Orthodox Christian
comment

ON PRAYER

By Protopresbyter Kyrillos Leret-Aldir

 

Πιστέυω εις ένα Θεόν. Πατέρα, ... Καί εις ‘ενα Κυριον Ιησούν Χριστόν...Θεόν..., εκ Θεού..., Καί εις τό Πνεύμα τό άγιον...

 

I believe in one God, the Father. …

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, … true God from true God…

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified…

 

 

These holy words remind us of The Symbol of our Faith. We all should know this by heart, since, together with the ‘Our Father’-‘Πάτερ ημώνare essential for achieving the eternal Salvation granted to us by God through Jesus Christ. The Symbol is knowledge about the Salvation and the ‘Our Father’ is the means of pleading and requesting for it, even when we fail in our faith. We lift our mind and heart to God inspired or guided by the knowledge we have of God. And we know God through the life and words of Jesus.

 

Sometimes we are moved emotionally by the sufferings of the Lord Jesus as man and we think that with this appreciation we correspond graciously to Him. However we forget, or we do not realize, that the most important mission of the Lord to the world was his teaching. That is the knowledge or news that He gave us about our Creator: Who is, What is and How is. Not an easy matter for His creatures.

 

Therefore, with the knowledge that our Creator is also our Father, that the Son of God is also man and that the Holy Spirit of God is our Helper and Comforter, it should make us humbly confident to lift up our minds and hearts to plead for our salvation and for that of the created world. We do this through words, thoughts and, more secretly still, through desires.

 

However, each one of us knows, also, how limited we are in encompassing our prayer. Sometimes, because the vision of our heart holds every thing and event, and the past, present and the future too in front of us, and we, full of love for it all, present it before our God, asking that all be different. Other times our vision is reduced to our earthly and temporal needs, like our shortage of money, our difficulties with our husband, wife, children, our health, our success or failure in prosperity, etc., etc. Is that how we shall lift our mind and heart to God? So, we have a problem, we do not know how to pray.

 

Mind you, this is not new, it is a very old problem: how to pray was also a problem for the disciples of the Lord Jesus. Thus put the Lord the art of prayer:

 

“…when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret (place-τώ κρυπτώ) and your Father who sees in secret (τώ κρυπτώ) will reward you openly.

 

And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions… your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

 

 

In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father which art in the Heavens, hallowed be Thy Name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one, 

For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory for ever.” (Mt. 6:6-13.)

 

You and I, finding ourselves two thousands years away from the moment that that teaching was taught, have it transmitted to us by the Holy Mother the Church. Jesus Christ founded the Church to this aim to teach to all that taught by Him to his disciples:

 

"...go ye therefore, and teach all nations, ...

Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever 

I have commanded you" (Mt. 28:19-20).

 

This teaching duty is exercized by the Church in many ways,  but, in my opinion, the most important is teaching how to pray. More over, not only teaching but also guiding and leading us in prayer. Reading the Gospels we see our Lord Jesus some times retiring himself to solitude to pray; other times would do so in group with his disciples; or, with them, joining the crowd in the Temple of Jerusalem or in the local synagogues, thus fulfilling what was prescribed in the Law. Therefore, the Holy Church, through the centuries, has maintained certain routine which is called liturgical life-or public prayer-at the same time that advices to each of its children to have a private and secret routine of prayer by them selves. Now, this private routine of prayer is inspired in the liturgical life o public one of the Christian Community.  

 

Before I continue ahead with my topic, allow me to make an elucidation, which I consider very pertinent in our current times. As Christians we are children of God, because of our brotherhood with Jesus Christ, who took our Humanity. Today in the Latin Church (that is, the Roman Catholic Church), as well as in the churches or groupings born of the Protestant Reformation of the Latin Church, there is the fashion to describe us, the Christians, as the People of God. This is a description inspired in the Old Testament more than in the New. Truly we are, as earthly and temporal whole, the People of God, the Nation of God, the New Israel. But, in singular and as individuals, we are children of God. This is the reason for our Lord Jesus Christ to teach us to pray thus: "Our Father which art in the Heavens." Our divine sonship is consummated in the Eternal Life, after our death, and it is chosen, newly born, grown and builded by us, before our death, with the fulfilling the Commandments of God and together with the nourishment received from the holy Sacraments.

