Prayer. Private and in Church.

Today one can hear opinions such as it is better to pray by the prayer book and in the Church (because it is better to go by the way the Church shows us, rather than by the way that is invented by ourselves and that our personal prayer is not perfect because our heart is not clean, yet); or vice versa, that it is better to pray with our own words (because where is the sense in reading these repetitive prayers that are difficult to understand). In order to answer these questions, we have to analyze the experience of Church Prayer in Tradition, and to see what the Ecclesiastical, Liturgical Prayer is like.
| 07 July 2009

In order to answer to frequently asked questions about Prayer, it is necessary to clarify the meaning of Prayer and its place in our life. Prayer is communication with God. As an example, we could use “Our Father”, the Prayer given to us by the Lord, where we can see clearly that we address the Lord. Also, for our topic we have to define the place of Man in the universe. The entire Creation, Universe and Man are related to the created reality in comparison with the uncreated God. Creation, participating in divine energies becomes existence out of non-existence [1]. 

As we see, the dependence of Creation from God, through divine energies is not becoming a burden, but progress and life. To put it simply, when Man communicates with God, he participates in life. Prayer is our free participation in life.  

Following this energetical relationship between Man and God, through history and tradition, we can bring forward the following examples of Private Prayer: Thus, Moses, being in the desert and not speaking at all, heard God saying: “Wherefore criest though unto me?”[2] He was praying although he was silent. St. Apostle Paul says: “Pray without ceasing.”[3] St. Gregory Palamas  along with the Hesychast Monks followed this advice of the Apostle. Until now, the Noetic Prayer is practiced in many Monasteries in Mt. Athos. As an example of Prayer with our own words, we would bring forward the Prayer of the thief, crucified with Christ. He did not pray before, but in the right moment he said: “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.”[4]  

Hence, the Old and the New Testament experience, the experience of the Church Tradition show us that there is nothing wrong in praying privately, with our words in silence or noetically. But, today one can hear opinions such as it is better to pray by the prayer book and in the Church (because it is better to go by the way the Church shows us, rather than by the way that is invented by ourselves and that our personal prayer is not perfect because our heart is not clean, yet); or vice versa, that it is better to pray with our own words (because where is the sense in reading these repetitive prayers that are difficult to understand).   

In order to answer these questions, we have to analyze the experience of Church Prayer in Tradition, and to see what the Ecclesiastical, Liturgical Prayer is like. Christ says that if two or three will agree to ask, it shall be done for them, for where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, there is He in the midst of them[5]. It is obvious that these two could not ask separately, they have to agree, they need a joint Prayer. But Prayer in church is not limited to a pleading nature, it also glorifies the Lord, the Mother of God and the Saints. In addition, Church Prayer is participation in the tradition of the Church. Here, we have to clarify something. What is Tradition? Tradition is a life of the Church community itself, in the incessant historical movement, because first, the divine facts happen, then, the sacred writers write down history. St. John of Damascus, speaking about Faith says that it is participation in the Tradition of the Church, and disbelief (lack of faith) is participation in the deeds of the devil[6]. Simply speaking, the believer goes to church and the nonbeliever does not. Thereby, participation in Church Prayer is participation in life, again.  

Private and joint Prayer have one thing in common – both are Communication with God, both happen to be conductors of life. If Prayer is not connected to life it is Prayer in vain and sounding like brass[7]. We can distinguish Church Prayer from Private Prayer, but the two may not be divided. So, it becomes clear that there is no reason to consider Private Prayer as imperfect and invented by ourselves, or be tired of reading Prayers that are repetitive and difficult to understand. In my experience, I often came across people visiting the Orthodox Church where the Service was conducted using language they did not understand. Albeit, they followed the Service and felt the grace. They felt it because they participated in the Tradition of the Church. I myself, living in Greece, simply improved my knowledge of Ancient Greek in order to understand the Services. Therewith, reading prayers “not by our own words” we should not forget that these prayers were “own words” of the charismatic persons, entering the Tradition of the Church.  

Concluding concisely, we could say that Prayer is Communication with God. This communication gives us life, participation in divine energy for the final theosis (divinization). Prayer in church, Church attendance and participation in the Sacraments, is what makes believers faithful.  

End and glory to God

 


[1] Antiphone 4 tone, Matins. Through the Holy Spirit every soul is quickened.

Prayer of the Trisagion Hymn, Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. You have brought all things out of nothing into being.

[2] Exo. 14:15

[3] 1Thes. 5:17

[4] Luke. 23:42

[5] Mat. 18:19-20  19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.  20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

[6] St. John of Damascus. Exact exposition of the Orthodox Faith. Book 4, Chapter X, Concerning faith. The one who doesn’t believe according to the tradition of the catholic church or through bad deeds communicates with devil, he is – unfaithful.

[7] Mat. 15:8-9   This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.  9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

1Cor. 13:1

 

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