Along with fasting and almsgiving, prayer is a weapon we use in spiritual warfare.
When we pray, we talk or communicate with God; we enter into a dialogue with God. We also demonstrate that we have a spiritual life and that we are reconciled to God.
God speaks first to us. What God has to say to us is more important than what we have to say to him. He teaches us, therefore, to listen to his words.
Degrees of Prayer
We use our body when we pray.
We use our a voice to chant or speak. We use our right hand to make the sign of the cross. We may fold our hands reverently. We stand. We kneel. We bow. We make prostrations.
When we pray, a reverent posture can help concentrate.
Prayer of the Mind
Prayer of the mind is considered a higher form of prayer than bodily prayer.
We use our mind, the soul’s highest power, to focus our attention, to concentrate when we pray. The mind enables us to enter the interior world.
We use our mind in our combat with the eight evil thoughts and with memories or fantasies.
Through prayer we can recognize, with God’s help, “our thoughts, desires, and feelings.”
If distracted in prayer, re-focus. To do this, recognize where the distracted began, start over there, and to pray more attentively. This can lead to deeper prayer.
Prayer of the Heart
Prayer of the heart is praying without ceasing, which St. Paul spoke about in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
With prayer of the heart, we become true children of God. We bond with God, open ourselves to receiving his love and grace, and experience joy. We also see others as children of God.
Prayer of the heart requires few words. An example is the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
We are spiritually healed through prayer of the heart. Our prayer becomes our entire life.
Contemplative prayer is considered the highest form of prayer. Only those of pure heart and mind can enter into contemplative prayer, a gift of the Holy Spirit.
With contemplative prayer, we enter into the presence of God. We see with interior eyes, in silence, and without “words, images, and conceptions born in thought.”
We experience the inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible God.
We see as God sees.
Types of Prayer
Filled with God’s light, we praise God for allowing us, as St. Irenaeus writes, to “partake of his glory.”
We thank God, because we recognize that all is a gift of God.
Divine Liturgy is our highest prayer of thanksgiving to God. We give thanks to God in Divine Liturgy when the priest prays the words of “The Anaphora, the Great Eucharistic Prayer”:
“It is right and just to sing of You, to bless You, to praise You, to thank You, to worship You everywhere in Your domain; for You are God—ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, always existing and ever the same—You and Your only-begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. You brought us from nothingness into being, and after we fell, You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your future kingdom.”
With penitential prayer, we express sorrow for our sins, for having offended God with our sins.
There are three stages of repentance:
1. Conversion: We turn from sin and return to God.
2. Purification: We are cleansed of our sin and healed.
3. Union with God: We experience contemplative prayer.
These stages are also considered the stages of the spiritual life.
With our penitential prayers, we recognize God’s goodness and mercy. We recognize our sinfulness. We then ask for God’s mercy in prayer.
Some common penitential prayers are:
Prayer of Supplication
With prayers of supplication, we make a request of God.
Our Lord prayed a prayer of supplication for the apostles before his death (John 17:11). He also prayed that we would know him through the apostles (John 17:20-21).
In Divine Liturgy and other liturgical services, we pray litanies of supplication.
Our Lord tells us to make requests of the Father (Matthew 7:7-8) He tells us the Father already knows what we will ask of him (Matthew 6:8).
In our prayers of supplication we should make a request of God with the belief that he will grant those things that are good for our salvation.
In his Homilies on Repentance, St. John Chrysostom reminds us to trust in God and to persevere in our prayer whether we believe we are heard or not:
“If you are heard praying, continue to give thanks in the prayer; if you not heard, remain praying so that you may be heard...God protects you with the pretext of need so that you may converse with him more closely and devote yourself to prayer.”
[Notes to our talk on “Prayer in the Spiritual Life,” pages 258-264 in Christ Our Pascha]
We become soldiers in a spiritual war against sin and evil at Baptism.
In this war, we fight against the spirits of wickedness, or demons, that use the eight thoughts to attack us. The weapons we use are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, which help us to win control over the passions.
Armor for the Battle
St. Paul speaks of the battle against spiritual evil in Ephesians 6:12:
“For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
He tells us what we need to defeat these hosts of wickedness in Ephesians 6:13-20:
In fighting this evil, “the flaming darts of the evil one,” we must:
St. John Cassian writes that spiritual warfare:
“...is in accordance with the will of God. It serves human good and awakens in a person ardent striving for greater perfection.”
When we fast, we emulate Our Lord’s forty-day fast in the desert and his defeat of Satan’s three temptations after his Baptism.
From the times of the early Church, monks have fasted to achieve purity of heart. Through fasting, we learn to control the body and to protect the soul from the passions.
St. John Chrysostom writes that fasting is more than limiting the amount of food we eat:
“Do you not eat flesh? Feed not upon indecency by means of the eyes. Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive slander and calumnies...For what does it profit if we abstain from birds and fishes; and yet bite and devour our brothers and sisters.”
The Shepherd of Hermas, a text from the late first to the second century, links fasting with almsgiving.
Almsgiving, Hermas tells us, demonstrates love of neighbor and benefits both the giver and the receiver:
“In the day on which you fast you will taste nothing but bread and water; and having reckoned up the price of the dishes of that day which you intended to have eaten, you will give it to a widow, or an orphan, or some person in want, and thus you will exhibit humility of mind, so that he who has received benefit from your humility may fill his own soul, and pray for you to the Lord.”
When we give alms we imitate God, who has freely given to us.
The Process of Giving in to an Evil Thought
Thoughts are either good or evil. We choose whether to give in to an evil thought. Giving in to the temptation of an evil thought follows a five step process: Suggestion, conversation, struggle, assent, and captivity.
First, we receive a suggestion that we commit a sin.
Second, we carry on a conversation with the suggestion and consider reasons for accepting or rejecting it.
Third, we enter into a spiritual battle or a struggle.
Fourth, we assent to, or accept, the evil thought.
Fifth, we become captive to the passion. Once in the state of captivity, a person becomes inclined to evil and finds it difficult to resist the thought to commit the evil whenever it occurs. Such a person can become addicted to the passion or a slave to it.
How to Defeat the Passions
Christ Our Pascha teaches that:
“The battle against evil thoughts and passions, and the acquiring of virtues, is the essence of Christian ascesis.”
We cannot attain perfection as long as the passions have power over us. To become free of the passions, we must employ ascetical practices, which train us and give us the strength to defeat the passions.
Just as giving in to the temptation of an evil thought follows a five step process, struggling against and defeating the passions follows a three-step process: Awareness, resistance, and eradication.
In this process, we use our reason and become aware of a passion through grace. Once we have awareness, we use our will and cooperate with God’s grace to resist the passion. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, our love of God then eradicates the passion.
To be free from the passions is called apatheia, a Greek word. When we are in this state, we have the ability to resist the eight evil thoughts. Temptation, though, remains.
[Notes to our talk on “Spiritual Combat in the Life of the Christian,” pages 255-258 in Christ Our Pascha]