Prayer in the Orthodox Christian Tradition
(continued from last month)
To begin with, there is not enough room in this (or any other) newsletter, to give adequate space for examples of the various kinds of prayers found in the Orthodox Christian tradition. The prayers primarily come from the many worship services (Divine Liturgy, Vespers, Matins, Compline, etc.) but there are many others have been written for personal devotion as well.
It is not unusual for Orthodox priests to get requests to bless new cars, new homes and businesses, vineyards and fields, requests for prayers before and after surgery, before and after travel, for the start of the school year, and the list goes on and on. (This “list” by the way, is found in the Orthodox Priest’s Prayer Book, so we are ready for nearly any occasion.)
And why not? Is asking help or blessings from God, or thanking God, ever going to be inappropriate? Let’s hope not.
Where does prayer originate from? When we read through Holy Scriptures we find many examples of prayer. Beginning with the Old Testament book, Genesis, did Adam and Eve pray in the Garden of Eden? They conversed with God, in a very real and intimate dialogue that many of us today would like to experience; but since Adam and Eve had everything needed in their life, did they need to pray as we pray today?
God was an active presence in the lives of Adam and Eve, but even that wasn’t enough to ensure their obedience to God’s will. Could they have been praying for the strength to follow God’s commandment not to eat of the fruit of the tree of Good and Evil? There is no evidence found in Genesis, but one can only imagine how life might have been different if they had!
The first time we see the word “pray” in the bible is in Genesis Chapter 20, long after the Fall of Adam and Eve, in a dialogue between the Patriarch Abraham and King Abimelech, who asked Abraham to pray to God for him. Prayer had become a means for man to communicate with God, primarily to ask for help and reconciliation after sinning against God.
Fast-forward to the New Testament, and in the many prayers of our Lord Jesus, we find something new and remarkable. In Chapter 14 of Saint John’s gospel, Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:13)
From this prayer and other New Testament examples, saying prayers “In Jesus’ name” is common in many Christian traditions.
In the 4th and 5th centuries, as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was being defined and explained, prayers as well as services such as the Divine Liturgy began with “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Rather than contradicting praying in the Lord’s name, it further reinforced the doctrine of belief in one God in Three Persons, of which our Lord Jesus Christ is God the Son.
This is why prayers in the Orthodox tradition, whether directed to the Lord, the Holy Spirit or God the Father, typically begin with “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” or “Blessed is the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” and end with the same, with the addition of “now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.”