Prayer I: The Cosmic Activity

I think it was Evagrius of Pontus who said that prayer was the most demanding of all intellectual activity. Over the years I have been making a mental catalog of the ways in which that is true, and I have come up with a few categories under which most of the difficulties arise: ignorance, irresolution, arrogance, pride, waywardness, flabbiness, and sloth. Each uniquely impinges upon prayer, and I will take them one at a time in talking about this important aspect of our life in Christ. But the first thing that should be said is that prayer is not some other-worldly or superhuman activity, but the existential, here-and-now realization of our life in Christ. In a conversation with a student he objected to the whole notion of having the Blessed Virgin Mary as a patron (I had suggested he visit the Benedictine monastery in Clear Creek, Oklahoma), for praying to her was idolatry, in that prayer was worship given only to God.

Now, aside from the fact that my student has absolutely no Biblical warrant for this, it turns prayer into a discreet religious act, akin to the caricature that Luther had of late-medieval penance as found in the first three of his 95 thesis: “1) When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. 2) The word cannot be properly understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, i.e. confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy. 3) Yet its meaning is not restricted to repentance in one’s heart; for such repentance is null unless it produces outward signs in various mortifications of the flesh.” All these things Luther wrote are true, but who in Rome would have repudiated what he said. His aim was at the indulgence hawkers such as Tetzel, and the abuse of indulgences that even Leo X cringed at. My main here, however, is the notion that repentance can be thought of as some discreet act or contrition aimed at one sin, e.g., covetousness or lust or pride. Repentance instead is a reordering of the soul (in Greek the etymology means the turning of the nous) toward God, a soul illumined by the Divine light of God, and properly ordered to all the goods of God.

Prayer fits into this reordering, as it is an activity of our turning toward God, and with this movement to God, also toward His creation. For we should see the world as the gift of God to us, and in this thanks, reflect the cosmos in our soul, and at the same time reflect God. In this way we not only in prayer take into ourselves the entire cosmos, but also all the saints, their lives, and their virtues, for they are already ordered toward God. Prayer is a cosmic activity that comprehends not only the Holy Trinity, but all in which the Holy Trinity resides. Thus, as repentance is no singular act of contrition, prayer is no singular act of worship with a singular end or direction.

This is most easily illustrated by any study of the Psalms, but most especially in that prayer we should have in our heart and on our lips, the Pater Noster, the Our Father. We should remember that when we pray it, we are following foremost the instruction of Christ. More importantly, we should recall that when Christ gave it to his disciples, it was at their request that they be taught how to pray. Lastly, when we say the words “Our Father,” the “Our” is not something we say with other Christians, but also with Christ. Thus when we come to the Our Father in the Liturgy the priest intones “that with boldness and without condemnation, we may dare to call upon Thee, the heavenly God, as Father, and to say.” We pray the Our Father with Christ, and thus see in it that prayer is life in Christ and life in the Trinity, life as it was meant to be lived: life in communion with the Holy Trinity, and life in communion with all of God’s good things in creation, including the saints. Thus we pray with them, and they with us; we for them, and they for us.

Prayer, lastly, can now be seen as the mover of mountains that it should be. We are in prayer, as part and parcel with repentance, reordering the world back to the garden, but then also into the kingdom of God. We are coworkers with Christ and the Saints in this. Yes, we labor still in this valley of death and vale of tears, but already we have tasted of the heavenly bread, the good gifts of the eternal kingdom, and seen the true light, having received the heavenly Spirit.

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About Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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2 Responses to Prayer I: The Cosmic Activity

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  2. “when we say the words “Our Father,” the “Our” is not something we say with other Christians, but also with Christ. ”

    I never thought about it that way.

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