Reflections on the Orthodox faith and life in this crazy 21st century world by an Orthodox priest and a few of his friends.
Friday, June 19, 2009
A Metropolitan Reflects on Prayer, part 4
How To Pray? (continued from part 3)
A fifth rule is to use our whole body and even material things in the service of prayer. Prayer is an act of the whole man, body, soul and spirit. The body can participate in prayer through posture, speech, and acts:
a. Posture - In our Eastern tradition, the posture for prayer is standing, facing east, with arms uplifted or folded in adoration and worship.
b. Focus - It is good to have a focal point outside - a cross with two candles on each side, icons or pictures of Christ, of the Blessed Virgin Mother and of the Saints, or even a more elaborate prayer-altar fixed in some part of the house, where the whole family assembles for prayer.
Crucifixes, i.e. crosses with the presentation of the crucified body of Christ on it, belong to the Western tradition and are not to be encouraged in our tradition. In choosing pictures, it is best to use Eastern icons. [Fr. James's note: The metropolitan here is referring to three-dimensional crosses. Two-dimensional wall crosses that show the crucified Christ are definitely part of the Orthodox tradition.] Pictures with the sacred heart of Christ or of the Virgin Mother are to be avoided, because these belong to a particular period in Latin piety and are not helpful for a balanced spirituality.
c. Lips and Mouth - The body must pray, not merely the mind. Let your lips and mouth sing the praises of God, even if your mind does not always follow. The act of the lips and mouth is also your act of prayer, even without the concentration. Singing is better than saying your prayers, for in the very music certain human attitudes and aspirations are expressed.
d. Wandering of the mind - Do not get anxious about the wandering of your mind. When you become aware that your mind is wandering bring it back by consciously offering your wandering mind also to God. It is part of our confession about ourselves. "This is what I am Lord, distracted and unable to concentrate. I offer myself to Thee as I am. Take my wandering and distracted mind, and heal it by Thy grace." God will forgive you and transform you gradually.
e. Gestures - Use the gestures of prostration, bowing the head, making the sign of the cross and giving the kiss of peace. Words are not the only means of expression we have. Folding the hands and bowing is a sign of adoration, and of waiting for a blessing. Lifting up your hands with palms open, can mean petition, penitence, and intercession. Prostration is the sign of complete surrender and submission, placing yourselves in the hands of God with full trust.
Making the sign of the cross is a way of reminding ourselves that we have been saved by the Cross of Christ, in fact crucified with Christ. Keep your three fingers together (thumb, index and middle fingers) to touch the forehead (symbolizing the Trinity, the source of all life and all good) and make a descending motion to the lower side of your chest to signify the descent of the Son of God from heaven to earth for our salvation, then take your fingers from your left arm to your right arm signifying both the horizontal arm of the cross, and the fact that we who were on the left as children of darkness, have now been brought to the right side of God as children of light. [Fr. James' note: This is an interesting difference between the praxis of the Oriental Orthodox and the Eastern Orthodox; of course, in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, we make the sign of the cross from right to left].
Giving the kiss of peace is the symbol of mutual forgiveness and love, and it is a time for us to overcome all feelings of bitterness or anger against members of the family or others outside.
All these signs are part of a language which goes much deeper than words and transforms our sub-conscious minds which words can seldom reach.