Kindling the Spirit
Key Facts and Ideas
The essence of Orthodox liturgical prayer cannot be truly captured outside an actual service. It's a bit like colouring in a rainbow rather than seeing the real thing. The oft quoted response of the Kievan emissaries to the Great Church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople that in worship there they knew not whether they were in heaven or on earth applies to many first encountering Orthodox worship today. These are a few of my reflections why this may be so.
In Orthodox liturgical worship there is an amazing combination of reverence and informality. Isn't that how it should be in God's House? There are few chairs so people can move quite freely. There are many things that people do together but plenty of opportunity for more personal acts of piety .. lighting candles, reverencing icons, saying prayers quietly. The common worship is in forms that go back (albeit in an evolved form) 1700 years. In a strange kind of way it "fits." It's like a favourite old coat yet not worn. And then there's the glory, the unsentimental but moving sorrow at other times, the joy of the feasts. It truly is heaven ... at least for me. Go to a service soon if you can!
Every Orthodox home has an icon corner where the family pray. It may have icons of Our Lord, His Mother, the patron saints of the family and other favourite saints or events. Holy water will be kept together with a little oil for anointing, a hand censer and perhaps some prosphora bread from the Liturgy (not Holy Communion, the rest of the loaf blessed in its place) to be eaten during the week.
Prayers said at home do not follow a fixed liturgical order although well used and standard Orthodox prayers for different times of day and occasions will be used. How the family prays is very much a concern for each family. Sometimes it is not even possible if not all family are Orthodox and there is some discomfort about such prayer with other family members.
Prayer of course is not limited to the home. Every part of the day is to be hallowed in prayer and to this end many Orthodox Christians use a 'chotke' or prayer rope upon the knots of which they may say such prayers as the Jesus Prayer ... which neatly brings us to the final section of this Unit.
The Jesus Prayer
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." This is the Jesus Prayer, but if truth be known, any short prayer in summation of the gospel can serve as well. We know this from the witness of the Desert Fathers and Mothers who counselled their spiritual children to use these short saving prayers as aids to their transformation by the grace of God. Nonetheless this particular form has been hallowed by use and experience and it is the form used by most Christians today.
There is nothing vainly repetitious in the use of this prayer nor does it approximate to some sort of Christian "mantra." Each time we address the great God and Saviour. How can we not attend to what we are saying?! Any believer who prays it must do so consciously, focusing on each word and the whole meaning. It has the power to save because of what it represents in the prayer and faith of the Church ....
Jesus is our Lord ... our
King and God and he alone is the One we serve.
He is Christ ... the anointed One, the one promised to save us, the bearer of the Spirit from the Father.
He it is who has been sent from the Father, His Son, to save the world and confirm our status as children of God, newly born of the Spirit.
Christ our God is generously merciful toward all those who come to him in repentance and faith.
To receive this grace we must know inwardly with the conviction of the Spirit that we are sinners and that our salvation comes from acknowledging that in the firm hope of our final salvation as we endure to the end.
The regular use of this prayer under the direction of a wise and godly experienced spiritual father or mother can help us to grow in the knowledge and love of God. It can keep us mindful of the one thing needful for our salvation. With regular use we may find that the prayer supports us rather than simply us sustaining the prayer. In this state we may find an ineffable sweetness welling up in our soul. We should not seek this sweetness as such consolations are not always of divine origin. We should, rather, praise God that the prayer is proving to a blessing in our Christian lives.
Some Christians, (usually but not always in the monastic state), have taught that the prayer should be used with regulated breathing and physical exercises. This is by no means necessary and even positively harmful for someone who is not ready to receive it. Nor is it necessary to practice inordinately long repetitions of the prayer. The Lord looks for the quality of the prayer and its fruit in our lives; not an "athletic" spiritual contest. In the wrong hands or with a misguided or ill informed intention this can be become a deadly exercise of pride or a crippling formalism.
Putting these dangers aside with discernment granted by good counsel and humility, the Jesus Prayer can be a wonderful spiritual aid for the man or woman of faith. Its proven worth in the Orthodox Church for nearly two millennia (going back to the parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee) in forming thousands of saints and spiritual guides is witness enough. Why not start (gently) saying the Prayer today?
The End of All Prayer
The End of all prayer is God; simply that. Prayer comes from God, purifies us, deifies us with our active participation and has the power even to transform the Cosmos; but in the End, prayer simply leads us to God. Praise and Glory be to Him. Amen!
Prayer is the language of love. God is Love.
What has been my experience (if any) of prayer?
Orthodox Prayers and Articles About Prayer (Al Green's Link Index Site - works best in Internet Explorer)
Your Own Questions Answered Here