Archbishop Stylianos of Australia|
Εκδόσεις Αρμός, Μαυροκορδάτου 7, 106 78 Αθήνα
5) The various kinds of prayer.
Is should be clear from what has been said so far concerning the basic elements and essence of prayer, that prayer is a unified and lasting reality. An undifferentiated action of the soul. It is the "breathing" of the soul. Can the breathing of a living being be differentiated or divided into different kinds and categories when it is such a fundamental Function of life? Essentially, therefore, the phenomenon of prayer is undίvided, regardless of the conditions under which it is conducted.
Thus, that which occurs formally as a common act of worship during regular times of the day in Church, is not "prayer" any more than what the faithful offer -even "without words"- closed in their "own room", or isolated in any other place. Yet in spite of this, while common worship in Church -in the context of which the Sacraments of the Church are always celebrated- ensures the sanctifying and salvific grace of the "communion of the Holy Spirit", private prayer cannot yield such transcendent results. This may secure inner stillness and greater compuction, including many other spiritual gifts, but it cannot replace in the least the grace of the Sacraments which presuppose a special celebrant with "apostolic succession" and "canonical priesthood". This is precisely why even the most austere hermits who disappear during the whole week in unapproachably high places or in openings of the earth, go to the closest monastery in order to receive Holy Communion. These things are not the ritualistic inventions of "the priests", an accusation often made by blaspheming and impious people. Rather, they are "structural features" in the fundamental concept of "Covenant" which God Himself has established in history for His people. God did not want history to flow carelessly as an uncontrolled and irresponsible succession of periods of time and human adventures, but rather as "Divine economy" which is continuously served by "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor 4:1). Only in that way could the flame of divine "Law" (nomos) remain undying throughout the entire "house (oikos) of God".
There are unfortunately however some faithful who judge superficially and with "zeal which is not accordίng to knowledge" (Rom 10:2), who are unjustly scandalised by secondary and totally external features of common worship within the Church building. For example, they are annoyed by the noise, the splendour, the display, the apparently pharisaic accuracy with liturgical forms, the repetitions and the general "spectacular", if not "theatrical", nature of collective and formal worship. As a counterbalance to all of this, one need not only remember the irreplaceable grace of the Sacraments about which we have just spoken. There is another more human and mystical dimension to the phenomenon of common worship which should not be overlooked. This has to do with the purely psychological relief which a lonely person feels when he sees himself incorporated into a broader multitude of brothers and sisters having the same Faith, Hope and Love. When he sees the poor and ragged as equal "table-companions" with the magnate and the officer. The wise with the ignorant. Μan with woman. The elderly with the infant. The cleric with the layperson. When he sees that the common invocation of "Lord have mercy" legitimises all, as children of the heavenly Father. The actual confession of "we pray to You". The concluding prayer of "Amen". Νo matter how haughty or unemotional one may be, he or she would have to admit that worship cannot be a manifestation upon "aristocratic" guidelines, in the way that "cultural" activities for example would require! Common worship is the most astounding experience of the broader and deeper "solidarity" in God.
If according to form we can distinguish between common and private prayer, then the content of the prayer can usually be divided into three major types:
- the Petition
- the Thanksgiving
- the Doxology (or Praise)
a) Petition. Just as the name suggests, this prayer expresses a need, or a request for assistance from God. Since people normally ask for something when praying, the terms prayer and petition have almost become synonymous. "Ι petition" or "Ι entreat", according to the corresponding Greek word "deomai" (δέομαι), literally means "Ι need". When used in reference to God, it in fact means "Ι need You", rather than "Ι pray to You". The verb δέομαι only signifies prayer generally when it has the preposition "for". It was in this sense that Christ said to Peter "Ι have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail" (Luke 22:32). As we can see, the use of the word δέομαι in this instance has totally lost its original meaning of "Ι need".
Yet we have already said that the only thing which one can be entitled to ask for in prayer is "the forgiveness of sins". When this "forgiveness" restores the balance of the justice of God and His will prevails, then all other things follow as mere consequences. This is why Christ said "seek First the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Mat. 6:33). Thus in essence, the object of prayer is always one unique thing: the forgiveness of sins. God fulfils everything else, as we have said, even if we do not ask for them, regardless of whether it is ourselves or others who are concerned. This is why the command was given to us by Christ Himself not to use "νaίn repetitions". The thief on the Cross became the first occupant of Paradise with the mere words "remember me", as the Fathers often state.
b) Thanksgiving. Again, it is clear from the name itself that this kind of prayer is the response of the human person to God for the fulfilment of certain petitions and prayers. Great caution is required here, however, so as not to think that one should thank God only when one receives whatever is requested. That would be a more or less commercial kind of communication. Ιn other words, a form of transaction which reduces the value and sacredness of prayer, even if it has to do with spiritual requests and goods.
