Living an Orthodox Life: Prayer
The Inward Temple. There is no need to weep much over the destruction of a
church; after all, each of us, according to God's mercy, has or should
have his own churchthe heart; go in there and pray, as much as you
have strength and time. If this church is not well made and is abandoned
(without inward prayer), then the visible church will be of little benefit.
Archbishop Barlaam to Abbess M., Russia's Catacomb Saints, p. 281
St. Isaac of Syria
"This life has been given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits."
The basic items you need to have in a prayer book are the Morning and Evening
prayers, the pre-communion prayers and canons, the prayers of thanksgiving
following communion, and the Akathists both to our Lord and the Theotokos.
Also, it is best to have one that is based on the same translation as
is used in your parish. Furthermore, in talking with Priests a common
theme emerges regarding confession: people need to be encouraged to confess
regularly and only to one Priest. Those who move from Priest
to Priest (or monk to monk) are not confessing their sins at all, but
rather are seeking to avoid any true correction. Something to seriously
Also, it is absolutely essential that every Orthodox Christian go beyond the
use of the prayer books listed below and cultivate an interior life of
the heart through the use of the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God, have mercy on me"). Ideally, this should be done under
the guidance of a spiritual father or mother. The practice of the Jesus
Prayer is central to Orthodox spirituality. For an introduction to thisset
in the broader context of the Orthodox understanding of salvation as purification,
illumination, and glorificationsee especially
(among the books listed above) the work by Metropolitan Ierotheos (Vlachos)
entitled Orthodox Spirituality. One should
also read the Russian Orthodox classic, The Way of the Pilgrim. Another
work widely acknowledged as an outstanding "handbook" on the
Jesus Prayer is The Art of Prayer (Faber & Faber; now back
in print). Here is an excerpt from that classic work:
"There are many among you who have no knowledge of the inner work required
of the man who would hold God in remembrance. Nor do such people even
understand what remembrance of God means, or know anything about spiritual
prayer, for they imagine that the only right way of praying is to use
such prayers as are to be found in Church books. As for secret communion
with God in the heart, they know nothing of this, nor of the profit
that comes from it, nor do they ever taste its spiritual sweetness.
Those who only hear about spiritual meditation and prayer and have no
direct knowledge of it are like men blind from birth, who hear about
the sunshine without ever knowing what it really is. Through this ignorance
they lose many spiritual blessings, and are slow in arriving at the
virtues which make for the fulfilment of God's good pleasure."
For a sampling of spiritual treasure from this book read
this collection from the letters of St. Theophan the Recluse, whose writings comprise a large portion of The Art of
Finally, though the many-volumed Philokalia is the main corpus of writings
on the hesychastic tradition, it is normally advised that a person who
wishes to read this first immerse himself or herself in the Lives of the
Saints. These typically comprise the "grade school" instructionto
see how others have embraced these practices and become glorified,
although as Father Seraphim Rose of Platina noted in his Introduction
to Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky, many
aspects of any given Saint's Life are not to be specifically emulated.
(One should definitely read his very instructive introduction.) Then one
can move on to "high school," reading and applying to their
lifeand hopefully under a wise spiritual guidethe principles
contained in the major preparatory text for the Philokalia: the
Evergetinos (The Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies,
Comboschini (The Prayer Rope): Meditations
of a Monk of the Holy Mountain Athos. This is an excellent introduction to the practice of the Jesus Prayer.
Introduction to the Jesus Prayer, by Her Royal Highness, Princess Ileana of Romania (later, Mother Alexandra, Abbess of the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, PA).
Prayer of the Heart for the Faithful Living in the World, by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi (Spiritual Child of Elder Joseph the Hesychast).
Father Paisios the Athonite: Guidance about the Jesus Prayer. An excerpt from With Elder Porphyrios: A Spiritual Child Remembers, by Constantine
Interpretation of the Prayer - Lord, have Mercy!. An excerpt from the fifth volume of the Philokalia (not yet published).
Elder Joseph the Hesychast and the Teaching of Mental Prayer Which Flowed from His Letters. A homily by Abbot Ephraim of Vatopaidi Monastery.
