Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Types of Prayer - Lesson for my Evangelical Friends.

Evangelicals have a tendency to disparage "written" and "recited" prayers, as if those prayers lack something, as if they are spoken by rote and not spoken from the heart.  Evangelical prayer as a result becomes a sea of heretical confusion, as people add theological error to the content of personalize prayers.  How many times have extemporaneous prayer groups turned into just one more heretical sect in the history of Protestantism. Prayers just as preaching require knowledge. What guidance did the Apostle give? What does taking God's name in vain mean? "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." That statement is in the middle of passage about "worldly people praying for their selfish wants, showing that prayer can degenerated into something that reflects poorly on the person praying.

I am reminded of a dear brother, who was a rabid fundamentalist Christian when I met him. He is today one of the strongest Orthodox Christians I know.  He was attending Liturgy out of curiosity, and found it dry and lacking, and at the end of Liturgy one day he pridefully asked, "Father, may I say a dismissal prayer. I think there is a deeper level of prayer that these services are missing."  I waved him to the altar, and he knelt and prayed the most self-serving, prideful, egotistical prayer I have ever heard in my life. He droned on for about five minutes, which seemed like an eternity, as everyone else looked at each other nervously, wondering why I was allowing this.  I took great pains to count the times he referenced himself and it was many times.  When he was finished, I put my arm around his shoulder, and turned to the congregation and said, "We owe our brother gratitude for his bold action, now let us examine the errors in his prayer."  I spent thirty minutes anatomizing the prayer and explaining the multiple errors and wrong theological assumption in it.  He was red in the face and humiliated long before I was finished.  I cautioned him, "If you are going to learn the faith, you have to pray to God that he will dissolve the resin of pride that encapsulates your heart and mind, so that you may pray the prayers, bring your heart and mind to them and learn their lessons."  To this day, two decades later, the man prays seven times a day, the shorter Hours Prayers.

There is an old saying about the Prayers of the Church, "They are said, so that a man can put his mind where is mouth is, NOT so he can put his mouth where his mind is." The object of True Prayer is the renewing of the mind. The mind does not possess the wisdom to renew itself. The mind is conformed to this world, it must be transformed, and needs the FOOD, the WORD present in the prayers to accomplish that.  In other words the Prayers of the Church are a discipline of continually learning the deeper and deeper meanings of the faith, which is not contained in extemporaneous prayers. (Some time I will open the first two verses of the 12th Chapter of Roman to explain from the Greek how those verses picture the formal prayers of the Church, the Liturgy the Church's Worship, and why the written prayers of the Church are so very important. - When I do, this will be a [LINK] to that. )

Private extemporaneous prayers are for the closet, just as Jesus taught, where one pours out ones heart to the Lord. When we pray with others for purpose and for worship we have access to greater WISDOM.  Extemporaneous prayer is powerful and real, but no substituted for the richness of the prayers of the Church which increase in one the knowledge of The Faith, once and for all delivered unto the Saints. 

We all understand the worldly wisdom of saying, "Knowledge is Power." Well it stands to reason that Godly Knowledge is Godly Power. The prayers of the Church are empowering.

So with this in mind, let us examine the different types of prayer, first the five types of prayer in general and then formally the four settings in which these types of prayer are used. 

1. Adoration

In prayers of adoration or worship, we praise the greatness of God, and we acknowledge our dependence on him in all things. The Divine Liturgy and the other liturgies of the Church are full of prayers of this sort, such as the Gloria (or Glory to God). Among private prayers, the Act of Faith, like the shorter form used by Roman Catholics, "
O my God, I firmly believe that Thou art one God in three Divine Person, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; I believe that Thy Divine Son became man, and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou hast revealed them, who canst neither deceive nor be deceived. Amen." Or reciting the Complete Nicene Creed, is a prayer of adoration.  Here is who you are TO ME, O Lord, and I love you for being this FOR me.

