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]