Archbishop Stylianos of Australia|
Εκδόσεις Αρμός, Μαυροκορδάτου 7, 106 78 Αθήνα
1) The term "prayer".
If there is one topic which has not left any conscientious member of the Church disinterested, regardless of the period or conditions in which he or she lives, it is prayer. And this comes as no great suprise, if one considers the relationship of Christ Himself with prayer. Ιn other words, how He exercised it throughout His life on earth, but also how He spoke of the need and value of prayer. Ιn the Old Testament, also, prayer is the "backbone" which keeps the people of God upright and mobile, either as a whole or as individuals, each in their own specialised responsibility and function. Ιn principle, we could say that both the anatomy and physiology of the people of God -as a whole or as individuals- is literally built upon the notion or power of prayer. This is why the entire people and each faithful are made and named "the temple of the living God" (Ι Cor 6:19 and 2 Cor 6:16). Precisely because they are "built" as "temples" where God shall dwell, all the people of God are called, through the mouth of Isaiah, to dialogue and communion with God: "Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool" (Is 1:8).
All people of God spoke or wrote about prayer, no matter where or when they lived. They either spoke among each other, exchanging opinions and experiences, or with God Himself seeking more direct and valid insights.
The name which each people gave to prayer in their own language of course varies, yet the meaning is always basically the same: a "conversatιon" between God and the human person. Still, the terms used for prayer vary in accuracy and expressiveness according to the spiritual cultivation of each people and the degree of development of its linguistic tool. Ιn the sacred Greek language of the New Testament, the most common. is "prayer" (πρoσευχή). Yet in the language of the Fathers, particularly in monasticism, it appears that the term was used in its more simple form, i.e. "wish" (ευχή). Most writings in Church literature are titled "On the wish", while the commentaries and analysis on the example which Christ gave us to refer to our heavenly Father are entitled "On the Lord's prayer".
Today, however, "wish" and "prayer" have become radically differentiated one from the other in our spoken language. Thus, "wish" has come to mean simply a strong desire or the expression of kind sentiments, in the hope that they will be fulfilled either for ourselves or for others. We say, for example, "Ι wish that I could pass my exams" or "Ι wish you all the best", "Ι send you my best wishes". So the only constant name for our communication and conversing with God is now "prayer".
Ιn analysing the Greek term for prayer in both its parts, we have on the one hand the prefix "towards" (πρoς), and on the other the noun "wish" (ευχή). Thus to say that "Ι pray" means that my good desire and hope and wish is not expressed vaguely and "blindly". Rather, Ι express this "towards" the one who is able to bless and realise this, namely God. "Let my prayer come before you as incense" (Psalm 141:2).
The prefix "towards" must therefore always move in the spirit of the verticle (towards that which is above) and not in the horizontal (sideways), in order to be prayer. Whatever moves horizontally is of this world, and it cannot give a solution to our various problems in this world. The word of God clearly warns us against this: "Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help" (Ps 146:3).
The phrase "let us lift up our hearts" used in the Divine Liturgy is not therefore a rhetorical form used in worship, but rather an ingredient or a substantial element of prayer.