Author Topic: What exactly is prayer?  (Read 250 times)

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Offline Richmond

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What exactly is prayer?
« on: April 15, 2019, 12:04:41 PM »
I've never been able to get my head around the whole prayer thing.

--What exactly is prayer?
--What are we supposed to do with it?
--If it's supposed to be communication, should we expect an answer?
--Why pray?

I can't promise I won't think of other questions as this thread progresses.

Offline Xavier

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Re: What exactly is prayer?
« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2019, 11:14:16 AM »
I'm Catholic, not Orthodox, to be clear; though, I think Christians agree on what prayer is and is meant to be, and as I understand it, you are going through a faith crisis.

My opinion, dear Richard, is that we must often reflect on how much God has loved us, how much He sacrificed and suffered for us here on earth, and how He has prepared and is preparing a place for us in Heaven. Then we will be drawn to love Him and spend time with Him.

1. Prayer is raising our minds and elevating our hearts toward God. We should thank and praise Him for creating our body and souls, this beautiful earth for us to live in, recall to our minds His wondrous works in salvation history, and through the Fathers and Saints of the Church. We should confess our sins and ask for His Grace to be good and holy.

2. We were created for union with God. God also became Man for this purpose, that thereby, as the Fathers say, we may become as gods. Prayer is the easiest and universally available means for all to achieve this goal of theosis, in which alone we will find true and lasting happiness.

3. We should not forget the Majesty of God. We are speaking to the King of Kings. God will speak to us when we read His Word and when we participate in Divine Liturgy through the Tradition of His Church. Sometimes, He speaks through others to us, most often one's spiritual Father. But if one really progresses in union with God, as the Saints did, He sometimes speaks directly to us also, as He did to the Saints.

4. Prayer should be like breathing and like loving. Little children love their parents and should want to be in their arms. Imagine if being children on the street we were adopted by the King. Ought we not feel love and gratitude? But beside that, as mentioned, by living a life of fervent prayer, you can, by the Grace of God, merit eternal happiness in heaven, and eternal Union with Him. I hope I have helped. God bless you, Richard.
"My dear Jesus, before the Holy Trinity, Our Heavenly Mother, and the whole Heavenly Court, united with your most precious Blood and your sacrifice on Calvary, I hereby offer my whole life to the intention of your Sacred Heart and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Together with my life, I place at your disposal all Holy Masses, all my Holy Communions, all my good deeds, all my sacrifices, and the sufferings of my entire life for the adoration ... https://marianapostolate.com/life-offering/

Offline Richmond

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Re: What exactly is prayer?
« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2019, 12:06:01 PM »
Not trying to be sarcastic or facetious or anything, I've just been told a lot of things about prayer over the years and I'm a little confused.

Offline Eamonomae

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Re: What exactly is prayer?
« Reply #3 on: April 17, 2019, 01:32:03 PM »
I've never been able to get my head around the whole prayer thing.

--What exactly is prayer?
--What are we supposed to do with it?
--If it's supposed to be communication, should we expect an answer?
--Why pray?

I can't promise I won't think of other questions as this thread progresses.

Prayer, for me, is simply talking with God, and asking other people to help you when they talk to God.
God is not a binary machine where you put an input into it and He gives you a desired output - He desires to give you what is best for the salvation of your soul and the salvation of other people's souls.
Sometimes He answers you, sometimes He doesn't - sometimes He clearly and explicitly answers you in a way you don't want Him to - but He's the one who makes the decision of what happens, not you, for your best interest, considering He's omniscient.

It's not simply just asking God for things - it's also showing Love for God / Thanksgiving, asking for mercy.


Richmond, I will say that you are posting questions not expecting answers, because no answer than anybody gives will satisfy you. It's like the movie "the Passion of Christ," where Pontius Pilate is talking to his wife, and asks her "What is Truth? Do you hear it, recognize it when it is spoken?" and she says "If you will not hear the Truth, nobody can tell you."

Talk to your Priest, and I advise you to - even if prayer is too difficult for you right now, just show up to Church. Just be there. Just enjoy the beauty of the Liturgy, and talk with your friends / community there, just so you aren't alone driving yourself to insanity.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2019, 01:35:14 PM by Eamonomae »
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Offline RaphaCam

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Re: What exactly is prayer?
« Reply #4 on: April 17, 2019, 01:38:13 PM »
My beloved pastor HRE Abp. Chrysostom of Brazil said in one homily that the Desert Fathers give two different definitions of prayer, that sound antinomic but are actually the same. One definition is that prayer means giving oneself in the hands of God. The other is that prayer means diving into oneself to meet God. I believe this quote answers all your questions, apart from if you should expect an answer.

Well, don't. Still quoting from what I've learned from HRE, spiritual warfare is complex and most of it invisible, and prayers often do wonders one can't even realise. People, even pious prayerful Orthodox Christians, just go on with their daily lives, being more or less who they were yesterday, witnessing events that look like routine, and then one tends to take it all for granted.

Now my two cents: if God attended all of our prayers (even if we only prayed for edifying things), this would lead us into immense pride, which is the head of all sins. Maybe this is why only great saints, such as John of Kronstadt, have received this gift of knowing how well their prayers were going.
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Offline Jack Diggory

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Re: What exactly is prayer?
« Reply #5 on: Yesterday at 08:51:22 AM »
1) What exactly is prayer?

Prayer is spiritual feelings. As St Theophan the Recluse said, "Prayer itself is the piercing of our hearts by pious feelings towards God, one after another – feelings of humility, submission, gratitude, doxology, forgiveness, heart-felt prostration, brokenness, conformity to the will of God, etc. All of our effort should be directed so that during our prayers, these feelings and feelings like them should fill our souls, so that the heart would not be empty when the lips are reading the prayers, or when the ears hear and the body bows in prostrations, but that there would be some qualitative feeling, some striving toward God. When these feelings are present, our praying is prayer, and when they are absent, it is not yet prayer." (1)


2) What are we supposed to do with it?