2. Expiation:

In a prayer of expiation or contrition, we acknowledge our sinfulness and ask God for His forgiveness and mercy, help to reform and to grow spiritually, to heal mentally and emotionally, to gain the strength to conquer the Evil One in ourselves. It is a process of repenting upon deeper and deeper levels as we gain knowledge of our needThe Orthodox Christian prays many times a day, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." All confessional prayers written and extemporaneous are welcomed by God. 

3. Love - any and every expression of Love toward God by showing mercy and kindness to our fellow man. This prayer is most often not in words, but in actions.

4. Petition

Prayers of petition are the type of prayer with which we are most familiar. In them, we ask God for things we need—primarily spiritual needs, but physical ones as well. Our prayers of petition should always include a statement of our willingness to accept God's Will, whether He directly answers our prayer or not. The Our Father (or as Evangelical call it "The Lord's Prayer" though he gave it to US to pray) is a good example of a prayer of petition, and the line "Thy will be done" shows that, in the end, we acknowledge that God's plans for us are more important than what we desire. This is the simplest prayer discipline of orthodox catholicism, to pray this prayer several times a day.  When I was tuning pianos, between my car and the front door of the customer's house, I almost always silently prayed this prayer. 

5. Thanksgiving

Perhaps the most neglected type of prayer is prayer of thanksgiving. While Grace Before Meals is a good example of a prayer of thanksgiving, we should get into the habit of thanking God throughout the day for the good things that happen to us and to others. And we must not forget that the greatest Thanksgiving prayer of all is the Divine Liturgy, The Eucharistia - the Thanksgiving.

What prayer has wrongly become in our culture:
Even in today’s secular world, we hear a lot about prayer. People tell each other, “I’ll pray for you” when something goes wrong. When something bad is going on in someone’s life, they may pray to God for help. Prayer for some people has become more of an exercise in positive thinking and visualization.

The Orthodox Christian Church has many beautiful prayers which developed mostly over the first eight hundred years of its existence since it was founded by Christ. Some prayers that predate parts of the New Testament. Especially at a time when many were illiterate, the chants and prayers of the Church were one’s education in the faith, along with the images of Christ and the saints, the depictions of events in the Gospels and lives of the Apostles, (Icons). These recited prayers, with the Holy Depictions, won and trained many millions in the faith. Even today, one finds Orthodox people who have committed large amounts of texts to memory from frequent attendance in the services.

Despite the beauty of these prayers, however, there are some that might object that these prayers are formulaic and that one is not really, “praying from the heart.” This objection, along with a criticism of the fact that some prayers are repeated many times in Orthodox worship, arises from a misunderstanding of the different types of prayer practiced by Orthodox Christians. So let us examine four major types of prayer as a basic outline of the Orthodox Christian experience of prayer, remembering that these occasions of prayer contain all of the above 5 types of prayer. 

A.  The Divine Liturgy. 
The Divine Liturgy, the communion service of the Orthodox Christians, is the highest form of prayer. The service begins with petition for peace and well-being of the entire world, for the health and salvation of the Christians assembled in worship, and prayers for other intentions. This is followed by psalmody, and the readings from an Epistle and a Gospel. The homily or sermon serves as a bridge between this “liturgy of the Word” and the “liturgy of the Eucharist,” the second part of the service where the bread and wine are offered to Christ, and transformed in to His true body and blood, to be given to those receiving it that day to enable them to go out into the world and truly make disciples of all nations. For this prayer, a priest is necessary, and it is the most commonly-attended service of the Church. 

B. The Hours Prayers. 

Apart from the Divine Liturgy, there is a continuous cycle of prayer maintained across the world by Christians, lay men and woman, monks, nuns and priests. These services are held at various times during the day, and accompany the worshiper into each stage of the day and night. Vespers is the first prayer of the day, and in the custom of Jesus the day is counted as beginning at sunset.  The after the meal prayer, "Compline" is a prayer said before retiring for the night. There is a midnight prayer for those inclined to rise in the night to pray, and then Matins is celebrated in the morning. (4AM) Smaller hours accompany other parts of the day such as First Hour at 6am second Third Hour at 9am, 6th Hour at Noon and the 9th Hour at 3pm. While most parishes and Christians are unable to attend all of these services, they do exist and can be prayed either corporately in a Church or privately in one’s home. They are formulaic in nature, and incorporate variable or changing parts that are specific to the day and season.

