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Prayer I

Title: Prayer

Subject: Prayer

Age: 8+ years

Liturgical Time: Any, yet is appropriate at the beginning of Lent

Direct Aim: The following packet is designed as a simple introduction to prayer. Prayer should be the chief activity of a Christian's life. Prayer itself is an activity primarily of the soul and a condition of the heart that is acquired or developed through constant and regular practice. Prayer also involves our minds, our emotions, and even our bodies.

Yet, prayer in its truest form is not a time for us to simply list our requests to God. Prayer is not chiefly a time to ask for specific things or even a time to express to God our deepest hopes. Of course, we do pray for good things, for our loved ones, and for those matters that are most important to us and close to our hearts. However, prayer is a time to commune with God to enter into communion with Him and to establish and build an intimate relationship with Him. Prayer is more like the love that is shared between two close friends, a mother and a child, or a husband and a wife, than the making of a grocery list.

Prayer is an activity that can be highly structured and organized. However, prayer can also be a spontaneous cry or feeling of gratitude that literally springs from the depths of our souls. Our Church has many resources that can help us to build a strong and vibrant prayer life. We know that prayer is one of the chief activities of the Church's life and in fact prayer is what activates the Spirit of the Church. It is through prayer that the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the presence of God are made possible.

There are many examples and stories about prayer in the Holy Bible. If we familiarize ourselves with the Holy Scripture we will learn much about prayer. In fact taking the time to carefully read Holy Scripture itself is also a form of prayer.

Prayers of the Church:
The Jesus Prayer – "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian – "Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of laziness, despondency, desire for power over others or idle talk. Give me your servant, the spirit of purity, humility, patience, and love. Lord and King, grant that I may see my sins and faults and not judge my brother of sister, for you are blessed forever and ever. Amen."

Make a personal commitment to begin and end each day with prayer.
Say the Jesus Prayer daily and the prayer of St. Ephraim daily during Lent.
Pray personally and with family (if applicable) at all meals.
Make a family commitment (if applicable), or a commitment with a friend to pray together once per week this Lent. Include the Prayer of St. Ephraim.
Attend and participate personally or as a family in at least three of the special services of the Lenten Period. (Mondays: Great Compline, Wednesdays: Pre-Sanctified Liturgy and Fridays: Salutation Service to the Theotokos)
Make a list of loved ones and/or enemies to pray for.
Make a prayer corner in your room or home.

Lesson I: Private Prayer

"Rejoice always, pray unceasingly." I Thessalonians 5:17

"The ladder that leads to the Kingdom is hidden within your soul. Flee from sin, dive into yourself, and in your soul you will discover the stairs by which to ascend." St. Isaac the Syrian

Degrees or stages of prayer:
Spoken or read prayer is performed by the body, consists of reading, standing, or making prostrations.
Prayer of the thoughts is mental prayer, when the mind has learned to focus completely on the words being prayed or read.
Prayer of the heart occurs when the mind and the heart become one, the heart is being warmed by the thoughts that existed formerly in the mind.

Purpose of prayer:
"God became man so man can become god." St. Athanasios
Inner purification
Spiritual ascension
Deification or Theosis

Unceasing prayer; is it possible? What the Fathers tell us:
"This is how you pray continually – not by offering prayer in words, but by joining yourself to God through your whole way of life so that your life becomes one continuous and uninterrupted prayer." St. Basil the Great

How to pray? The Fathers of the Church recommend "short arrow prayers"
"There is no need to use a lot of words. Just stretch out your hands and say – Lord, as you will and as you know best, have mercy on me. And if the conflict grows fierce, say – Lord help me. And He knows what we need and will show mercy on us. St. Macarius of Egypt

Example of short arrow prayers:
The Jesus Prayer or Prayer of the Heart: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me! You can use a prayer rope to say the Jesus Prayer at home, in Church, walking, shopping, etc.
Glory to you O Lord, glory to you!
Most Holy Mother of God intercede for us!
My hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, my protection is the Holy Spirit, O blessed Trinity, Glory to you!

Lesson 2: Communal Prayer

"Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4.6-7)."
This week's study focuses on communal or corporate prayer. Communal prayer is prayer that involves the community. The most commonly known corporate prayer service is our Divine Liturgy. Of course our Church has many other services that are designed for the people of God (see below).