 

This lifting of our mind and heart is expressed with words or thoughts. That is, it requires of us the action of speaking to or addressing God expressing our needs and desires, etc. However, this is not an egoistic action centred in us but, firstly, a glorification of God for His divine perfections; secondly, a thanksgiving to Him for His mercies, and, finally, a request to Him asking for what we need. So there are three important stages of prayer: Praise, Thanksgiving and Petition.

 

Therefore, if we think a little about what we do in church, we shall find how wonderfully this pattern is practiced there. However, it is required activity on our part -not our passive listening. When we do something important we need to put into it action with due care and attention.

 

It has to be said that in most of our offices, or church services, we do not put due care and attention. How often it happens that the priest begins with Ευλογητός-Blessed be our God- and we run with the rest of the introductory prayer in a hurry and with no attention at all…! These are very important prayers to be said not only by the psalter or singer but by every one, because they are for preparing us to enter into the presence of God.

 

The Priest who occupies the visible presence of Jesus Christ (in the name of the Bishop) confesses the existence of God, Ο ΩΝ -'The One Who Is' (Ex.3:13):

 

 

 

 

 

Blessed be our God, now and ever and to the ages of ages!

 

 

 

We all should reply Amen.  The Hebrew word that expresses our assent, “so be it.” Saint Jerome called it “the seal to prayer.” It unites us with the prayer of the Hebrew Church of the Old Testament (Deut. 27:15 and following), and with the Christians at the very beginning of the Church’s existence (1 Cor. 14:16) and so too with our Lord himself who used the word Amen when He began a solemn affirmation, as in Mark 9:1, “Amen I say to you.”

 

Then the Priest, in an act of humility brought out by the awe before the creation, proclaims:

 

“Glory to Thee our God, glory to Thee!”

 

To follow with that wonderful call to the Helper and Comforter that Jesus prayed for us and the Father granted: Βασιλεύ ουράνιε,

 

“O Heavenly King, the Comforter, Spirit of Truth, who art everywhere present, and fillest all things; treasury of good things and Giver of Life: Come and abide in us and cleanse us from every stain; and save our souls, O Good One.”

 

 

The Holy Spirit rules over the whole world, all that we see and all that we do not see, even over the Angels who do His Will in Heaven. He aids us and consoles us in sorrows and tribulations. He is our Advocate or Intercessor (Jn. 14:16 and 15:26). He reveals to us the true teaching on how to live in order to achieve eternal salvation. He is within us and thousands of miles away. The whole world is filled with His power and grace. Because He is the source of every thing of goodness, He is the treasury of good things. As God, with the Father and the Son, He gives life to everyone and everything, that is to Angels and humans, to animals and plants, and gives and sustains all the laws of nature. He specially gives us Orthodox Catholic Christians spiritual life in Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Communion as well as in the other Holy Sacraments or Mysteries of the Church. Without Him we cannot live as we should because we do not have enough strength of ourselves, but by His abiding in us we receive the power to fulfil the Commandments of God. Because we sin we become ill and impure and He can heal and cleanse every defilement of sin, restoring us to the Grace which makes our souls holy and pleasing to God, and so saving our souls for life everlasting, free from torments and unhappiness after death.

 

These and many other thoughts should fill our attentive minds when we lift our hearts in prayer to our God. They are the source of our conversation with the Holy Trinity as a Unity or with each Holy Person, the Father, the Son, that is, the Word or Logos of God who took flesh becoming man for our salvation, and the Holy Spirit.

