About different prayers
Luke 4: 22-30
Ephesians 6: 18-24
Finding the best way to pray often becomes a topic of debate. The apostle says: “With every prayer and supplication, pray at all times in the Spirit.” We have the Psalms of David book. We have the prayer “Our Father”, which was given to us by the Lord Himself. We also have short prayers written by different people. The Lord has accepted these prayers and answered to them. For example, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13), or “I believe, o Lord, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). We have prayer rules related to certain names, for example, one of St Basil the Great or St John Chrysostom. We have ancient church rites, as well as more contemporary canons and akathists. Finally, we have generally accepted short invocations: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” There are also short prayers addressing the Mother of God and other saints.
Having said “with every prayer,” the Apostle did not exclude praying in our own words. However, the Orthodox consciousness is characterized by a humble readiness to learn the prayer. Living in society we have to learn the rules that help us interact with it. Even more so, there is much to learn about how to talk to God, how to address Him, what to thank and what to ask Him for. It is for a reason that the Lord answered the disciples’ request to teach them how to pray with an “off-the-peg” prayer, i. e. “Our Father”.
As for length or brevity, not everyone has the kind of perfection and holy simplicity to put his or her entire soul into a simple “Lord, have mercy”! Lengthy prayers allow a neophyte to reach into every corner of his unsettled soul, remember every sin, and fully express the good movements of his heart. However, the soul changes over time. The Venerable Ambrose of Optina in his old age, when asked what his prayer rule was, answered: “I used to have a lot of rules, but now I have one: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
We need to pray with every prayer: both the extensive one permeating into all corners of the soul; and also the brief, trying to focus the whole soul in a few words. What matters is doing it “with all constancy” and always with a “prayer for all saints,” remembering that each of us is not alone, but we are all united as the whole Church (The Lord’s Prayer). May our prayer come from the heart and unite us not only in words, but also in spirit.
We can also pray for indulgences in earthly life and for deliverance from suffering. The Lord Himself sets us an example of that. He knew that he had come to drink His Cup, and yet he prayed the day before His passion: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” But at the end of our petitions, may we also follow Him in adding: “… Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
It is also important, regardless of how fervent our prayers are, to rely on our brothers’ prayers for us rather than our own. St Paul, the Apostle, the great ascetic and a man of fervent prayer, has always asked for prayers about him: “Pray … for me also, that the word may be given to me to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel with my lips openly and boldly and preach courageously as I should.”
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds