by Fr. Peter Orfanakos
"In peace let us pray to the Lord," the first petition of several litanies in the Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great, in essence tells us to leave our cares behind and to actually talk with God in prayer. Prayer is the spiritual food that strengthens our whole being. Prayer enables us to maintain a personal relationship with our loving God, through that intimate 'soul to Spirit' dialogue. Prayer softens our wills so that we can become more receptive to His will. In prayer we can see where we have been, where we are and where we need to direct our steps in order to walk in God's Way.
Christianity at first was called simply "the Way" (Acts 19:23; 24:22). The Christian faith is a way of life, an art or skill that is learned through practice, by doing it. Christian prayer is precisely the same - we learn how to pray by praying, by putting one foot in front of the other, with God as our guide who shows us the Way as we walk with Him.
Christ gave us our first and best examples of prayer. He gave us the specific prayer to our Father, The Lord's Prayer. More than that, by His own example of prayer life, Christ showed us the importance of worshiping God throughout our lives. Christ was always withdrawing during his ministry - to the mountains, to the desert, to the sea, to the garden - to pray to His Father in Heaven. He was always regenerating His human life with the power of God the Father through personal prayer.
Prayer on a daily basis creates a rhythm to our lives and helps us in attaining the central goal of human life: to become more Christocentric. In the Orthodox Church that process is called theosis. We never fully achieve it in this life, but we keep striving toward God, day by day.
We may attend church regularly and be involved in the educational, governmental, social, and even the spiritual life of the parish, but if we do not take that one-to-one time with the Lord every day to renew and revitalize ourselves with Him, we may find that Christ no longer is our central focus in the actual way in which we live our daily lives. We can become so involved with the tasks of living - with doing all that the external world demands of us each day - that we can forget and lose the joy of real Life. We may turn to and think of Him just occasionally, or in a time of serious personal need or in hurried superficial prayer - when we repeat written prayers without giving much thought to what we are saying.
Using the established prayers of the Church and the Psalms can be a liberating experience for us, one in which our own spirit becomes more open to the Spirit of God. We soar to the heights of communion with Christ in glimpsing His Way. When we feel His nearness, we receive a foretaste of Heaven. Prayer helps us to lessen our dependence on erroneous models for living, such as pride, fear, self-centeredness, and lack of love for other people. Prayer gives us the hope of salvation: by the Grace of God and through our perseverance in faith and in lovingly serving other people to His glory, we will have the promise of being with God in Paradise.
Christ promised us that when we pray to Him, He will be there with us. "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). His support is the answer we need to our prayers. Often we are waiting for a palpable answer to a specific problem. Christ tells us that, when we put Him first at the center of our lives in a selfless way, our other needs will be addressed. Often we want God to conform to our will, whereas it is we who need to conform to His will if we are to be His disciples.
When we "agree with one another" and "live in peace" (2 Corinthians 13:11), we realistically can hope that the "grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit..." (2 Corinthians 13:14) will sustain us so that we will have His armor of faith, about us (Ephesians 6: 11,13) to help us with the challenges, problems and tragedies of life.
Through the ages, the Church Fathers tell us that prayer includes elements of praise, thanksgiving, petition and repentance. Praise expresses the awe, honor, and love that we have for God as our Creator and Savior. We give thanksgiving to God for the blessings He gives us - for our very lives. Blessings are those joyful experiences and things we recognize as positive and joyful. Blessings also include the temptations, trials, and problems that we have. Hopefully the difficult times will teach us and lead us to rely on Christ; then the negative experiences also become positive, as we learn to grow more Christ-like from them. We need to thank God for all that comes our way: "For those blessings both apparent and not apparent that have been bestowed upon us."
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