The Prayer Rule
One medicine for the heart is to use the prayer rule. This “rule” is of the utmost importance, for the prayer rule helps develop the discipline we all need to progress spiritually. It is one of the great tools of the Orthodox way and has been handed down from the earliest of times through the Fathers of the Church. The art of prayer comes from the experience of the Early Church.
Along with keeping the fasting rules of the Church, including the Wednesday and Friday fasts, the prayer rule, given to you by your spiritual father, your spiritual mother, or, your confessor, is the medicine that will help you progress, spiritually, on your journey to God.
If you do not already own a Jordanville Prayer Book—they can be purchased directly from Holy Trinity Monastery, in Jordanville, New York, or on Amazon—I would strongly suggest you purchase one. The language used is the best of English liturgical language available, in my opinion, and better serves the needs of the inner life. The common pedestrian language is fine for everyday communication, but formal English liturgical language, when spoken to God, creates the sacred space one reserves for the Lord.
The Morning and Evening Prayers should be said as though one’s life depended on it, for, in a profound way, our spiritual life does depend on it. The Pre-Communion Prayers, as well as the Post-Communion Prayers, together with the abstinence from all food and drink from midnight on, prior to receiving the Holy Mysteries, is also a discipline that not only is commanded by the Church, but properly prepares us for the reception of Our Lord’s Body and Blood. It is in the reception of this very Body and Blood where we receive healing of both body and soul.
The use of the Jesus Prayer—“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”—throughout the day aids us in a most powerful way to live out our life, focused on Christ. There is power in the Holy Name of Jesus, and this prayer fulfills St. Paul’s injunction that we should “pray always.” The Jesus Prayer, also known as the Prayer of the Heart, gives us the strength to walk with Jesus throughout the day, even when driving through heavy traffic, weeding in the garden, waiting for the bus, or sitting in a long, boring board meeting.
Finally, it is important to remember that the Church, as defined by the early Church Fathers, is not a religious institution, but, rather, a living organism, and that is hospital for the soul will bring healing to our hearts. Our priests, who first sought therapy, became the therapists. Therefore, the frequent use of the “tools” given to us by Christ, through his Church, are of the utmost importance to our spiritual progress. Weekly confession and weekly reception of the Holy Mysteries give us spiritual strength and enable us to live in the world, without being of the world.
Lastly, whenever you meet a priest, you should ask for a blessing, remembering that it is not his blessing we are seeking, but the blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose priesthood the clergyman participates in. When addressing a priest or bishop in a written form, whether by letter or email, it is good and pious to ask them for a blessing. This can be done, if it be a bishop, by writing, “Master, bless”; if a priest, “Father, bless.” Just before signing your name: “Kissing your right hand, and asking your prayers.” Again, this is not about the bishop or the priest, but all about Christ, whose blessing we seek. It is much the same with the veneration of icons, for when we kiss the icon of a saint, we are not only showing our love and respect to the saint, and seeking their prayers, but we are actually kissing Jesus Christ, who dwells in his saints.
Because Orthodoxy is wholistic in nature, our living out this Faith should not be confined to Sunday morning. If we were a pianist and made our living playing with an orchestra, we wouldn’t think of going through the week without daily practice, for we’d not be in the orchestra for long. As well, a marriage that is not worked at on a daily basis, is doomed to ultimate failure, for a relationship between two people requires work. If we expect to have a relationship with God and have him dwell in our hearts, and commune with him, we have to treat our spiritual life as something important and something that we are committed to. An occasional Liturgy does not suffice, if we expect to grow in faith and wisdom.