Η ΑΓΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΑ, ΕΣΤΙΝ Η ΒΑΣΙΛΕΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΘΕΟΥ ΕΠΙ ΤΗΣ ΓΗΣ, Η ΑΠΟ ΚΑΤΑΒΟΛΗΣ ΚΟΣΜΟΥ, (Αγιος Νεκταριος)

 

CONCERNING  PRAYER 

 by

 G.O.C. Metropolitan of Thessaloniki, Chrysostom Metropoulos [1]  

“Seven times a day I praise Thee (Lord).”

(Psalms 119: 164)

“Pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you.”  

(1 Thessalonians 5: 17-18)

“‘We should remember the name of God in prayer more often than we breathe’, as Gregory the Theologian said.”  

(Saint John Chrysostom, PG vol. 55, p. 703)

Prayer fulfills the need of the soul to communicate with God, a need which God has implanted in every human being. This is universally testified: all people pray. They do not all, however, pray to the only true God, nor do they all truthfully pray to God. For this reason, then, since the beginning of the world, God’s Church is at work so that people may come to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17: 3), and so that they learn the true way of prayer in order not to pray idolatrously, nor impiously, nor without benefit, like Cain or Judas.

Man was created by God, a composite creature with a material body and an immaterial soul. For the material survival and health of man’s body God has established natural laws:  without breath and nutrition, for example, it is physically impossible for the body to stay alive.  Likewise, for the survival and health of the soul there exist immaterial, spiritual laws established by God:  without the knowledge of Truth, without love for the Goodness of God, and without the desire for Eternal Life, the soul is “dead” and cannot be considered living.  All of this is also confirmed by the fact that questions motivated by metaphysical concerns arise in every person.

The soul, being incomparably superior and more precious than the material body, certainly requires higher attention.  Concerning the soul the Lord tells us: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”  (Matthew 16: 6).

  Just as the material body physically needs breath and nutrition in order to survive, even more so does the immaterial soul have a spiritual need for prayer in order to survive because prayer is by nature the soul’s very own food and breath: “...indeed the word is the bread of Angels, by which souls are nurtured and watered when hungering for God, and seeking nutrition not only for a day, but everlasting”  (St. Gregory the Theologian, “Epitaph for St. Basil the Great” PG 36, 545B). Just as when a person does not breathe and is not fed, his body dies materially, in the same manner, when he does not pray, his soul is deprived of spiritual food and breath and is deadened, and he dies spiritually.

Death, according to the Orthodox Teaching, is of two types:

a) of the body, that is, biological death, in other words, the separation of the body from the soul, and

b) of the soul, that is, spiritual death, in other words, the separation of the soul from God, which occurs before a person dies bodily and which is the worse of the two deaths.

A person is separated from God when he is an atheist, i.e., when he does not believe in the existence of God, when he is outside His Church as a member of another religion or as a heretic, when he severs communication with God, when he breaks His commandments and commits sins and crimes and, generally, when his life does not express the Will of God.

The beginning of the reconnection with God is achieved through repentance, faith, and a return to Him, all of which aid in maintaining the perpetu­ation of communion with God. The most basic, unceasing, permanent, insatiable and main way of communication with God is Prayer: “Prayer is an ascent of the mind towards God or a supplication for the adequate means to be provided by God” (St. John Damascus, PG 94, 1089C). That we make requests of God is welcome to Him: “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21: 22). We pray in order to receive from God the created and perishable things necessary for our futile life, but first and foremost, for the imperishable ones, our acquaintance, familiarity and intimacy with God, our closeness to God, our dwelling with God: “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2: 19); and again: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb” (Revelation 21: 22).

Prayer is powerful when it happens with faith, love, hope, and, principally, with fear of God, because “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalms 111: 10 & Proverbs 1: 7). Therefore, “Pray for one another, that you may be healed; The prayer of a righteous person has great power in its effects”  (James 5: 16).  For “if you have faith as much as is the grain of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain move over there, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17: 20).  The faithful person prays, and he rejoices in receiving what he has hoped for.

Through prayer man speaks directly with God:  “Seven times a day I praise Thee for Thy righteous ordinances” (Psalms 119: 164);  “Therefore, when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.  And in praying, do not heap up empty phrases as do the Gentiles; for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6: 6-7).

  Through prayer man speaks with God as a son to a father: “Pray, then, like this: Our Father who art in heaven…” (Matthew 6: 9).

Through prayer we receive the fulfillment of our requests: “Ask, and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened to you.  For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7: 7-8).

        Through prayer the arrows of the visible and invisible enemies are shattered: “Some boast of chariots and some of horses; but we call upon the name of our Lord God.  They will collapse and fall; but we shall rise and stand upright” (Psalms 20: 7- 8).

