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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Communion with God in prayer



God in prayer

“Near art Thou, O Lord” (Psalm 118:153).
God is with us everywhere. If we were not so distracted, we would have a constant awareness of God's presence — whether we were at home, on the street, in the field, in the forest, on the sea, underground; whether we were in freedom or in captivity — everywhere.
         Always to be with God in one's thoughts — this is to be in a state of constant prayer. But we are distracted by our daily concerns. Knowing that to pray we must remove ourselves at least somewhat from the day's tumult of activities, we set aside some time in the morning and evening. Usually we pray alone, by ourselves, as the Savior taught; “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is, in secret” (Matt. 6:6). But our Lord also said something else: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst” (Matt. 18:20). And in his High-priestly prayer to His Father, He uttered these holy words concerning those who believe in Him: “That they may be one, even as We are One” (John 17:22).
        We Orthodox Christians comprise the one Body of Christ's Church, the one House of God, as it is written in the Scripture: “Christ as a Son over His own House, Whose House are we” (Heb. 3:6). Here is another world, different from the vain world that surrounds us. Here is a holy world, God's inheritance. Here is — a world of prayer. And this expresses its very essence: life in this special world is a life of prayer — prayer as communion with God, as glorification of God. And more — through prayer we are able to have communion with the entire world of heaven: with the angels, prophets, apostles, martyrs, hierarchs, the righteous ones, and a particularly joyous communion with the Most Holy Virgin, the Theotokos. Here is the prayer which we Christians who are still citizens of earth offer for one another. Here we also have our prayer for those close to us, who have departed this life, and here is our appeal to the saints that they, too, raise their prayers on behalf of our beloved ones. This, then, is the fullness of prayer.
        Communion with God is prayer. In its fullness prayer is most completely achieved in the Orthodox temple. The Church is a world of prayer, and the place of prayer — its fullness — is the temple. Therefore the Orthodox temple itself isealled a church. Here is the catholicity, the comprehensivity, the universality of the Church, as it was expressed by the holy Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews: “Ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are witnesses in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:22-23).
        Man was created to glorify God and to rejoice in union with his Creator. With the fall of Adam, the law of sin took root in the human race, despoiling the close relationship man enjoyed with God in Paradise. But through God's infinite love, man was given the opportunity to regain harmony of soul and restore the bond with his Creator. This is most readily attained through the Church which guides man in the way of repentance and sets him on the path of true faith, teaching him to 'rightly glorify' God — which is the very meaning of the word “orthodox.” And how do we glorify God?
        The general principle of Orthodox worship is expressed in the words of the Psalm: “Let every breath and all creation praise The Lord.” All of nature, in and of itself, glorifies the Lord. For this reason, in our churches various elements of nature — incense, blessed water, blessed oil, wax candles, palm branches — all serve to the glory of God, and to the fullness thereof.
        If nature offers itself in praise of its Creator, how much more should man, the crown of creation, give glory to God. In like manner, therefore, we join our physical bodies in the act of worship — whether in standing, kneeling or making prostrations — in fulfillment of the Apostle's injunction: “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).
        How often we hear the familiar call of King David's Psalm: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name” … 'All that is within me' — of course, all the best and most noble energies, abilities, talents — God's gifts — are called to glorify the Lord. Through love for God expressed in words of prayer, homilies, chants, painting, architecture … using everything that contributes to the magnificence of the temple and its Divine services, we strive to thank the Lord for those gifts He has bestowed on us. Of course, not every art form lends itself to this purpose. Instrumental music, for example, tends sooner to divert our attention from feelings of reverence and awe than to inspire them. And statues, aside from their ancient association with pagan worship, are ill-suited — because of their earthly solidity or form — to represent the life of the spirit, to direct our gaze heavenward. Moreover, the soul and the spirit are expressed primarily through the eyes which, in sculpture, are left empty.

        Above all, it is through prayer that we glorify our Creator. Prayer is an expression of love towards God and towards our neighbor. Prayer is that bond of love which unites the Church on earth with the Church in heaven. Let us strive, then, to enter more deeply into the world of prayer found in the holy Orthodox Church, to develop a constant awareness of God's presence, and to recover that blissful state experienced by Adam in Paradise, a state of communion with God, for which we were created.

Orthodox Church of Pakistan

By: Fr. Cyril Amer