Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios Verghese, Malankara (Syrian) Orthodox Bishop of New Delhi and all North India (+1996)
1. What is Prayer?
Prayer is like breathing. Without breathing we cannot love. When we breathe, air enters our lungs, cleanses the blood in our veins by relieving it of the carbon dioxide, and supplying it with oxygen. If I do not breathe for a few minutes I die. When I have hard physical work to do, I need more air than when I am sleeping or sitting in a chair.
Fortunately God has so ordained that we do not die spiritually just because we have failed to pray for some time. But when there is no prayer, sin accumulates and the proper functioning of the spiritual life becomes obstructed. And if you have important spiritual work to do, you need more prayer than otherwise. Only those who pray constantly are exercising their spiritual muscles.
Prayer is communion or communication with God - opening ourselves to Him and receiving His love. It is by living consciously in this relationship of love that we can be transformed into the image of God. By prayer, we become more like God, more loving, more wise, more powerful, more kind and good.
In prayer, we are cleansed of the accumulated impurities of our life and we are supplied with power to live a good, kind and holy life.
Prayer is not a matter of asking God for all kinds of things. Some teenagers speak to their earthly father only when they need money. We should not become like them in relation to our heavenly Father - going to Him only when we need something. The relationship is valuable in itself, as in all true love. It is not what we get out of it that matters, but the fact that we are in communion with our Heavenly Father.
2. Why Pray?
Does not God know what we need even before we ask him? Why does He want us to ask? Does prayer change God's will in any way? Can my prayer change the future that God has already determined?
These are legitimate questions that need to be answered. The Bible says clearly 'you Father knows what you need before you ask Him' (St. Matthew 6:8). But God wants that we know what is good for others as well as for ourselves. God wants that our will should not incline towards evil, but desire the good with deep yearning. Prayer is therefore a way of training the will to desire the good, as well as of turning our wills toward the highest concentration of all good, namely God.
Prayer is thus a way of becoming good by using our freedom to turn towards the good and to will the good. By prayer we become like God. God is good and wills the good. We should also become like God in willing and desiring what is good. By communion with God we also learn to desire the good which God also desires.
God said: 'Let there be light' and there was light. And God saw that the light was good (Gen. 1:3-4). What God willed became reality. We are to become like God. So we must also acquire the capacity to will the good, and it will happen as we desire, when we become more and more like God. Prayer is an expression of our will in desiring the good and realizing it. When we are delivered from selfishness, pride, and evil desires, our prayers will become more like the creative Word of God, which merely by saying 'let there be light' can create light.
God has made us partakers of His own divine nature. He has called us to share in God's own glory and excellence (2 Pet. 1:4). When we trust in God and live a life of discipline, prayer, worship, virtue, knowledge, godliness, brotherly affection and love (2 Pet. 1:5-8), we are transformed into God's likeness and share in His divine power. God wants us to have a part in the task of shaping this world through prayer and knowledge and work.
METROPOLITAN PAULOS MAR GREGORIOS, Appendix: "What is Prayer? Why Pray? How Pray? (written for Orthodox young people in India)" pages 76-83 The Joy of Freedom 1967 (republished 1986 by CLS, Madras, India)
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