        Through prayer the virtues and the heavenly graces are obtained: “Every gift is perfect which descends from above, from You, the Father of Light” (part of the Dismissal Prayer said by the priest in the closing rite of the Divine Liturgy).

       Through prayer miraculous cures are enacted:  “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you” (2 Kings 20: 5).

  Through prayer the bonds of infertility are undone:  “For your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son” (Luke 1: 13).

  Through prayer freedom from bondage and from prison is obtained: “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer was made to God for him by the Church” (Acts 12: 5).

Through prayer our Lord Jesus Christ is magnified and every created thing submits to Him:  “that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth…” (Philippians 2: 10).

  Through prayer miraculous marvels are performed and signs and wonders are realized, as with Prophet Elijah, when fire descended from heaven, and rain in the absence of clouds: “Hear me, oh Lord, hear me in fire…and the fire of the Lord fell from heaven…and he bowed to the ground and put his face between his knees…and there was a great rain” (1 Kings 18: 37-38, 42-45).

Through prayer even dead people are resurrected, as by Prophets Elijah and Elisha, and by Apostle Peter:  “But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; then turning to the body, he said, ‘Tabitha, rise.’  She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up” (Acts 9: 40).

  Through prayer the Holy Martyrs did great deeds of faith: “...that in a mortal body, they invisibly conquered the bodiless enemy with the power of the Cross…” (Troparion to the Holy Martyrs).

  Through prayer the mind and heart are cleansed of the evils of the world: “Prayer… has keenly rehabilitated a corrupted life” (St. John Chrysostom, PG 50, 785-786).

Through prayer man obtains his salvation:  “And it shall come to pass that all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered” (Joel 2: 32).

Through prayer man becomes a guardian of the Commandments of God and a temple of God, so that this very Holy Trinity, who is beyond all beings and above every essence, God--the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit--comes and abides and makes a dwelling in those who love Him:  “…and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14: 23).

Through prayer all good things are provided, such as attention of mind, repentance, justice, holiness, community with angels, Theosis by Grace (deification), eternal cohabitation with God: “...the work of prayer is common to both Angels and men…This work separates you from irrational beings and joins you to Angels; quickly, therefore, [through prayer] is someone transported to their conduct and life and manner and honour and nobleness and wisdom and prudence” (St. John Chrysostom, PG 50, 779-780).

Through prayer the Heavens are opened and Graces are dispensed throughout creation.

    Through prayer the gates of Hell are closed and the demons are bound in tethers.

     Through prayer all the Holy Sacraments of God’s Church are performed upon earth.

      Prayer is the remembrance of God, through which the earthly are brought to life, are rendered wise, are made Saints, and become gods by Grace.  For this reason, “‘We should remember the name of God in prayer more often than we breathe’, as Gregory the Theologian said” (St. John Chrysostom, “Commentary on Psalm 109”,  PG 55, 703)

       Prayer is the breath of the Holy Spirit which opens the Gates of Paradise: “And seeking mercy, ask this with a humble and pitiful heart, and cry out from morning to nightfall, if possible, even all night, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us’, and force your mind to this work until death” (St. John Chrysostom, PG 60, 752).

           Prayer is a ready weapon against passion and against the Devil, a heavenly victory, an eternal gain: “With the name of Jesus lash every opponent, for there is no weapon more powerful than this in the heavens and upon earth” (St. John Climacus of Sinai, Sermon 20, par. 7, PG 88, 945C).

           Prayer is a bulwark and defense against temptation, and this is so according to the Lord’s incontrovertible exhortation: “Be vigilant and pray, that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26: 41).

    Prayer contributes to pureness of mind, to goodness of volition, to uprightness of desire, to all that which Divine Grace is attracted to and in which alone the soul is alive.

All good, rational beings, since the creation of the world, pray to God.  The heavenly Angels ceaselessly and eternally praise, sing hymns and give glory to God.  Holy men of God, the Righteous, the Patriarchs and the Pro­phets prayed to God and God spoke with them. Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Job, Tobias, the High Priest Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph the Virtuous, the God-seeing Prophet Moses, the Archpriest Aaron, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Joel, Obadiah, Jonas, Nahum, Habakkuk, Sophonias, Haggai, Zachariah, Malachi, the Three Youths in the Furnace, Samuel, the Judges, Ruth, Judith, Esther, the Maccabees, the forebears of God Joachim and Anna, the parents of St. John the Baptist Zachariah and Elizabeth, the Birth-giver of God and Ever-Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist, the Apostles, the Apostolic Fathers, the God-bearing Fathers, the Hierarchs, the Pious and the Righteous, the Martyrs, and all the members of the Body of GOD’S  CHURCH over the centuries, named and anonymous, before and after Christ, prayed, are praying and will always pray. 

