Prayer is the test of everything; prayer is also the source of everything; prayer is the driving force of everything; prayer is also the director of everything. If prayer is right, everything is right. For prayer will not allow anything to go wrong.
(St. Theophan the Recluse)
Perhaps the most popular and basic definition of prayer is that it is a conversation with God. While this is essentially true, Orthodox Christianity looks upon prayer as something deeper than “conversation”.
Prayer is understood as an intimate encounter with God. When we pray, we meet with God in our hearts, in the sanctuary of all our thoughts, motivations, dreams, emotions and concerns. This is a place where we can share our inner selves with no other human person as completely as we can share ourselves with the Lord.
To enter into this very personal and intimate place with God, full of faith and love, is to feel His presence in our lives in the most profound and life-giving of ways. In this place in our hearts, we no longer perceive God as being “out there”, looking down on us. Rather, we sense His presence inside us, stirring our hearts, guiding our actions, enlightening our minds.
Our Orthodox Christian Faith teaches us that prayer is the most natural thing a person can do, it is what we are created for. In paradise, Adam and God converse frequently. It is only after the Fall that we hide from God and choose not to speak openly with Him.
Human beings were made for prayer, not because God needs us to pray to Him, but because we need to connect with Him who made us, saved us from sin and death and showers His sanctifying grace upon us. Without prayer, there is no life — not in its fullest sense. As human beings, we are created for prayer just as we are created to breath or to think. Prayer is part of our unique nature; of all God’s creatures, only human beings are able to perceive and interact with both the visible (physical) and invisible (spiritual) realities.
Prayer is so important in our lives that St. Gregory of Nazianzus instructs us to “remember God more often that you breath”. At first, this task may seem daunting, perhaps impossible. In truth, we find that often the greatest obstacle to our developing prayer life is our own lack of trust in ourselves as well as in what God can do for and with us.
Often we “psych” ourselves out, when it comes to prayer. We think that it is only for the spiritual “specialists” to engage in prayer — clergy, monks, nuns. We feel that if we need to struggle with our prayer life, we must not be “doing it right”. In truth, it is only when we struggle with prayer that we are approaching it in a healthy way.
But even though prayer is — or at least should be — a natural part in our human make-up, prayer is a discipline, it is a spiritual exercise. An analogy commonly used by the saints is that prayer is like a fire. Initially, it starts out only as a small spark in our soul; eventually though, if we fan the flames with a constant effort to pray, this spark grows into spiritual flames — these flames are the burning bush in our souls, where we, like Moses, speak with God.
To feed the fire of prayer in our soul, we must work ourselves into a regular pattern — or “rule” — of prayer. Like a fire, if our prayer life is left untended, it will die away and turn cold. The more we pray, the more meaningful and nourishing our prayer life becomes, and the more of a desire we have to enter into prayer.
(Fr. Andrew Jarmus)