In most every Orthodox Church, Especially on weekends and major feast days, at least Vespers and Matins are served, and it is during these services that many special hymns tell the story of what is being celebrated or commemorated that day.

The Hours allow the Christian to intuitively understand that there is a cycle and rhythm to the day and week, which helps to ground us, especially in this age of short attention spans and hectic, ever-changing schedules.

C.  Private prayer.
Each Orthodox Christian is in turn encouraged to develop a personal rule of prayer with his or her spiritual father, usually the parish priest or another trusted priest or person, (monk or nun) who gives guidance and confession. 

The home of an Orthodox Christian is a “little Church” where Christ is honored. Therefore, whether one lives alone or in a family unit, in the morning and at night one should pray regularly for God’s blessings and in order to make progress in the spiritual life. In addition, a very special prayer, the Jesus prayer, is said in private. This prayer, which is a repetition of the formula, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner,” is normally prayed with a rope with beads, that helps to keep track of the number of repetitions. A certain number is done each day, to help the believer keep his or her mind focused on Christ as the center of one’s life. This formula is an introduction not the fulfillment of the Apostolic command to "pray without ceasing" to "created the prayer of the heart." This ceaseless prayer is accomplished in the heart, where the heart becomes so turned toward God, that every moment it is reaching for Him, as we use our intellect and our bodies in our ordinary day, but ever conscious of the heart's "tug" upon God and God's ever present response.

D. Extemporaneous prayer.
Finally, there is of course prayer that is offered by the believer in his or her own words, at his or her own time. This type of prayer is the form most known to non-Orthodox Christians, who are encouraged to “make the words their own” and “pray from the heart.” Orthodox Christians also engage in this type of prayer, seeking to know God’s will, offer thanksgiving to Him, repent of their sins, and intercede for the needs of their loved ones and others. Not much more needs to be said about this form of prayer, since it is such a personal and individual act, which is intrinsically understood by most people. Again, this form of prayer is for the Closet, as our Lord taught.

There is no division between the pre-formed, written prayers of the prayer books, and the extemporaneous, self-composed prayers of the faithful in private. Rather, they inform each other. A Christian learns about the proper history of salvation, relationship with God, and the associated beliefs of the Church through public prayer (an ancient statement was that that which is prayed is that which is believed). This allows the Christian to pray properly and appropriately in his own words. In turn, this intimate private prayer allows the Christian to further appreciate the public prayer of the Church and the opportunity to gather together with other believers, in fellowship. The culmination of both types of prayer is the communal celebration of the Divine Liturgy, where Christ is made truly present to those who commune, who thereby become one body.

Before finishing, we can make one comment about repetitive prayer. Some non-Orthodox cite Scripture against the practice of “vain repetitions” in prayer. They believe that repeating prayers such as the Our Father or Lord Have Mercy several times is rote and devoid of spiritual power. The Pharisees thought that by praying repeatedly, they were somehow garnering more favor with God. The Orthodox, then, are like the Pharisees for doing this, they reason.

Fortunately, this is not why we repeat prayers. We do not engage in vain repetitions for the purpose of trying to butter God up and make him more agreeable with our requests. Instead, prayers are sometimes repeated in the Church precisely because we have such short attention spans. The benefit is to us, the hope being that at least some of the prayers will “stick” in our sinful hearts. Over time, the discipline of the repetition forms the mind, and frees it from casual thoughts and distractions. The repetitions of prayer then are the construction of a scaffolding which allows for the development of the interior, in this case our interior life of prayer.

We recommend as a good prayer book for busy people the little Rule Published by Antiochian Archdiocese, entitled "A Pocket Prayer Book: for Orthodox Christians. 

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