Monday, September 4, 2017

What is Prayer?


We all assume we know what prayer is, but do we really know? How do we feel in prayer? What does it mean to live prayer?

Elder Aimilianos says prayer is the vehicle of the soul. "It is the atmosphere the soul lives in." He compares it to our breathing, that it is the breath of the soul.
It is only when the Spirit prays within us that our prayer is able to ascend to heaven. Prayer is in the Spirit and the Spirit comprehends Spirit and is united with that, not with flesh.
We should ask ourselves if we are still holding on to a child's way of prayer. Prayer is much more than asking for something good in this life for others or ourselves. The Elder says "that prayer is a journey towards God." For an Orthodox Christian, prayer must become a way of life, a key part of their journey to knowing and being united with God.

The Elder reminds us of the incredible task we are engaged it when we pray. We are so different than God. He is in heaven but we live in a physical world here on earth. His essence is beyond what we can comprehend. The Elder says "God is light and we are darkness," emphasizing the difference. Because of the large difference we should expect to experience a struggle with prayer. In relation to God the soul is very small and is also clouded with all our earthly desires and passions. God is so great and perfect that our attempt at prayer only makes us aware of our smallness and weakness. The closer we come to God the more we realize our condition.

This means that prayer is naturally a struggle. The Elder says, 
It follows that we experience prayer initially - when we start to pray - as a wrestling-match, as a struggle... not in the sense that it is difficult to pray,  that I have to struggle to gather my thoughts or overcome my sleepiness, ... this is ascetic struggle... [but] the struggle we have with God. 
This means the feeling we can have is a feeling of this great gap, so large it appears to be an insurmountable obstacle. We are reminded  of the transcendence of God. Bridging this great difference between us is the nature of the struggle we should feel in prayer.

The Elder makes an important point, 
When I do not have this sense of this struggle with God... I have not even begun to pray.


Reference: The Authentic Seal, by Archimandrite Aimilianos, pp 199-201.

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