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On a Prayer Rule


We must learn to pray. We should master the skill of prayer phrases and movements of feelings in order to not just read out a prayer that is due, but also to invoke and strengthen the prayerful spirit in our souls.

To succeed in that we should:

  • First: never pray hastily, we should rather do it slowly as if singing. In old times when all the prayers had been taken from psalms, they were sung, not read.
  • Second: perceive every word, not only understanding the idea conscientiously, but involving the appropriate emotion.
  • Third: to curb your wish to read quickly, make it a rule for yourself that praying is not just reading this or that number of prayers, but giving some definite time to a prayer, say, a quarter or half of an hour...for as long as you are accustomed to pray. Do not worry about the number of prayers, but when the set time is up and you do not want to go on praying, just stop there.
  • Fourth: having tuned yourself thus do not look at the clock, but take a stand as if you will stand there forever, then your will not rush ahead....
  • Fifth: in order to help the movement of prayerful feelings, reread and ponder over all the prayers of your prayer rule in your spare time with due feelings so that when you are praying you would know beforehand what feeling should be born in your heart.
  • Sixth: never read all the prayers one after another, but always intersperse them with your own prayers and bows. When you feel something suddenly coming into your heart you should stop your prayer and make bows. This last rule is the most important and necessary for bring up the prayerful spirit... If you are overcome by some very strong feeling, retain it and make bows to the end of the set time without reading prayers.

Pray not only in the morning and evening, but if you have chance — at any time of the day, bowing several times.

When you are too busy to fulfill your prayer rule, make it shorter, but do not pray hastily. God is everywhere. After getting up in the morning give thanks to Him and ask Him to bless the work of your coming day in your own words, then make some bows and that is enough! Never turn to God nonchalantly, but always with great reverence. He does not need either our bows or long prayers... A short, but strong cry of your heart —that is what reaches Him! And you are always able to do that.

You can compile your own prayer rule, too. Memorize the prayers printed in prayer books and read them by heart with understanding and feeling. While doing it insert your own prayer. The less you would depend on the book, the better. Learn some psalms and when you are going somewhere or doing something while your head is not occupied with it, read them... That is your conversation with God. The prayer rule is a guidance, not something to fulfill with an obedience of a slave. You should by all means avoid mechanical and formal reading. It should always be the result of thoughtful free-will decision, performed with conscience and feeling, not neglectfully. You should be able to shorten you pray rule when necessary. Family life is full of such instances. For instance, in the morning and in the evening you can read the memorized due prayers. You can even omit some of them. Or you can even skip reading prayers at all, just making several bows with a prayer coming truly from your heart. You should be the master of your prayer rule, not its slave. It is to God only that we are servants, the ones who must devote every minute of their lives to Him.

The prayer rule is a safety shell of a prayer. A prayer is an internal matter, while the rule is just an external thing. But like a person without a body is incomplete, so is a prayer without a prayer rule. We have to have both and fulfill it as much we can. The indispensable law: to pray within yourself always and everywhere. Reading a prayer though cannot be done without allocating a definite time, place and measure to it. It is a combination of those three elements that makes up the prayer rule.

So one must be guided by reason while deciding when, where and how long one should stand praying as well as what prayers to say. One can choose that according to one’s circumstance: whether one can spend more time for prayer, reduce it or postpone the time and change the place of praying... The main effort should be directed to the properly said internal prayer. It is the internal prayer that must be said incessantly.

What does an incessant prayer mean? To be constantly in the prayerful spirit means to turn one’s thoughts and feelings to God. Thinking of God means keeping always in mind His omnipresence, omnipotence and ability to see everything. Feelings towards God are fear of God, love for Him, ardent wish to please Him only and to avoid all that displeases Him. The main thing is to commend oneself obediently to His will and to accept everything that happens to us as something sent directly by Him. One can have that feeling to God at any time, doing anything and under any circumstances, if that feeling is still not being sought, but had already been established in one’s heart.

Our thought can be distracted to various subjects, but even in that one can attain a skill to stick to God while doing something else and feel the presence of God. One must be totally concerned with those two things: thoughts and feelings to God. When they are there, there is a prayer even though without words. The morning saying of prayers was established exactly for setting our mind and heart on those two things, so that later in the day we could take up our work with these. If in the morning your soul is filled with these, then your praying was successful, even though you have not read all the written prayers.

Supposing you started your daily work that way in the morning. The very first things you begin doing would distract you from God. What is to be done then? You have to refresh your thoughts and feelings to God through your internal appeals to Him. And for that you must get accustomed to your little short prayer and to repeat it as often as possible. Any short prayer leads to that. The best prayer of all is: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me!" You have to get used to it and never quit saying it. When set in you, that prayer will become the driving force and appeal to God with your thought and feeling. This is all the schedule of your praying business.

Beginners should first of all learn how to pray appropriately according to written prayers, so that they would memorize thoughts, feelings and prayer phrases. It is important because the words with which we turn to God must be good and beautiful. When the beginner succeeds in that, he can start both with established and his own prayers.

Examples of short prayers are provided in the 24 little prayers of the venerable John Chrysostom at the end of the evening prayers. You can also choose other short prayer from psalms, church prayers and even compile them yourself.

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