We know that Jesus taught his followers that they were to pray by themselves and in secret (Matthew 6.6). We also know that Jesus spent a lot of time praying by himself (Mark 1.35) but also praying in the Temple with other Jews (Luke 2.46). Jesus spent a part of almost everyday of his life in or around the house of God (John 18.20).

The Apostles did the same; they gathered to pray everyday (Acts 2.46), and specifically on the first day of each week, Sunday, the Lord's Day (Acts 20.7) to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Praying as a community was very important to the Church, and Christians were warned against drifting away from God's message through neglect and indifference (Hebrews 3.2).

Today we must work very hard to keep an active prayer life. An active prayer life involves not only times dedicated to personal and private prayer but times set aside to pray with the community or friends and family. We truly cannot say we are Christians if we do not pray together in the house of God or together as Christians.

Praying as a community puts us in touch with the most basic and profound elements of our faith. In corporate prayer the real presence of Christ is possible, "For when two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matt 18.20)." Communal prayer also gives us an opportunity to learn and grow in our faith. Through corporate prayer we learn the prayers of the Church, which are ultimately the prayers of Christ Himself, since the Church is Christ's Body (Ephesians 1.23). Corporate prayer helps us to distinguish what is true from what is false, we learn true doctrine from the Church for She is, "the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Timothy 3.15)."

What prayer is:
Prayer is heaven in the heart, the Kingdom of God within you.
Prayer is listening to God.
Prayer is a heart-to-heart talk with Jesus.
Prayer is a state of continual gratitude.
Prayer is to be with God.
Prayer is slipping into God's presence.

Orthros/Matins, Vespers, Compline, Hours, Paraklesis/Supplication, Pre-Sanctified, Holy Unction, and Blessing of the Waters

Lesson 3: Private and Corporate (Communal) Prayer

"Prayer is the test of everything. If prayer is right, everything is right." St. Theophan the Recluse
As we have established, prayer is communication with God. It is not one-way, but two-way communication. It is interpersonal, between God and us and us and God. This communication assumes that there is a relationship. From a Christian point of view, we begin this assumption of relationship with God, the Creator, who as Parent, as our Father, has created us out of love. As a Perfect, Loving Parent, God has given us life. Our response to God for this great gift is thanksgiving. Thus begins the interpersonal relationship between God and us and a cycle of giving and thanks, "evharistia" or "eucharist" between the Divine and the human that is eternal in nature. It is a cycle of relationship that is constant and continuous. Now, out of God's love for us, He does not force this relationship. God's love for us is a free and unconditional gift, which is the meaning of Agape love. Our response of thanksgiving is optional. In other words, God's relationship with us is consistent. God's giving to us is constant. God's communication in love to us is continuous. But God does not force us to reciprocate. That is our free will choice.

We have in previous weeks spoken of: personal or private prayer; and corporate or communal prayer. Both are necessary in a balanced manner in this thanksgiving cycle. You and I personally are invited to relate with our Lord, thanking Him for our life and for the gifts which each of us is blessed with. No man or woman, however, is an island. We are NOT self-sufficient. We are dependent upon God and inter-dependent upon one another. Therefore, communal or corporate prayer is a quite natural part of life.

Time in our life is cyclical. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and seasons repeat over and over again. Our opportunity is to respond to God's constant love and gift offerings in this cyclical manner. Ideally, every moment of our life includes a love awareness of God's Grace in our lives. As we inhale, we take in God's gift of life which is followed by an exhalation of thanksgiving.

Private prayer is about our personal relationship with our Lord. Communal prayer is of course about our prayers in Church, about our sacramental and liturgical life with the Body of Christ. It can also, however, be a prayer "where two or more are gathered in my name". It can be at a meeting. It can be with friends. It can be with family. In fact, our families are called to be a "church of the home" with prayer corners.

May daily prayer, private and communal, be the foundation of our life in relationship to God.

Some of the resources available to enrich your prayer life are:
The Philokalia: a collection of sayings about the spiritual life and the power of prayer.
The Gerontikon: a collection of sayings and stories from the desert fathers and mothers.
"The Way of the Pilgrim and The Pilgrim continues his way," New Sarov Press, 1997.
The divine services of the Orthodox Church, for copies of the services go to:
"Beginning to Pray" & "Courage to Pray" by Anthony Bloom
"The Art of Prayer: an Orthodox Anthology" compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo
"Treatise on Prayer" by Saint Symeon of Thessalonkike

Introducing The Orthodox Church – Its Life and Life by Anthony M. Coniaris. Pgs. 192-193


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