In the famous book “The Way of a Pilgrim”, the main character encounters the words from the Gospel, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17). For him – like most of us – such a demand takes a lifetime, even to begin, to fulfil. Yet we have to make an attempt, using the basic building blocks of our life, to try to build a life of prayer from the things we have.
Ironically, those of us who live in the Western world have many more resources at our disposal which we can use to perfect our prayer. We must recognize that prayer is simply communion with God – constant and intimate remembrance of God – and any authentic means shown to us by the saints is a worthwhile means of working to achieve this.
In his many audio talks, the Australian Hieromonk Kosmas outlines what we might call the “unexpected” means by which we might gain the grace of God – that is, actions which we can take to overcome our own rebellion and selfishness, in order to get ourselves out of the way to receive that which God already gives us. Of course, such prayer must begin with daily morning and evening prayers using the psalms and the words of the saints, as well as prayers before eating, traveling, and beginning any work.
Yet a full life of prayer must not end there. Our acts of mercy toward others are a primary way of humbling our own ego and drawing closer to Christ, whether through charitable acts, or simple acts of forgiveness toward those who wrong us. Calling out to God in moments of need – Lord, help me! – can and should punctuate our days and nights, wherever we are. Remembrance before God of the souls of our loved ones, departed or far away, is an ideal method of self-sacrificing prayer, however brief; giving a list of names to the priest to pray for is even better.
Such steps are simple; even children can do these things. For adults, our responsibility and spiritual opportunity is greater. We can obtain and make available icons and spiritual books for friends, strangers, and especially for our own children, helping them to learn more about the ways in which God’s holy ones have put the Bible into practice. We should give away possessions we no longer use, and which would be of help to others: not just old junk, but new and useful items, in particular. We can and should fast, normally and with moderation, according to the timeless practice of Christ’s Church.
Most challenging of all – and in many ways, most effective – is to tithe from our income. We readily give up our money for entertainment and food and luxury living, yet the ancient practice of sacrificing ten percent of our income still often seems a stretch, even for those who otherwise consider themselves faithful people. Recently, I challenged our faithful to extend their tithing one step further toward a complete tithe: to raise it one percent more than last year, in order to help meet some acute mission needs. Some faithful took up this challenge, while others have yet to do so. The question must put us in mind of the Lord’s own words, “Make friends with unrighteous mammon” (Luke 16:9), where Christ reminds us that our money only has spiritual value to us if we use it for righteousness during our life, to help us crack the habit of materialism, the idolatry that keeps us from receiving God’s grace. We cannot do so only in theory; God allows us the material tools of this life.
To pray and keep remembrance of God without ceasing is a gift God gives to only a few. For the rest of us, we can and should use that which is at hand to acquire God’s grace – an extremely low cost for such a powerful, eternal help.