Concerning the Jesus Prayer. From the Jordanville Prayer Book (1996 ed).
On Practicing the Jesus Prayer, by St. Ignaty (Brianchaninov)
On Prayer of the Heart: Excerpts from Exploring the Inner Universe, by Fr. Roman Braga.
An Orthodox Prayerbook,
a handy compilation of Orthodox prayers from the website of the Greek
Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration in Lowell, MA.
of Holy Trinity Monastery: The entire text of this excellent
An Aid to Prayer: Some
Thoughts on the Use of a Prayer Book. From the Orthodox America
Order of Prayer and Worship
for Orthodox Faithful. Talk Given by Fr. John Townsend at the 1998
Southern Orthodox Conference, Atlanta, Georgia.
Explanation of the Lord's Prayer: An Excerpt from Concerning Frequent Communion, by Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite.
The Lord's Prayer: A Homily by Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregoriou, Mount Athos. Available in four Languages!
"All I Can Do Is Pray". From The Veil, Vol. 13, No. 1.
On Prayer, excerpts on
a variety of issues related to prayer, from the Letters of St. Theophan
A Prayer Rule, an excerpt from The Spiritual Life
and How to Be Attuned to It, by St. Theophan. See also by the same
author: Inner Peace.
The Cell Rule of Five Hundred
of the Optina Monastery: another
prayer rule to consider adapting to your abilities and circumstances.
I posted this mainly because of the example it provides in the meshing
of fixed prayers and Jesus Prayers.
Selections from The Arena, On Prayer: by
St. Ignaty (Brianchaninov)
The Power of the Jesus Prayer. Based on the Testimony
of the Nun Tatiana (1912). "If someone dies while saying the Jesus Prayer, his soul stands in the presence of the Lord, and he
will be inseparable from Him for eternity. Likewise, if a man dies while uttering the prayer, 'Most Holy Theotokos, save me,
a sinner,' then he will be inseparable from the Mother of God. If someone is not able to utter even a single word, then, if
he struggled to attain this prayer during his life on earth, his soul will say it for him on his deathbed. The state
in which the soul leaves the body is the state in which it abides forever. There will be no change for the better. Only
if one is commemorated (on earth) can he alter the state of his soul."
Humble-Mindedness: The Doorway to Pure Prayer: An interview with Elder Dionysius (Ignat) of the St. George Kellion, Kolitsou Skete, Mount Athos, Greece.
From The Orthodox Word (Jan-Feb, 2005).
Prayer: Corporate and Private, from the book Marriage and the Christian Home
The Icon Corner, from the book Marriage
and the Christian Home
including almost the entire Lenten Triodion (though a different version
than the famous one produced by Bishop Kallistos and Mother Maria).
How to Set Up a Personal Commemoration Book, for
personal use at home. By Fr. John Whiteford.
Prayer With the Non-Orthodox: a Q&A from Orthodox
Tradition, vol. XIV, no. 4. Deals especially with the problem of
praying at meals with heterodox Christians.
My We Orthodox Christians
Pray for the Heterodox, and If So, How?. Adapted from The Elder Joseph of Optina, translated from the Russian by Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, Massachusetts, 1984.
Praying for the Non-Orthodox, from Orthodox Life.
Prayer Life in an Orthodox Home, by Archpriest Roman Lukianov.
Prayer, Feasts, and Fasts, by the Ever-Memorable Metropolitan Philaret of New York.
Psalms of David. Chapter Two from "The Typicon of the Orthodox Church's Divine Services."
On the Necessity of Constant Prayer for all Christians in General,
by St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain.
On Watchfulness, Prayer and Confession: A Homily by Elder Ephraim of Philotheou. Translated from the Greek by Fr. Seraphim Bell.
Prayer: Our Nativity Centerpiece.
It is necessary that we live in Christ, the Word of God and become Christ and
the Word of God by grace. This is achieved when we live in the Church and participate in its holy
mysteries...[and also] with the invocation of the name of Jesus and the reciting of the Jesus prayer.