The purpose of prayer and the entire Christian life is to purify the heart of the passions. The passions are all the worldly desires we have in our heart i.e. desire for wealth, possessions, arrogance and the pride of position, physical fear, bodily pleasure, etc.

He who struggles in this and reaches the height of this (this is quite difficult), also has achieved theosis/deification/holiness. When someones achieves this, they have reached the height and perfection of the Christian life.

For example St Barsanuphius of Optian writes about the goal of prayer using the method of the Jesus Prayer (although one may pray psalm alternatively), "The prayer of Jesus is of tremendous importance in the life of a Christian. This is the shortest path to reaching the Kingdom of Heaven, although this path is not easy, and, having entered upon it, we must be ready for sorrow. True, other prayers are also of considerable importance, and a person who is praying the Jesus prayer, hears prayers and hymns in the church, makes the necessary cell rules. And yet, it is the Jesus prayer that most quickly leads a person to a penitential mood and shows him his infirmity, therefore, bringing him closer to God. Man begins to feel that he is the greatest sinner, and this is all God needs."


3) If it's supposed to be communication, should we expect an answer?

Not really. Prayer isn't to get things from God. Prayer is to achieve the above things.


4) Why pray?

Similar to 2. Primarily we pray to achieve purification of the heart = salvation = holiness = deification = a very high acquisition of the Holy Spirit. Other reasons why we should prayer is because it gets rid of our guilt/regret, gives inner peace, dispels anxiety, removes loneliness (as you are united with God), makes you rich because you have overcome the world, upon other reasons.


Refernces
1) http://www.orthodoxprayer.org/Theophan-Homily1.html

If you want to learn more about prayer, no one explains it better than St Theophan the Recluse and St Ignatius Brianchaninov. You'll have to get into a lot of reading. Message me for more information, or check out my blog at www.theartoforthodoxy.com

Offline Volnutt

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Re: What exactly is prayer?
« Reply #6 on: Yesterday at 03:08:45 PM »
Quote
As St Theophan the Recluse said, "Prayer itself is the piercing of our hearts by pious feelings towards God, one after another – feelings of humility, submission, gratitude, doxology, forgiveness, heart-felt prostration, brokenness, conformity to the will of God, etc. All of our effort should be directed so that during our prayers, these feelings and feelings like them should fill our souls, so that the heart would not be empty when the lips are reading the prayers, or when the ears hear and the body bows in prostrations, but that there would be some qualitative feeling, some striving toward God. When these feelings are present, our praying is prayer, and when they are absent, it is not yet prayer."

I'm guessing that St. Theophan (or any of the great hesychasts) would say that all these feelings are pretty advanced stuff, though.  Richmond needs to crawl before he can run.
Christ my God, set my heart on fire with love in You, that in its flame I may love You with all my heart, with all my mind, and with all my soul and with all my strength, and my neighbor as myself, so that by keeping Your commandments I may glorify You the Giver of every good and perfect gift. Amen.

Offline WPM

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Re: What exactly is prayer?
« Reply #7 on: Yesterday at 08:42:58 PM »
Prayer Rope reminds me to pray daily.
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Offline Richmond

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Re: What exactly is prayer?
« Reply #8 on: Yesterday at 09:24:21 PM »
Quote
As St Theophan the Recluse said, "Prayer itself is the piercing of our hearts by pious feelings towards God, one after another – feelings of humility, submission, gratitude, doxology, forgiveness, heart-felt prostration, brokenness, conformity to the will of God, etc. All of our effort should be directed so that during our prayers, these feelings and feelings like them should fill our souls, so that the heart would not be empty when the lips are reading the prayers, or when the ears hear and the body bows in prostrations, but that there would be some qualitative feeling, some striving toward God. When these feelings are present, our praying is prayer, and when they are absent, it is not yet prayer."

I'm guessing that St. Theophan (or any of the great hesychasts) would say that all these feelings are pretty advanced stuff, though.  Richmond needs to crawl before he can run.

My overall question may be even more basic. How do I know if I'm praying correctly?

Offline Jack Diggory

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Re: What exactly is prayer?
« Reply #9 on: Yesterday at 09:48:34 PM »
@Richmond. That quote was actually extracted from the first of his four homilies titled "Homily 1 - Beginning to pray". If St Theophan the Recluse thinks a beginner needs to read that prayer involves feelings, then I am not wiser than St Theophan.

How do you know if you are praying correctly? I am sorry St Theophan and St Ignatius are the best. Read their works. However they are indeed heavy, deep and difficult to fulfill. There is nothing more important than prayer in the world. Hence there is nothing more difficult. The devil fights furiously against it.

If ever anyone in the world tells you prayer is easy and doesn't require effort, immediately run from that person. They don't understand anything about prayer or Orthodox spirituality. Prayer is like studying for school or university. It's something hard to do and very boring. But there are profoundly great benefits to doing it such as a better, richer and more fulfilling life. Same with prayer.

Additionally, even if we can't fulfill what we read about prayer, reading these things are still very important beucase they provide us humility i.e. an awareness of our spiriutal poverty. And with humility alone, Christ will accept us happily into His kingdom. But as a Russian saint who died last year said, "Without humility, there is no salvation".

However, before one goes into reading into deep territory about prayer, there are certain prepatory readings one should do before - particularly the lives of the saints and also articles that provide guidance on how to carefully and properly read the writings of orthodox saints about the spiritual life and about prayer.
« Last Edit: Yesterday at 09:56:42 PM by Jack Diggory »