A newly Baptized Adult lost her priest shortly after she came into the Church. Currently she has no regular priest, so she reached out for some advice on prayer. Here are the words that I shared with her.
Prayer is our ongoing encounter with God, so it includes everything (prayers, services, akathists, stillness, reading, tears). Certainly we pray with our own words, at times, but such prayer is limited by our own experiences, fears, desires, ignorance, etc. The Church gives us words to pray because we don’t really know what we should pray. The Church’s prayers teach us how and for what to pray. However, the best and most perfect prayer is the Prayer of the Heart. The Jesus Prayer teaches us to pray, first with words, then in our mind and finally in the quiet stillness of our heart.
You need to work with a spiritual father (or mother) who knows you, or who is getting to know you, to determine what is the best daily routine for you.
Generally speaking, we do a bit of everything. However, with experience, you will find some ways of praying are more life-giving for you than others. Spend more time with what’s life-giving for you, under the guidance of your spiritual father. Sometimes it is very difficult to find a spiritual father; and when we find one, we may have to travel to see him/her. Also, a relationship with a spiritual father may take years to develop—even after you have found one that helps you. So be patient with yourself. Don’t reject anything the Church offers, but focus on what you find life-giving.
Regarding the matter of how much to pray, Fr. Thomas Hopko had a wise saying. He said to pray as much as you can, not as much as you should. That is, we will always feel that we “should” pray or read or attend services more. Don’t focus on an ideal that you should do, rather focus on what you can do, with a little effort, but not too much effort. Keep in mind that it is much, much better to have an easy rule that you can keep just about every day and that you sometimes add to (on good days), than it is to have a rule that you can only keep on very good days, but can’t (or don’t) do most days. “Can’t’” and “Don’t” mean the same thing.
God bless you in your struggle.
Such a beautiful and simple post. Thank you, Father! This was something I had just recently talked to our priest about. As a newly Orthodox (you can hear my story on November 22nd episode of “Everyday Orthodox” #thankfulplug) I had gotten quickly into a 30 minute + prayer rule that I was keeping 4 days of the week and feeling bad I was missing the other three. Then Thanksgiving break happened and the kids and my wife were home again from school (my wife is the Dean of Academics at their school) and suddenly it had been over a week, then two weeks, that I’d said “my prayers.” My priest, Father Nikolay Miletkov, replied to my email the very thing you said about the Jesus Prayer. It is truly the thing that changed me and brought me into Orthodoxy (see previously referenced podcast) and I have started saying it again; more than just on the way to and from work, which I still do as well. I can tell it is already changing me again and it does exactly what you said, it gives life! The other prayers are there too, our morning prayers as a family in our icon corner, prayers before meals and before bed and as we wake, but there is a reason the Church says so often that the prayer of the heart is assuredly the one that is most valuable.
What a beautiful and life-giving discussion of prayer.