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner", especially as the Jesus prayer is very
closely associated with Holy Communion. All of the theology of our holy Orthodox Church is hidden
in this small prayer. That is why we would always meditate on the sweetest and most joy-producing
name of Jesus. The Jesus prayer is not only for monks. Of course, they have the opportunity to live
continually within it. However, we, who are sinners, can also recite it. Let us set aside a certain
time for this purpose and begin by saying the prayer for ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes
at night, as undistractedly as possible. It is very important to set aside a fixed time (even if
a very short one) where there are no interruptions. With the passage of time this certain hour will
become longer and will sweeten the soul, the lips... Let us say it even when we walk in the street
as well as before falling asleep, whenever we have spare time. Let husband and wife or all the family
say it in the morning and in the evening for a few minutes. One of them should recite it calmly and
peacefully and the rest of them Listen to it. Much grace will come then to the family. There are
many couples and families that have practised it and have seen miracles in their lives... Those who
want to go deeper in prayer need an experienced spiritual guide.
Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpatkos, from the Epilogue to
Night on the Desert of the Holy Mountain.
Recommended Prayer Books & Books on Prayer
The Way of the Pilgrim. If you
only have time to read one book on prayer, this is often recommended as the book. In the Prologemena to
The Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Dr. Constantine Cavarnos writes, "About the book The Way of a Pilgrim, the
Blessed Elder advises one of his spiritual children to acquire copies of it and distribute them to Christians, that they might benefit
spiritually (Letter 78). It is worth nothing that in my meeting with him which I describe in Anchored in God, Father Joseph said to me: 'I suggest strongly that you read The Way of a Pilgrim. This book shows the importance of mental prayer, or prayer of the heart, and the manner
in which it is to be practiced. The first part of this work is more valuable than the sequel, which seems to have been added by another author.'"
A Listing of Suggested Prayer Books: an Orthodox Christian
should definitely have one or more prayer books. Realize in using these, however, that the
goal is true, noetic prayer:
Moreover let no one be in doubt when he leaves off prolonged psalmody, as if he is
being deprived of a monastic rule. For just as those who believe in
Christ have fulfilled all the law even if they have abandoned it, so
also those who exchange prolonged psalmody for sacred noetic work fulfill
the entire rule. Just as the law conducted all to Christ and longed
for this, so also psalmody, after teaching us in advance, gives way
to attentiveness of heart and prayer. And if psalmody itself decreases,
this is what it was intended for. If some of those who are ignorant
of the art of sacred noetic work and who do not want to learn it contrive
many reasons and want to voice or express opinions that are to the contrary
to what we write here, then let them read the holy books mentioned above,
which were set down by the holy patriarchs, by the venerable fathers,
and in particular this little
book of St. Hesychios. (From Elder Basil of Poiana Marului)
Elder Basil of Poiana Marului: Spiritual Father of St. Paisy Velichkovsky (Liberty, TN:
Saint John of Kronstadt Press,
1997). This is a primer for the Philokalia. Excerpt above. Read what St.
Ignaty Brianchaninov had to say about this book:
In particular, the writings of the Elder Basil can and should be recognized as the first
book to which anyone who desires to practise the prayer of Jesus successfully
in our times should certainly turn. And that is its purpose. The Elder
called his writings preambles, introductions, or the sort of reading
that prepares the way for the study of the Greek fathers. (Ibid,
p. 31 quoting On the Prayer of Jesus, p. 41)
Night on the Desert of the Holy Mountain, by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpatkos. This may be the
single best book on the Jesus Prayer, at least in the Athonite tradition. It is written for both beginners and
those who have some experience praying the Prayer. Highly recommended!
A Spiritual Psalter of St. Ephraim, compiled from the
writings of St. Ephraim the Syrian by Bishop Theophan the Recluse (St.
John of Kronstadt Press, 1997). One of the great treasures of Orthodoxy,
this collection of hymns and prayersproviding a wide range
of profound expression for the thirsty soulis arranged in the manner of the Psalter and has long
constituted one of the favorite sources of reading and prayer for monastics
in pre-revolutionary Russia. It makes an excellent companion to one's
Orthodox Prayer book.