A Prayer Rule

You ask about a prayer rule. Yes, it is good to have a prayer rule on account of our weakness so that on the one hand we do not give in to laziness, and on the other hand we restrain our enthusiasm to its proper measure. The greatest practitioners of prayer kept a prayer rule. They would always begin with established prayers, and if during the course of these a prayer started on its own, they would put aside the others and pray that prayer. If this is what the great practitioners of prayer did, all the more reason for us to do so. Without established prayers, we would not know how to pray at all. Without them, we would be left entirely without prayer.

However, one does not have to do many prayers. It is better to perform a small number of prayers properly than to hurry through a large number of prayers, because it is difficult to maintain the heat of prayerful zeal when they are performed to excess. 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. Prayer does not mean that we just recite prayers, but that we assimilate their content within ourselves, and pronounce them as if they came from our minds and hearts.

After you have considered and felt the prayers, work at memorizing them. Then you will not have to fumble about for your prayer book and light when it is time to pray; neither will you be distracted by anything you see while you are performing your prayers, but can more easily maintain thoughtful petition toward God. You will see for yourself what a great help this is. The fact that you will have your prayer book with you at all times and in all places is of great significance.

Being thus prepared, when you stand at prayer be careful to keep your mind form drifting and your feeling from coldness and indifference, exerting yourself in every way to keep your attention and to spark warmth of feeling. After you have recited each prayer, make prostration (metanoia), as many as you like, accompanied by a prayer for any necessity that you feel, or by the usual short prayer. This will lengthen your prayer time a little, but is power will be increased. You should pray a little longer on your own especially at the end of your prayers, asking forgiveness for unintentional straying of the mind and placing yourself in God‘s hands for the entire day.

You must also maintain prayerful attention toward God throughout the day. For this, as we have already mentioned more than once, there is remembrance of God; and for remembrance of God, there are short prayers. It is good, very good, to memorize several psalms and recite them while you are working or between tasks, doing this instead of short prayers sometimes, with concentration. This is one of the most ancient Christian customs, mentioned by and included in the rules of Saint Pachomius and Saint Anthony.

After spending the day in this manner, you must pray more diligently and with more concentration in the evening. Increase your prostrations and petitions to God, and after you have placed yourself in Divine hands once again, go to bed with a short prayer on your lips and fall asleep with it or recite some psalm.

Which psalms should you memorize? Memorize the ones that strike your heart as you are reading them. Each person will find different psalms to be more effective for himself. Begin with “Have mercy on me, O God…” (Psalm 50); then “Bless the Lord, O my soul…” (Psalm 102); and “Praise the Lord, O my soul…” (Psalm 145). These latter two are the antiphon hymns of the Liturgy. There are also the psalms in the Canon for Divine Communion: “The Lord is my shepherd…” (Psalm 22); “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof…” (Psalm 23); “I believed, wherefore, I spake…” (Psalm 115); and the first psalm of the evening vigil, “O God, be attentive unto helping me…” (Psalm 69). There are the psalms of the hours, and the like. Read the Psalter and select.

After you have memorized all of these, you will always be fully armed with prayer. When some disturbing thought occurs, rush to fall down before the Lord with either a short prayer or one of the psalms, especially “O God, be attentive unto helping me…” and the disturbing cloud will immediately disperse.

There you are; everything on the subject of a prayer rule. I will, however, mention once again that you should remember that all these are aids, and the most important thing is “standing before God with the mind in the heart with devotion and heartfelt prostration to Him.”

(Source: The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to it by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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