 

Among our thoughts will also be the memory of our sins. Therefore, thoughts of guilt and regret that they have occurred should come into our hearts. And so we shall claim deeply in us:

 

O God, be merciful to me, a sinner !

 

O God, cleanse my sins, and have mercy on me!

 

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

 

Then we enter into the contemplative repetition of the grandeur of God:

"Holy God, Holy Strong, Holy Immortal"

 

But now mixed with our nathingness and with our sins:

 

"have mercy on us" - "Kyrie eleison"

 

Saint John of Damascus say that this prayer was composed from two quotations from the Old Testament. It reminds us of the seraphic doxology in Isaiah (6:3-7) and the Psalm 41:2, "Εδίψησεν η ψυχή μου πρός σέ τόν Θεόν, τόν ισχυρόν, τόν ζώντα - My soul thirsted for God, the strong and living," reminding us the great Mystery of the Divine Liturgy. The first letter of Clement (from the end of I c. A.D., or very early II c.) says that we should assemble together with this prayer “in concord, with full consciousness of our duty” (paragraph 34). That is with all due care and attention of our mind in our heart.

 

Thrice we repeat the confession and petition. Each time we bow our heads and shoulders raising up making the sign of the cross. We call it the Trisaguion. And as consequence of the vision of the trisaguion we burst in the glorification of the Trinity:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

It brings us to memory Rom. 11:36, Exod. 15:18 and Psalm 92:2. It appears that this glorification was composed by the holy Patriarchs Meletios and Flavian of Antiochia to compensate the heretical teaching of Arius. Thus the word "Gloria" expresses that it is one as the Trinity is one in essence. And the words "Father", "Son" and "Holy Spirit," were stated in opposition to Sabelius, who acknowledged one only Person in the Trinity. The Holy Mother Church makes a profuse used of this prayer of glorification of the Holy Trinity, on the one hand to remind us of the heart-rending and destructiveness that are the heretical view points and, on the other, for teaching us the steadfastness of her eternal and immutable doctrines.. Then we continuo

All-holy Trinity, have mercy on us,

Lord, cleanse us from our sins.

Master, pardon our iniquities.

      Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy name’s sake… 

Slowly and surely we enter into the presence of our God, our Creator and Father, our Redeemer, our Judge, our Brother and Saviour, our Helper, Counsellor, Comforter and King. Now we are just one step to call with boldness and without condemnation upon the heavenly God as Father and say the prayer our Lord taught us.

In our RECEPTION page, friendly Reader, you have these prayers. We begin always  our prayer with them, being done liturgically or privately. In the liturgical one, at particular points, we interrupt the singing to repeat them. They form an inseparable whole, and towards the end of any Office we return to them. They have the methodical effect to make our attention to return to the presence of God, the Holy Trinity of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 

The due care and attention of our mind in our heart receives and admits the presence of the Holy trinity in our hearts. And thus we are empowered for entering in the magnificence and, at the same time, intimate celebration of the Offices in our Church.

Allow me to finish with this note, which may appear as an indictment of my hierarchical superiors. The Bishops, Priests and Teachers of our Christian Faith have not only the duty to teach these prayers but, also, the duty to guide our people in how to pray them with due care and attention. I have to confess that it is a very sad fact that our Psalters-and our selves, the priests and deacons, also-run over them with such emptiness of heart and attention that it would be better if they omitted them all together. At least, then, we would not give to our Holy God that offence. I have no doubt that our Judge, Jesus Christ, in the Day of Judgement, shall demand of the Bishops and us, the Priests, not only how we have prayed them but also how we have allowed our Christians to mispray them, through rushing them and having given them little attentive devotion. They should be said by all the people together with one voice and not by a lone voice.

© Protopresbyter Kyrillos Leret-Aldir.

February 2003.

The Holy Trinity, also known as the Hospitality of Abraham, late XIX c. Painted probaby in Mstjora village near Vladimir, now in Valamo Monastery, Finland. © Conciliar Press, 2003 (with permission).

Contents & Index

 

Hit Counter