Thursday, December 29, 2011

Meditation or Prayer?

Prayer is an essential part of our Orthodox way of Life.  I spent most of my life without a daily prayer habit.  Because of my separation from God, I was lured into participating in a meditation practice.  Fortunately, it supported the use of Christian prayers including the Jesus Prayer.  But it was only a technique for quieting and stilling the mind. It was very useful, giving me the ability to deal with high levels of stress and to avoid anger, but I knew there was more.  I was led then to a return and full acceptance of my Orthodox faith.  I sought help from a spiritual father, albeit with reluctance at first. With the direction of my spiritual father, I stopped the use of the Jesus prayer for a while as I had to learn that it is properly practiced only as a true prayer and not by merely repeating the words as was taught in the meditation practice. I was using it as a technique rather than a prayer. After a year I again began using the Jesus Prayer, but now as part of a broader rule of prayer and practice of my Orthodox faith. I learned with some difficulty that the recitation of the Jesus prayer has to be a true prayer, not just a repetition of the words.  This means praying with a contrite heart, and a full recognition of my sinfulness, seeking with sincerity God's mercy.  I learned after many years that peace and joy only comes with true prayer as taught in the Orthodox Tradition. 

Matthew the Poor says the following about prayer,
"Let him who does not pray expect nothing whatsoever from God- neither salvation nor renewal no direction nor grace. Rather, he is consigned to the whims and fancy of his own mind, the will of his own ego, and the direction of his own thinking. He is like one who has rejected the intervention of the Lord Jesus in his life, like one who hides himself from the Spirit of God. A man who does not pray is one who is content with his own condition. He wishes to remain as he is and not be changed, renewed or saved. His life unconsciously changes from bad to worse. He recedes spiritually day after day. The ties that bind him to the earth and to the flesh increase without his awareness. His ego remains the source of all his desires and ambitions.
As for his relationship with Christ, it remains only superficial and outward. It has no power to change or amend anything. The possibility to even deny Christ at times of danger, temptation, illness, or poverty becomes imminent.
So if man does not pray, he can never be changed or renewed, and he who is not changed or renewed can have no genuine or effective relationship with Christ. His worship, however active, is nothing but an outward protrusion or a superficial growth. In the end it breaks off, bearing no fruit." 
All this I can affirm. When I was meditating I often felt content with my own efforts. I did not feel it necessary to go to Church regularly. I eventually reached a point of intense guilt for rejecting Jesus and recognized I was becoming very self-centered. I had made myself the authority on about everything, especially anything that had to do with my spiritual practice. I learned the most important spiritual lesson, that without a comprehensive daily prayer rule, within the Tradition of the Church, it is difficult if not impossible to develop a relationship with God. Daily prayer must be coupled with a regular participation in the Sacraments of the Chruch and a reading of Scripture and teachings of the Church Fathers. One supports the other. Meditation can help as a transition, but one must eventually surrender to the teachings of Christ through prayer, surrender to the Traditions of the Church and seek a spiritual father as a guide. One needs someone who is a bit more spiritually mature in the Orthodox Tradition to show you the proper way to a sound Orthodox prayer life.

For help on developing a daily prayer rule go to the website Orthodox Prayer

Reference: From “Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way” by Fr. Matthew the Poor

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