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The Necessity of Prayer

The knowledge of God is obviously based on faith. This faith is the first response of the human heart to the content of religious truths, an agreement with and acceptance of them. As it strengthens and becomes deeper, this faith eventually brings one's heart to peace in God, to a Christian hope on God. On the other hand, Orthodoxy teaches us that the Christian faith is inseparably bound to love for God. And love always demands a living, personal relationship with the one we love. In our relationship with God, this love is first of all made manifest in prayer.

One who does not pray is not a Christian. Prayer is the first and most essential element in our spiritual life. It is the breath of our soul, and without it, the soul dies, just as the body dies without air. All the vital functions of the body depend upon its breathing. In exactly the same way, one's spiritual life depends on prayer, and a person who does not pray to God is spiritually dead.

Prayer is the conversation of man with God. One who remembers, knows and loves God will unfailingly turn to Him in prayer. There is a seriously erroneous view of prayer now becoming wide spread. Some say, "One must not force oneself to pray. If I desire to pray, I will pray, if there is no desire, there is no need to pray."

This is a complete lack of understanding of the matter. What would one accomplish in one's worldly activity if one did not force oneself to do anything, but only did what was desired? More so in spiritual life, where everything that is precious and meaningful is acquired by force, by the struggle of work on oneself. Let us again recall that according to our Savior, the Kingdom of God (and everything pertaining to it) is attained by force. So, it is indispensable for a Christian to firmly accept in his heart that he must pray no matter what, regardless of his desire or lack of desire. If you have a good desire to pray, thank God from Whom everything good comes, and do not lose the chance to pray from the soul. If you do not have this desire, and the time for prayer arrives, then it is necessary to force yourself, encouraging your lethargic and lazy spirit by reminding it that prayer (like every good deed) is all the more precious in God's eyes when it is given with difficulty. The Lord does not disdain any prayer if one prays sincerely, as best he knows how, even though he has not developed the habit of praying fully and with unweakening fervor.

One who lives even a partial spiritual Christian life, will always find something about which to pray to Him, because for such a person, God is a loving Father, a Mighty Protector and an unending Spring of help and strength. The Christian hurries to Him in need and in woe, as a child to its parent.

In His conversation with the Samaritan woman, our Lord declared that, "True worshippers worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth." This is the basic principle of Christian prayer. It must be fulfilled in spirit and truth, and in praying, a Christian must gather all his spiritual strengths into one deep, concentrated effort in himself, in his soul and contemplate the words of the prayer. Obviously, when one has such a correct view of prayer one understands that it is impossible to give the name "prayer" to the act of merely being present at prayer, or reading it with the tongue while one's thoughts are far from it. St. John Chrysostom says of such "prayers," "Your body is inside the church, but your thoughts have flown to who knows where. The lips pronounce prayers, but the mind counts income, crops, real estate and friends ... You do not hear your own prayers - how do you expect that God will hear them?" A Christian must not pray in such a manner. He prays in "spirit and truth." He prays in spirit, concentrated in the depth of his "I," through profound experiences of the heart. He prays in truth - not hypocritically, but in a sincere frame of mind, in true supplication to the Incarnate Truth - to Christ the Savior.

Of course, this does not (in spite of Protestant error) abrogate the necessity of external prayer, but only requires its union with internal prayer. Man is not an angel; his soul does not live without the body, just as the body does not live without the soul. Apostle Paul says, "Glorify God in your bodies also, and in your souls, which are God's." Therefore, the most basic and complete view of prayer is that in which both the internal and external are present. They tightly unite with each other: both inner experience, man's supplication to God, and outer activity - prostrations, standing at prayer, crossing oneself and various acts in the Divine Services.

Ordinarily, there are three distinctive types of prayer: petitioning, glorifying and thanksgiving. In our prayerbooks and Divine Services, all these three types are applied, mutually complementing one another.

A person who prays to God must remember that prayer cannot go unheard if it is sincere and breathes of living faith. The Lord Himself said, "Everything is possible to one who believes." Apostle James, however, explains how destructive doubt is in prayer, saying that one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, tossed to and fro by the wind. Such a person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. In the Holy Gospel, moreover, we often read how the Lord, in healing those who came to Him, told them, "Let it be according to your faith...Your faith has made you whole." But firmly believing in God's strength, mercy and help, a Christian must not forget that every petition for his desires must submit to the all-good will of the Heavenly Father, Who knows what we need. In such a state of faith and dedication to God's will, one will thank God equally whether or not the Lord fulfils one's request. This is quite natural, since such a person believes absolutely that God's wisdom and love directs everything to the benefit and good of man. With good reason, we sing in the Church prayer:

"O Thou Who, with wisdom profound, mercifully order all things, and give that which is expedient unto all men."

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