If the praying person places all petitions in order, having the will of God i.e. His Kingdom and righteousness first, then he or she must be ready to accept without protest -and indeed with thanksgiving- whatever God finally gives. St John Chrysostom observes that many times "it is much more benefιcial not to receive, rather than to receive what we have asked for" (PG 55, 525). These are cases when one, without correct judgement, may request things which are of no benefit to one's spiritual life. Such cases Christ Himself pointed out to His disciples when He stated "you do not know what you ask" (Mat.20:22). For this very reason, the Celebrant always reminds the faithful in Church: "For what is good and benefιcial to our souls, and for the peace of the world let us ask of the Lord".
Yet even when what we ask for is not unprofitable, but obviously good, if God does not give it to us for a certain period of time, this happens only for our own good. To make us request it with greater zest, longing for it more intensely and approaching God from whom we seek it with deeper compunction. Initially it is often better that God, the Giver of all good things, does not give us something, rather than give it. Ιn spiritual life, askesis or ascetic endeavour, is similar to the process involved with athletics. Just as increased obstacles in physical training gradually lead to better performances, so it is that the more we are deprived in our spiritual struggle, the more complete our training is, and the more perfect we become by the purification involved.
When we confess God as Lord of life and death, then we should know that His Lordship does not have conditions but rather we are to accept this absolutely. St John Chrysostom states: "If He is the Lord who gives to you, then He must be the Lord who knows when to give to you, what to give to you, and what not to give to you" (PG 55, 526).
Ιn summarizing, we should say that thanksgiving (ευχαριστώ, literally eucharist) is to be found in all expressions and kinds of prayer, which is why the root of all the other Sacraments of the Church is characteristically called the "Divine Eucharist". It is in this sense that we should understand the wish of St Paul to summarize the entire life of the faithful within the Eucharist by telling us to "rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks" (1 Thess 5:16).
c) Thanksgiving or Praise. The difference between Doxology and the other two kinds of prayer can be briefly expressed by saying that this is as far removed from both others as the sky is from the earth!
While Petitions and Thanksgiving refer to this world (the former to its needs, the second to its sentiments), Doxology refers to God Himself and, to be more precise, to the way in which God is reflected in the human conscience. Doxology is therefore theology.
Of course, God is not reflected in the conscience of a person "as He is". For, the essence of God always remains un-known and unapproachable in this world. God however is shown according to His uncreated energies and according to their results (i.e. the works). Again, we can only infer what God is like from these "relationships" of the uncreated God with His created world. We are informed of these relationships and energies mainly through the Holy Scriptures but also from the whole of Creation. Only on the basis of these can we deduce what we can call Him. As is known, from the written Revelation of God, but also from His Creation as a whole, we are informed that God is "All-wise, All powerful, All-good" e.t.c.
The subject of Doxology therefore is solely the name of God. When Moses asks God "what is Your name", God does not reveal any name, but instead the unspeakable mystery of divinity, by stating word for word "Ι am who Ι am" (Ex. 3:14). The name and praising of God will always remain for the faithful something which is sought after. A perpetual perplexity, a thirst which, the more intensely it is experienced, the more mystically it deifies the human person.
The Fathers of the Church, realising that no name can sufficiently express or even allude to the divine majesry, called God the "One of all names", and eventually "The Anonymous". Indeed, St. Gregory the Theologian considers the only permissible description of God to be "beyond all things" which means apart, beyond and above everything. Thus we arrive at the original meaning of the term "holiness" which, as is known, is the absolute distinccion and distance of God from the world, while God never ceases to be "present everywhere and filling all things".
The approach of the faithful with regard to the name of God is not a mere case of an "address" or "title". On the contrary, it is either a "hallowing" or "blaspheming" of the Divine name.
Νow we can understand why the first petition of the Lord's prayer is "Hallowed be Your name", and why the great prohibition in the Ten Commandments is "do not use the name of God in νain".
Ιn religious vocabulary, then, the name is not a conventional or chance characterisation. Rather, it expresses as accurately as it can the essence. St. John Chrysostom had such confidence in the mystical power of the name of God that he said: "if Ι only pronounce Your name, Ι can achieve all things exceedingly" (PG 55,176).
We therefore glorify and praise God not only when we chant the liturgical Doxology "glory to You who has shown the light", but also when we commence any liturgical or secular act, by saying "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit". The invocation of the name of God is equivalent to a confession of His infinite glory and power which, in the final analysis, are nothing other than His goodness and love. This is precisely the reason why Baptism -which is the incorporation of the individual person into the one body of Christ, the Church- is conducted, according to the command of Christ Himself (cf. Mat.28:20) "in the name".