As a new Orthodox Christian, I have to admit that one of the most difficult things I’ve been learning to do is pray. This might sound strange coming from a Christian of over 20 years and from a professional pastor of 14 years. But it’s true. Becoming an Orthodox Christian doesn’t simply mean joining “another” Christian church. At the risk of sounding a bit melodramatic, becoming an Orthodox Christian means embracing a completely different Christian worldview. Believe me, the differences between Orthodoxy and Protestant Evangelicalism run far deeper than what one may see on the surface. But that topic will have to wait for future posts.
Because Orthodoxy is so different that Evangelicalism, my family and I are relearning how to pray. I remember theologian Gordon Fee once stating, “I can tell what a person actually believes by what they pray and what they sing.” That statement contains a lot of truth. As I have journeyed further into Orthodoxy, I’ve realized that what I used to pray for and how I used to pray as an Evangelical revealed some very faulty theology on my part.
One piece of advice Fr Patrick gave my family and me as young Orthodox Christians is to only pray using the Orthodox prayer book in order to relearn how to pray. He told us that we need to learn how to pray with the Church. Over the centuries, the Orthodox Church has learned how to pray so that their theology and practice are completely aligned. So, part of the life of Christ available in the Orthodox Church is learning to pray with the Church.
Using prayers written by someone else was almost scandalous to me as an Evangelical. In my old worldview, prayer was relational and relationships were spontaneous. Therefore, I had been taught to “pray from the heart” and to “talk to God like I would anyone else.” And while there is something valuable with this instruction, if I were to be honest, spontaneous prayer eventually devolved into something “less than” spontaneous. For example, prayers before meals and prayers for common requests eventually took on a rote nature. In effect, my prayer life was being formed by collecting and using “spiritually sounding” prayers that others had prayed or that I had prayed myself.
Now as an Orthodox Christian, I am truly appreciating written prayers. My mind and heart are being reformed (and hopefully transformed) by the prayers of men and women far more spiritual, intelligent and holier than me. Not only am I relearning sound theology as I pray, but I’m peering ever deeper into God’s mind and heart as I pray the prayers of those who have been immersed far deeper in God’s mind and heart than me. These prayers are helping me to find words to express myself to God, words that I would never have found even on a really good day.
So with that lengthy introduction, I wanted to say that I was pleased when I found a prayer by Fr Sophrony on Fr Stephen Freeman’s blog this morning. There is such spiritual depth and beauty to this prayer. This is one prayer that I will be praying over and over and hope to eventually incarnate over time.
O Eternal Lord and Creator of all things, in your inscrutable goodness you have called me into this life and have given me the grace of baptism and the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. You have instilled in me the desire to seek your face. Hear my prayer!
I have no life, no light, no joy, no strength, no wisdom without you, O God. Because of my unrighteousness, I dare not lift my eyes in your presence. But I obey you who said:
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11)
Truly, truly I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father He will give it to you in my name. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16)
Therefore I now dare to approach you. Purify me from all stain of flesh and spirit. Teach me to pray rightly. Bless this day which you give to me, your unworthy servant.
By the power of your blessing enable me at all times to speak and to act with a pure spirit to your glory; with faith, hope and love, humility, patience, gentleness, peace, purity, simplicity, sobriety, courage and wisdom. Let me always be aware of your presence.
In your boundless goodness, O Lord God, show me your will and grant me to walk in your sight without sin.
O Lord, unto whom all hearts are open, you know what I need and what is necessary for me. You know my blindness and my ignorance. You know my infirmity and corruption. My pain and anguish are not hidden from you. Therefore I beg you: Hear my prayer and teach me by the power of your Holy Spirit the way in which I should walk. And when my perverted will leads me otherwise, O Lord, do not spare me, but force me back to your way.
Grant me, Lord, to hold fast to what is good by the power of your love. Preserve me from every word and act which corrupts the soul, and from every impulse that is unpleasing in your sight and harmful to the people around me. Teach me what I should say and how I should speak. If it be your holy will that I be quiet and make no answer, inspire me to be silent in a peaceful spirit that causes neither harm nor hurt to my fellow human beings.
Establish me in the path of your commandments, and until my last breath do not let me stray from the light of your ordinances. May your commandments be the sole law of my being in this life and for all eternity.
O Lord, I pray to you: Have mercy on me. Spare me in my affliction and misery and hide not the way of salvation from me.
In my foolishness, O God, I plead with you for many and great things. Yet I am ever mindful of my wickedness, my baseness, my vileness. Have pity on me! Cast me not away from your presence because of my foolish presumption. Increase rather in me the right presumption of your grace and grant that I, the worst of people, may love you with all my mind, all my heart, all my soul and all my strength, as you have commanded.
By your Holy Spirit, Lord, teach me good judgment and sound knowledge. Let me know the truth before I die. Maintain my life in this world until the end that I may offer worthy repentance. Do not take me away while my mind is still blind and bound by darkness. When you are pleased to end my life, give me warning that I may prepare my soul to come before you. Be with me, Lord, at that awesome hour and assure me by your grace of the joy of my salvation.
Cleanse me from secret faults. Purify me from hidden iniquities. Give me a good answer at your dread judgment seat.
Lord of great mercy and measureless love for all people: Hear my prayer! Amen.
(With editing by Fr. Thomas Hopko)