As Christians we know the command in the Holy Scriptures to constantly pray. We know there are different types of prayer, both communal and private. Last week as part of our going public theme I spoke about praying in public, but this week I want to focus on how we help each other in prayer. It may not mean what you think it means.
As part of every prayer book, you will see pages dedicated to praying for others. Saint James teaches, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5.16) To that end, a typical Orthodox Prayer Book, in the morning prayers, probably includes an instruction, “At this point it is customary to pray for our loved ones and friends.” The question though, is “How should we pray?”
Maybe the answer is in the rest of this verse, “The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5.17) What does it mean to pray as a righteous man (or woman)? I wrote a blog several years ago (you’ll find it here on my old blog) which mentions the use of prayer books. In that post, I suggested that when we allow the words of the Church, either in the services or prayer books, to become our words, we better learn to have the point of view of God. Prayer is important, but even our Lord suggested there was a proper way to pray when He offered to us the Lord’s Prayer.
From my perspective, and one of the main reasons Be Transfigured Ministries exists in the first place, is that we have become quite selfish in our spiritual life. As fallen human beings, we tend to look at prayer from a “me” point of view, even when we pray for others, as if “we” know better than God what others need to “be healed” as Saint James teaches. Our prayers tend to sound like, “Dear God, please help John find a new job. My friend Susan is unhappy with her husband; please open his eyes to her tears.” Etc…
How are we to know what John and Susan need to be healed? We love them, but if we are praying as righteous believers, then we would admit we don’t know what they need from God to be healed. In our love for them, it is enough merely to offer them in prayer to God. “God please bless John and Susan.” God knows what they need, and the best help we can offer them is to ask God to do for them what He already knows is best.
This is why we use the customary “Prayer List” as Orthodox Christians. On a piece of paper, in our phone, in a special journal we purchased just for prayer, or even in our memory, we maintain a list of people both living and dead, that we offer to God in prayer. At the time we see the instructions in our prayer book to pray for others, we pray “For the health and salvation of Your servants…..” for the living, and “For the repose of Your servants….” for the dead. We simply call off their names. If you’ve never done this before, it will feel strange at first, not telling God what they need, but that’s the point. He already knows, and it might be that we have no clue what they need to be healed. We help them by loving them and showing God we love them by offering them to Him.
This week, if you have not already done so, sit down and create a prayer list. It is customary to separate out the living and the dead as they receive a different emphasis. Some Orthodox Christian bookstores even sell special “Dyptics” which are books designed just for our prayer lists, that already have dedicated pages for the living and the dead. Then, during your morning and evening prayers, offer their names to God.
Once your list is created (or updated if your list already existed) give a copy to your spiritual father, or local priest, or local monastery, so they too can pray for your friends and family. Because you are giving it to the Church, it is helpful (I’m speaking now as a priest) if you identify which people are Orthodox and which are not Orthodox, as the priest can then pray appropriately during the services of the Church for others. For example, since non Orthodox cannot receive Holy Communion, it is not appropriate to offer their names in association with Holy Communion, but the priest can still pray for them at other times.
Now, we’re really helping others be healed by God!