The Prayer Discipline of St. Philip the Evangelist
by Fr. Joseph Huneycutt
Prayer. It’s one of the three pillars of our struggle as Orthodox Christians: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It’s how we work out our salvation. And yet, for many, prayer presents the greatest challenge of the three.
First of all, what do we mean by Prayer? I’m always amused when outsiders say of the Orthodox: “Oh! You pray out of a book?” Yes, it’s true, unless one has memorized the prayers, we do! I’m tempted to respond: “What? Your preacher preaches out of book?”
The chief end of prayer is to Glorify God. Now, for some, that may be a no-brainer; but, believe me, for many it’s a new concept. Let me state it clearly: Prayer is not simply talking to God (though it is that). Prayer is not simply worrying in the name of Jesus. Remember? He told us not to worry (Matthew 6:25-34). I repeat: Worrying in Jesus’ name is not praying.
Our prayer should give glory to God. When the disciples came to Jesus and asked “Master, how should we pray?” Jesus did not respond: “Just talk to me.” I mean, they were talking to Him! Rather, as recorded in the Gospel according to Luke: “He was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name …’” Our Lord gave the Disciples a structure for their prayers, the model of which is what we often refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer” or “The Our Father” (Luke 11:1-4).
The subject of prayer — and the struggle to pray — is a common one, often discussed between the Faithful and their Priest. Sometimes, in confession or counseling, I’ll ask about someone’s prayer life. If they say, “Oh, I pray all the time,” I might ask, “What’s your favorite prayer?” Here is where confusion might set in: “What do you mean?” As we discuss it, it becomes clear that by prayer they meant: “I talk to God a lot, telling him of my needs, concerns, and wants.”
Brothers and sisters, this is not, should not be, the sum of our prayer life! God is not like the Maytag Man in the old TV ads, sitting around waiting for something to go wrong so that he can be asked to fix it! Nor is God akin to Santa Claus, where, unless we ask for it, he’s not about to give it to us! It is not primarily our duty to fashion our prayer to move God to act. Rather, prayer serves to fashion us to act out of love for God.
In our prayers, as Orthodox Christians, we should pray as the Church prays. That is, we pray the prayers of the Church. The prayers found in our prayer books are prayers that have been prayed for hundreds of years by the faithful in all places. There is nothing new to our current situation that is not to be found in these prayers; God is still God and we are still in need of Him and His salvation. This is why we pray, simply put: to remind us of Who God is, who we are, and, in this ancient and worthy sacrifice, God meets us. Prayer is a dialogue with God and His Church, the Body of Christ. As members of His Body, we pray the prayers of the Church.
We stand, in need of salvation and in awe of God’s mercy, with all of those faithful pray-ers (those who’ve prayed the prayers of the Church) before us. It’s a family thing, between the children of God and the Father, by adoption in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Speaking of Whom, as with the services of the Church, all of our prayers begin with the invocation of the Holy Spirit:
O heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who art in all places and fillest all things; treasury of good things and Giver of life, come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord.
As a rule, at a minimum, Orthodox Christians pray twice daily, morning and evening. It is not just a matter of making the sign of the Cross upon waking and before sleep, though it is that. It is not just a matter of offering thanks and asking blessing upon each meal, though it is that. It is not just a matter of crying out “Lord help me!” and/or mentioning our loved ones to God, though it is certainly that. Rather, as a rule, we should have a Rule of Prayer. This may differ for different people, depending on their station in life. Ask your Priest, Confessor, or Spiritual Father.
I remember a parishioner who once said: “Father, I need help with my Prayer Rule.” I said: “What’s your current practice?” He said: “Well, I say morning and evening prayers with the family; I pray the Hours at work and in the car; I pray Compline just before bed. I’m thinking of setting my alarm to get me up around 2 a.m. to pray the Midnight Office … What do you think?” Believe me, if you ever want to see your Priest speechless, you might want to try this just for fun (although, God be praised, he was serious).
For others, setting aside those times of prayer, just once or twice daily, is a struggle. There’s a Russian saying: “The Church is near, but the roads are icy. The bar is far, but I’ll walk carefully.” We do the same justification when it comes to prayer. I often muse: “At my house, in the morning, I have to walk right past my icon corner to get to the coffee pot. I rarely miss the coffee pot.”
This brings up a good point … the icon corner. Orthodox Christians set aside a place in their homes to pray. This special place, the prayer corner, is an extension of the altar of the Church. It is here that we say our prayers, both as a family and alone. Oh sure, we can pray anywhere. And yet, if you’ve done it you know it to be true: there’s nothing quite equal to standing before the icons and praying at your home altar when it comes to glorifying God and working out your salvation in prayer.
Let’s say you’ve set aside a place, hung the icons, and have a table or shelf there for holy objects (candle, holy water, holy oil, relics, blessed palms and other objects, etc.) … now what? There are several wonderful options when it comes to Orthodox prayer books; there are prayers found in the back of the Orthodox Study Bible, in the Service book and the popular Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians. If you’re just getting started, or would like to further your commitment to Prayer, I would recommend the St. Philip’s Prayer Discipline.
The Prayer Discipline, a ministry of the Fellowship of St. John the Divine, exists to provide a daily balanced rule of prayer for those who wish to deepen their spiritual life and to learn to pray as the faithful have done for generations and generations. Becoming a member of the Prayer Discipline is simple. After your own serious reflection and prayer, and, if you are already under the guidance of a spiritual Father, with his blessing, just use the contact information listed below. Every new member is provided with the Discipline’s Prayer Manual, which contains the form of prayer for every day and some sound Orthodox teaching; in addition, Fr. Michael Keiser’s wonderful book, A Beginner’s Guide to Prayer: The Orthodox Way to Draw Closer to God, is included for the new member’s edification.
The Fellowship asks for a $25.00 donation to cover these materials, postage and handling. Please make checks payable to: Fellowship of St. John the Divine and send your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address to: Fr. Joseph Huneycutt, St. George Orthodox Church, 5311 Mercer, Houston, Texas 77005.
We’re in the process of revitalizing this ministry of the Fellowship of St. John the Divine, the St. Philip’s Prayer Discipline, and we need your help! If you have questions or suggestions about St. Philip’s Prayer Discipline, let us know! Of course, of your charity, we beg your prayers.
Courtesy of the
December 2007 issue of The Word magazine.