On Prayer I: Prayer as Encounter

It is often asked: why do we need to pray, to ask God for something, if God already knows what we need? This is how I would reply. We do not pray in order to beg for something from God. Yes, in some cases we do ask Him for specific help in various everyday circumstances. But this should not be the main content of prayer.
We are pleased to announce the beginning of a new series on prayer, transcribed from television episodes presented on Russian television in the spring of 1999 by Fr. (now Metropolitan) Hilarion (Alfeyev) with the blessing of His Holiness, the late Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia. We hope to present three sections a week, each of which is relatively brief but substantial, for a total of thirty-two episodes.

Prayer is an encounter with the Living God. Christianity gives man direct access to God, Who listens to man, helps him, and loves him. This is the fundamental difference between Christianity and, for example, Buddhism, in which during meditation the one praying deals with a certain impersonal super-being, in which he is immersed and in which he is dissolved, but he does not feel God as a living Person. In Christian prayer, man feels the presence of the Living God.

God become Man is revealed to us in Christianity. When we stand before an icon of Jesus Christ, we contemplate the Incarnate God. We know that it is impossible to represent, depict, or portray God on an icon or picture. But it is possible to depict God become Man, such as He revealed Himself to people. Through Jesus Christ as Man we uncover God for ourselves. This uncovering takes place in prayer, in conversion to Christ.

Through prayer we know that God participates in everything that takes place in our lives. Therefore, conversation with God should not take place in the background of our lives, but should be its main content. There are many barriers between man and God that can be overcome only with the help of prayer.

It is often asked: why do we need to pray, to ask God for something, if God already knows what we need? This is how I would reply. We do not pray in order to beg for something from God. Yes, in some cases we do ask Him for specific help in various everyday circumstances. But this should not be the main content of prayer.

God cannot only be an “intermediate agent” in our earthly affairs. The main content of prayer should always be standing before God, encounter with Him. We need to pray in order to be with God, to come into contact with God, to feel God’s presence.

However, an encounter with God does not always take place in prayer. After all, even when meeting with a person we are not always able to overcome the barriers that divide us and to descend into the depths; often our communication with people is confined to the surface level. Such it is in prayer, too. Sometimes we feel that between God and us is a kind of blank wall, that God does not hear us. But we should understand that God did not place this barrier there: we ourselves have erected it through our sins. In the words of one Western medieval theologian, God is always next to us, but we are often far from Him; God always hears us, but we do not hear Him; God is always within us, but we are on the outside; God is at home in us, but we are strangers to Him.

Let us remember this when we are preparing for prayer. Let us remember that every time we stand in prayer we are coming into contact with the Living God.

To be continued.  

 

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