Prayer was even taught by our very Lord Jesus Christ, who prayed as a man.  Everyone who is from God will pray until the end of this world, and after this world, in the Triumphant Church, they will praise and give glory to God eternally.  The prayer of these persons is incense before God: “O Lord…let my prayer be counted as incense before Thee…” (Psalms 141: 1-2).

 Having received our existence from God, we also receive from God the necessary things for life through prayer.  Prayer takes the form of giving thanks, giving glory and supplicating.  It constitutes a personal communication of man with God, and is the first and main concern of every rational being.  Our orientation should always be towards our God.  Harkening to the voice of St. Gregory the Theologian, in every word and deed, “begin from God, and in God repose yourselves” (St. Gregory Nazianzene, PG 35, 408A, and the 1st Canon of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council, often called the Council in Trullo or the Penthekte Synod). Without prayer, man distances himself from God, the image of God becomes independent from God, man no longer reflects his archetype, and the mind flees from the Truth with devastating consequences: “The mind which distances itself from mentally gazing on God, becomes either a demon or a beast” (Palladius, The Lausiac History, chapter 98, PG 34, 1203D).

The Holy Fathers lived that which King David said in his prayer:  “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me bless His holy name” (Psalms 103: 1).  Being taught by the experience of their own vigilance and by the illumination of the Uncreated Divine Light, or, more correctly, being deified by the Divine Fire, they taught us how incessant mental prayer bears fruit:  as the breath is to the body, so prayer is to the soul.  Thus, those dwell­ing in sacred retreat, the hermits, breathe from their very heart, with every inhalation and exhalation, the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner,” which is a summary of the Gospel, or alternately the prayer to the Mother of God, “Most Holy Mother of God, save us.”

  The King-Prophet David says: “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live, I will sing praise to my God while I have being” (Psalms 104: 33) and “in all places of His dominion, bless the Lord, O my soul” (Psalms 103: 22).

  However, in order for prayer to nurture, warm, and enlighten the soul, it is not enough that it be performed only by the body, without the intellect and the disposition of the soul of him who prays being fully immersed in his prayer:  “The one praying only by mouth is praying to the air and not to God. For God is attentive to the mind and not to the speech, as are humans” (Pious Peter Damascus, Philokalia vol. 3, Book 1, Foreword, lines 17-19, in the Greek edition, Ε.Π.Ε. vol. 17, page 32).

  The entire work of Prayer is directed towards Salvation.  Salvation is impossible without deification or theosis, which is granted by Grace, of course, and is not according to nature or essence.  And let it be said again that life has no other purpose than this:  for man to become God by Grace, “For we are indeed His offspring” (Acts 17: 28).

                “There is no other virtue, either higher or more necessary, than Holy Prayer.  There is no other virtue higher than this one because all the other virtues, fasting, I say, wakefulness, sleeping on the ground, asceticism, virginity, charity, and all the remaining golden ones, including the harmonious ensemble of the heaven-woven series of godly virtues, although they are imitations of God, although they are inalienable properties and immortal adornment of souls, despite all this, these do not unite man with God, no, but only make man more apt to be united with God.  Holy Prayer, however, alone unites; only prayer joins man with God, and vice versa, God with man, and makes the two into one spirit:  by having a direct union and a tight connection of the Creator with His rational creations; thus states eloquently… the Bishop of Thessaloniki….Gregory [Palamas].  Communion through virtue prepares one by way of similarity to receive the Divine, but does not unite with God; the power of prayer, however, effectuates and consecrates this union and ascent of man towards the divine, being the bond of the rational creatures with the Creator” (St. Nikodeme the Hagiorite, Foreword, Concerning Prayer).

  Through Faith and the Holy Sacraments of Baptism and Divine Communion of the Precious Body and Immaculate Blood of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, Union with God by Grace is perfected, so that Apostle Paul may proclaim, “for we are members of His Body by way of His Flesh and of His Bones” (Ephesians 5: 30).

  Therefore, let us now eagerly lift our voices in prayer, so that when we are taken from God’s Church Militant on earth to the Triumphant Church in heaven, being risen with our Lord Christ Jesus in the common resurrection, we may be found again in incessant prayer and hymns and praises and thanksgiving, “from Glory to Glory” (2 Corinthians 3: 18), eternally dwelling in the Blessed KINGDOM OF GOD, the Church of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

[1]  Originally appeared in Greek in 2013, as the introduction to the prayerbook published by G.O.C. Metropolitan of Thessaloniki Chrysostom Metropoulos.

    All biblical quotations are taken from The Revised Standard Version of the Old and New Testaments, Westminster Book Stores, 1952.

    Thanks go to the translators, Helen Bomis and Rosemary Yeagle, for their selfless dedication, hard work and kind cooperation. However, for any inaccuracies that may appear, particularly in the doctrinal and liturgical language, or any deviations from the original text, all responsibility rests finally with the project coordinator, Dimitrios Garagounis.