help you to overcome all difficulties, and in the course of time you will become used to this practice and will taste how sweet is the name of the Lord. Then you will learn by experience that this practice is not impossible and not difficult, but both possible and easy.”
CARRY IT INTO DAILY LIFE
Remember that it is always a good time to pray to God. Use the activities of your daily life as an inspiration to pray to your Lord. As St. Ephrem the Syrian says,
Whether you are in church, or in your house, or in the country; whether you are guarding sheep, or constructing buildings, or present at drinking parties, do not stop praying. When you are able, bend your knees, when you cannot, make intercession in your mind, ‘at evening and at morning and at midday’. If prayer precedes your work and if, when you rise from your bed, your first movements are accompanied by prayer, sin can find no entrance to attack your soul.
For additional resources for this unit visit http://www.worshipandyou.com.
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