What is prayer?

Most of us think of prayer as talking to God and that is true.  We can tell God our most intimate details, like our worries, our desires for our life, our anger, our hopes our disappointments and our needs. He will work on our hearts to help us with these things.

One of the things that many of us forget is that prayer is meant to be a conversation. So, we must listen to God. Most of us are not going to hear a loud booming voice from God like in the movies. God’s voice often comes in the form of words from other people, or a thought, feeling or a twinge in our conscience. We need to spend the time to be silent and learn to hear His voice.

Why should we pray?

Contrary to what we sometimes think, prayer is not just for laying out all our wants and needs. Let’s face it, God already knows what we want and need.

The goal of our life is to become closer and closer to God; to be united with Him.  Prayer is about having a relationship with God and really getting to know Him.  We pray so that we can get closer to Him, and learn His plan for our lives, so that we can see His face in the faces of people around us and so that we can see Him and feel His presence even in the worst situations in our lives. That’s what prayer does. Prayer changes us.

When should we pray?

St. Paul says we should pray unceasingly (1 Thess 5:17-19) Really?  How do we do that? If we are always aware of God’s presence in our lives, our whole life becomes a prayer; a prayer of thanksgiving in the morning for a good sleep, before meals for the food we eat, walking outside when we see the beauty of His creation or when we experience Him in a hug, or a smile or a kind gesture from someone. We can seek His help when we have decisions to make, or when we have been hurt by someone. We can welcome Him into our grief when we have lost someone or when we have lost opportunities in our lives. We can pray at every moment of our lives.

How should we pray?

We can prayer with formal prayers or we can use our own words. We can also pray in silence. All of these are good. We can pray by ourselves and with others.

Some people say “I just like to pray by myself” That’s very good.  We should take every chance we can to do that. But because God created us as communal creatures we also need to pray together. When we pray in church, we are joining people all over the world, and the angels and saints in praising God!   

We pray using formal prayers when we are together.  Many of these prayers have been around for centuries and so they reflect the Christian faith as handed down by the apostles. Because they are so full of wisdom, praying these prayers can help us to understand what God has revealed about himself.  They are also very helpful at those times when we may not have the words to say.  Formal prayers can “get things started” in our conversations.

Silent prayer is a way to just sit in the presence of God.  It can be a beautiful time shared with God, just allowing Him to enter your heart.

If we remember that prayer is conversation, then we know that however we feel comfortable “conversing” with God is the way we should pray.

Who/what should we pray for?

Whatever and whomever you feel moved to pray for!  The Holy Spirit often works in our hearts helping us to think of others that need our prayers.

We must remember in prayer, that we can lay our desires before God, but He knows what we need, so part of our prayer should always be “help me to understand your will and help me to follow your will. 

Where should we pray?

Everywhere! God has created everything and so everyplace is a good place to pray. Of course, we have churches, and prayer corners, etc.  These are places set aside and sanctified in a special way for prayer and worship. These are places that can draw us into an attitude of prayer. Taking our example from Dr. Seuss “we can pray on a train or in the rain, pray while at work or in a church.  Pray in on a mountain or by a fountain. Where can we pray?  We can pray anywhere, yes we can!” 😊

The Need for Prayer

The mature prayer of the Christian has two dimensions: liturgical and personal. This prayer is called to fulfill the task of unceasing worship. Jesus Christ teaches us “to pray always and not lose heart” (Lk 18:1; see Lk 11:5-8). The apostle Paul in turn calls us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17). The life of the Christian—beginning from the Holy Mystery of Baptism, when the person is immersed (the literal meaning of the word baptism) in the life of the Most Holy Trinity, chrismated by the Holy Spirit and joined to Christ in Holy Communion—this life becomes a time of prayer, filled with praise, thanksgiving, and glorification of the Creator. Our life is then transformed into a prayerful state, or stance, a constant readiness of the heart. Christians should ceaselessly cultivate this state: “They ‘pray without ceasing’ who join prayer to works that are of obligation, and good works to their prayer … It is only in this way that we can understand the injunction ‘pray without ceasing’ as something that we can carry out.” Saint Basil the Great in his Rules coupled work to sevenfold liturgical prayer in the course of the day, in order thus to consecrate the entire day to the Lord.

Personal or private prayer always has an ecclesial dimension. Saint Cyprian teaches: “When we pray, we pray not only for ourselves but for the entire people, because we all are one people … Christ himself, our teacher and master, desired that each would pray for all, as he, having gathered all within himself, brought them to the Father.”

Therefore, those who pray in the name of Christ, always pray in the Church, the Body of Christ, and for the Church. Christians who praise the Lord or thank him or ask for something for themselves or for others, become the voice of their neighbour. The basis of this prayer is the common
partaking of Christians in Christ’s priesthood, for the sanctification of the world.

How Often Should We Pray?

The Church guides us on our path of prayer and proposes that we rely on her accumulated experience of prayer. This experience indicates that we need to set aside designated times to speak with God. As a minimum this would be twice a day—in the morning and in the evening. Appropriate prayers for the morning and evening are found in every prayerbook along with other prayers that accompany the believer through the various situations he or she encounters during the day. Prayer is our main rule of life. As we pray more often, we progressively bring prayer closer to our daily affairs until prayer becomes one of our main daily activities and all other endeavours are filled with the spirit of prayer. This is why prayer and work are two mutually dependent aspects of the Christian way of life. If filled with communion with God, the Christian’s life is transformed into a feast, and it becomes a time for our sanctification and the world’s transfiguration.

Prayer Before Icons

Icons serve prayer so that as the Christian grows spiritually, he or she might gradually pass from faith in the Mystery of God to the contemplation of him “face to face.” The Seventh Ecumenical Council teaches that we come to know God through God’s Son—the Word and Image of God. Each of the ways of divine knowledge is equally valid and important. In prayer before icons the main organ of our communication with God is not our lips, which pronounce the words, but our eyes. With our eyes we look at the image in order to contemplate the imaged Person. Like vocal prayer, prayer before icons is a gradual process, in which we progress as if climbing the rungs of a ladder.

A Lecture about Praying with Icons with Fr. Bo Nahachewsky