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What's the Need?

Recently, I was speaking to someone who was struggling with a bout of depression, something common to us all. They were listing all of the things they were doing to try and struggle against what they knew was going on inside themselves, yet one thing was missing.

"Have you been praying?" "...I've gone to Liturgy every weekend." "Okay, you went to church, but have you been praying?"

As an iconographer, I can understand that for some people church has what might be possibly a number of other attractions for them. I used to go to the services and stare at the icons all service long and, admittedly, I was studying the iconography more than I was praying. For some, church is a social or ethnic occasion where they can meet up with people of like mind that they enjoy the company of, under the common banner of Orthodoxy. For others, it is a relatively sad, laborious opportunity to fulfill a psychological obligation they feel burdened with. "It's Pascha." or "We haven't been there in a while and it's our coffee hour this week." or "I've got to read at the chanter's stand this week." In fairness, to say that I have never been part of the latter group would be a lie.

The services of the Church are much more than a communal meeting place for a group of people who call themselves Christians. It is a meeting place with God. Let's say someone who cared for us deeply invited us to their home for supper. Would it be right for us to saunter in when we please, walk around the home, staring at the pictures on the walls, the books on the shelf, critique the kitchen's layout, the quality of the furniture, ignore the food at the table and then leave? Or how about if we walked in and said "HellomyfriendthankyouforinvitingmeeventhoughIhadotherthingstodobutImheresoletsgettowhateveritisthatyouwantedmehereforthefoodisreallygoodbutimnotthathungryagainireallydidntwantobeheresoialreadyatetodaywhencanwego" and then left? Would that be a proper visit with a beloved guest? Of course not.

In reality, we would arrive on time, and, before the meal was served, we would sit down and talk with our beloved friend. We would each ask each other how the other was doing and of course, in our love for them, wish them congratulations on milestones, or encourage them in their successes and try to fix any wrongdoings between us. Respectfully and prayerfully, we would eat the food they prepared for us with thankfulness. When the meal was over, we might have a few more words with them and then be on our way. This relationship wouldn't stop there, though, would it? We would continue to communicate with them through phone calls, letters or emails, checking in to see how they were doing, and, likely even inviting them over to dinner or to a picnic at a later date.

We can understand how much communication and communion with another person or family matters on a personal level. How much more so with God? I think that people forget to talk to God in prayer rather than to rattle off a bunch of prayers from a prayer book. I think that people either do not know or have forgotten the power that is in prayer. So I present to you a short reminder on what prayer is, what it does, and how much it affects everything in life. I firmly believe that if we actually prayed more a lot of holes in our hearts would be filled and a lot of stumbling blocks would be smoothed out.

My apologies for the block of text presented below. It's how the text is in the original, and after trying to edit it to make it more readable, it became kind of frenetic, so I left it as is.


The Monks Kallistos and Ignatios


Prayer and the Need to Pray Always

From the Philokalia Vol. V

Part 29 - More About Prayer and the Need to Pray Always

As when the soul leaves, the body becomes dead and stinking; so the soul not urging itself to prayer is dead, damned and fetid. The great prophet Daniel, who chose death rather than being without prayer for a single moment (Ch. 9), teaches us that we should regard being deprived of prayer as worse than any death. St. John Chrysostom too speaks well on this: ‘Every man’, he says, ‘when praying converses with God. Each of us understands how great a thing it is, being man, to converse with God; but I doubt if anyone can express this honor in words, for it is higher even than the station of angels.’ And: ‘Prayer is a doing common to both angels and men; and no wall divides the two kinds of being in this doing. Prayer separates you from those who lack the Word and unites you with the angels. A man who strives all his life to practice praying and serving God, speedily becomes akin to angels in life, honor, estate, wisdom and understanding.’ Again: ‘When the devil sees a soul protected by virtues, he dare not come near it, fear the strength and power given to it by prayer, which feeds the soul more richly than food feeds the body.’ And: ‘Prayers are the nerves of the soul. By nerves the body is kept in order, lives, moves and remains stable; but when the nerves are cut the whole harmony of the body is destroyed; in the same way souls are kept in order by holy prayers, acquire stability and move smoothly and easily in the way of righteousness. If you deprive yourself of prayer, it is like taking a fish our of water. For as water means life to a fish, so prayer means life to you. As a fish through water, so the soul can rise through the air to heaven and stand in the presence of God.’ Again: ‘Prayer and praying make men temples of God. As gold, precious stones and marble adorn the palaces of kings, so do prayers adorn the temples of Christ -the souls of believers. What greater praise can there be for prayer than that it makes us temples of God, and that He Whom the heavens cannot contain yet enters into the living soul in prayers?’ And: ‘The power of holy prayers can be seen from how Paul, who traversed the whole universe as on wings, lived in prisons, endured floggings, was put in chains, lived among blood and suffering, cast out demons, raised the dead, cured diseases, yet put his trust in none of these in building the salvation of men, but kept his soul safe by prayers and, when he had performed miracles and raised the dead, hastened to prayer as to the supreme doing, crowning all endeavor -for it is prayer that bestows the power of raising the dead and of all else. For prayers have the same power in the lives of the saints as water in the life of trees.’ Again: ‘Prayer is the cause of salvation, the source of immortality, the indestructible wall of the Church, the unassailable fortress, which terrifies the demons and protects us in the works of righteousness.’ And: ‘As a queen entering a town is attended by all kinds of riches, so prayer, entering a soul, brings every virtue in its train.’ And: ‘Prayer in the soul is as the foundation to a house. Setting it in the soul, as root and foundation, we must zealously build thereon chastity, care of the poor and the fulfillment of all the laws of Christ.’ And again: ‘Zealous prayer is the light of mind and soul, a constant, inextinguishable light. Therefore during prayer our bitter enemy floods our mind and drenches our soul with a measureless filth of thoughts and collects together quantities of things which had never entered our heads.’ And: ‘Prayer is a great weapon, a great protection.’ The Theologian also says: “It is more essential to remember God than to breathe.’ And: ‘You must think of God more often than you breathe.’ And St. Isaac says: ‘You cannot approach God without constant prayer.’ And: ‘Placing some other care in the mind, after the work of prayer, brings dispersal of thoughts.’ And: ‘Every prayer which does not tire the body, and make the heart contrite is like an abortive child: for such a prayer is without soul.’ And St. John of the Ladder says: ‘In quality prayer is communion (synousia, co-existence, merging into one being) and union of man with God. In action, it is what the world stands by, reconciliation with God, the mother of tears and again their daughter, propitiation for sin, a bridge over temptations, a wall against sorrows, the cessation of warfare, the doing of angels, the food of all incorporeal spirits, the future bliss, a doing without end or limit, the source of virtues, the seeker and finder of gifts, invisible achievement, food of the soul, light of the mind, the sword cutting off despair, the evidence of hope, the loosing of the bonds of sorrow, the riches of monks, the treasure of hesychasts, the gradual decrease of anger to nought, the mirror of achievement, the measure of a man’s degree, the evidence of spiritual state, the foreteller of the future, the sign of glorification. For a man who truly prays, prayer is the torture chamber, the court of justice and the throne of the future’ (Ch 28,1). And: ‘Prayer is estrangement from the world both visible and invisible.’ And St. Nilus says: ‘If you wish to achieve prayer, renounce all to inherit all.’ And: ‘Prayer is the ascent of the mind to God.’ Again: ‘Prayer is converse of the mind with God.’ And: ‘Bread is food for the body, virtue - for the soul: prayer is spiritual food for the mind.’

So think thus of prayer (as food of the soul).

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