Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Metropolitan Reflects on Prayer, part 5 and conclusion

How to Pray? (continued from part 4)

A sixth rule is to keep the balance between group prayer and personal prayer. Man is not primarily an individual. It is as a member of the Body of Christ that he has any standing before God. Therefore it is important for us to come into the presence of God regularly as a community - as a family, as a youth group, as a local congregation. And a community is composed of all kinds of people, not all of them exactly like you. They have different tastes, different ways of praying, different habits of prayer. I have to join them even sometimes when I think that their way of worship is not what it should be. Without participating in community worship and making the necessary adjustments for joining them, we cannot get rid of our selfishness and pride, and grow to be a real human being.

But community worship is not enough by itself. We need various levels of community with varying degrees of intensity of relationship. The youth group and the family are more intimate communities than the congregation. New forms can be used in these smaller groups which will be difficult or unfamiliar for the congregation as a whole. The prayers in this book are mainly meant for family and group worship, but can also be used for personal prayer in the privacy of your own room at home or in the hostel.

A seventh rule is that prayer should be nourished by reading of the Scriptures and meditation. One can discipline one self to read a chapter of Scripture every day.

Read aloud or silently. Meditate on the meaning of the passage. Devotional books may be helpful, but may also obscure the meaning of the Scripture. Do not worry about whether the reading of Scriptures gives you a feeling of devotion or not. Feelings are deceptive. What you need to find out is the answer to the following questions: "What was God saying to the people of that time through this passage? What does God say to me now?"

Systematic reading of the Scriptures and memorizing some passages which touch you deeply will be found very helpful as life advances. You will be grateful to God in your middle age that you started reading and memorizing when your mind was still impressionable.


All these rules are to help you to be become a praying Christian. Only your own sustained and disciplined practice will make you perfect. But remember one thing, prayer can never be isolated from common worship of the Eucharist and from the continuous, active compassionate love for your fellow men.Let us all pray: "Lord, Teach us to pray. Amen."

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)


Paul said...

What you need to find out is the answer to the following questions: "What was God saying to the people of that time through this passage? What does God say to me now?"

Father, I am concerned about this statement. Does this not fall under the "Bubba in the basement theory?"

How am I to understand what scripture meant then and/or versus now? I agree (not that I do it) scripture should be part of our daily readings, but should we also not have study guide or other Orthodox book of explanations nearby when we read?

Fr. James Early said...


No, the Metropolitan is not arguing for a Protestant approach to the Scriptures. To understand the Scriptures, we must certainly understand what they meant to the people of that time. This can be gained through biblical scholarship, both Patristic and modern (provided that the modern scholars are either Orthodox or at least orthodox with a small "o").

What scripture means to us NOW is often the same as it meant originally, such as the verse that says "Rejoice always! Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks." But some passages meant one thing by their author, but have a different application today. An example is Psalm 101:8 "Early I will destroy all the wicked of the land, that I may cut off all the evildoers from the city of the Lord." David intended this literally, whereas the Fathers teach us to interpret and apply it spiritually to our lives. We must cut off the wickedness and destroy the evil that is within us.

A study guide or other Orthodox book is very helpful. When these are not available (and even when they are sometimes), a wise priest, monk, or spiritual father should be consulted when you have questions.

Paul said...

Thank you Fr James. That is why I asked you. ;)

charlene said...

Father James and Paul,
Thank you,Paul, for asking the question. I had the same knee-jerk reaction to reading that part of Metropolitan Paulos' advice. Thank you Father James, for answering the question so well.
This has been such a wonderful series. I just went back and reread all the rules that had been given and outlined them.

Father James, I do have one further question, and it may be a pretty dumb one, but please consider the source is an old lady who has not been Orthodox for very long. What exactly does Metropolitin Paulos (or Orthodoxy in general) mean by meditation?