PRAYER IN THE EASTERN CHURCH PERSPECTIVE
BY H.G. GEEVARGHESE MAR IVANIOS METROPOLITAN
During our contemporary period of time, there are many people who vehemently criticize the eastern tradition of prayer, which is the foundation of spiritual life. The basic reason for the same is the ardent affinity of the people for the western pattern of Christian prayers and their tendency to blindly adopt such practices. Also it is because people do not try to learn the nature of the eastern pattern of prayers from their practicing experiences. Believers are more fascinated by the western style of prayers, as those prayers are short and filled with more emotional or ecstatic expressions. The prayers of Eastern Church are more arduous and exhaustive. These prayers do not lead the person for a quick emotional experience. So the eastern prayer practices fall not attractive to many believers. With this background, I am writing this message to give an insight about the eastern practice of prayer and its importance.
I am born and brought up in a Marthomite Family. Till my age of eighteen years I was given with a spiritual training, which adopts the practices with western type of prayers and sermons. The western style of prayers and sermons were logically gracious, benevolent and emotionally satisfying. Those involved an exhortation for living a victorious Christian life. Those also associated a theme and calling to defeat the evil and to nourish in goodness. While we hear the sermon it incubate a desire in us to lead a new good life. But after a while, these desire of a good life fade away from us. It was a type of spiritual experience with which we cannot grow spiritually to full extent of our desire. This tradition did not teach why the temptations come to our mind and what is the way to overcome it. Though it teaches us that we need a good spiritual goal in our life, it does not teach clearly how we can reach the acme of our intent of spiritual life. Though we can defeat the evil so far we are in the emotional state, it cannot lead us for a persistent conquest even after the emotion desists.
I realized the fact that the decisions we make in our life by our own will power will not suffice for solving our problems in our spiritual life. It was an experience by which we continuously pray to God to keep us away from encountering spiritual problems, however, when we are forced to face such a situation we may crumble and fall into desperation. Also the motivation of the prayer was to supplicate our own needs to God and gain those in our worldly life. The western prayers do not emphasize to gain a spiritual strength by prayer and to attain a purification of our mind by that strength of prayer.
Though the western style of prayer lead us for a deep emotional experience, I found it cause many problems in our spiritual life as we cannot persistently live in this emotion. So I was unsatisfied with my prayer life.
However, by this time, I was given with a different type of spiritual experience also of the Eastern Church tradition of prayers. My father's sisters were married to Orthodox families. Whenever they visited our home, it was a practice that they call all to assemble together in the evening and early morning and pray the formulaic prayers of eastern tradition. The practice of kneeling while praying also I learned from these prayer practices. So, both type of prayers were taught and practiced in my home. Especially, during the Great Lent period, it was very punctual in our house to pray the full-prescribed prayers of the Holy Lent. Whenever I felt lassitude with the western style of prayers, I used to practice the eastern tradition of prayers, which gave me more satisfaction. I started experiencing a more spiritual joy in my life.
When I was enchanted to these traditions of prayers, this practice grew up in me for observing prayers at canonical hours and personal mystical prayers. I realized that it caused for more punctuality in my life. This experience encouraged me to observe the Fasts. When the Fasting and Prayer merged together, it caused a strong yearning in me to worship in the tradition of Eastern Church. Eventually, I had the desire to take Holy Communion and to become a member of Eastern Church. So God gave me that fortune to live according to the eastern practice of prayer and worshipping.
Attributes of the Eastern Church Pattern of Christian Prayer:
1. Through the practice of prayers at canonical hours, learned to be in the contact of God continuously all the time.
2. The daily cycle of prayers at canonical hours caused for a punctuality and careful observance in the life.
3. It was learned that we should defeat evil continuously by prayer. The evil forces are the ones leading the people to evil life. To overcome the evil we need a continuous prayer life. Sobriety cultivated by the power of prayer lead us to defeat and obliterate the evil and tempting thoughts.
4. It was learned that to nourish in goodness, we need a continuous prayer practice and receive the strength from God through prayer.
5. Continuous Prayer and Fasting lead for the purification of our mind. More than a victorious life we have to live in the humility of obedience to God through continuous prayer and fasting and worshipping.
6. With our self will power or by an instant emotion we cannot attain sanctification. Seeking ecstasy has an end in itself.
7. Western pattern of prayers can cause an external change to control our life, but it cannot lead us for an internal purification. It was learned that the prayer, fasting and worship lead us for a guard of the mind and internal purification.
The Eastern Church prayer patterns not only lead us to the goal of spiritual life and bring about humility for the obedience to God but also that in itself is the step-by-step way to reach the spiritual goal of contemplation by the Grace of God. The goal is to acquire, through purification and Grace, the Holy Spirit and salvation.
[With gratitude to Rev. Fr. Santhosh K. Joshua, Earlier Vicar of St. Thomas Orthodox Church, Washington, USA for making available this message of Thirumeni.]
[Original in Malayalam : Translated By Rajan Mathew, St. Gregorios Church, Philadelphia, USA]
NATIVITY SERVICE 2012
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CHRISTMAS PROGRAM 2012
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It's the most wonderful time of the year!!! Come, join the SGMOC family on Sunday, December 23rd at 1 pm (after Holy Qurbana and lunch) to enjoy a SPECIAL CHRISTMAS TREAT.
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"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace"
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Coordinators, Christmas Program.
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