Posted by: Shawn Ragan | June 23, 2008

Evening Prayers, part 1

Tonight, my family gathered for our evening prayers.  With my often hectic evening schedule, it has been very difficult for us to do this.  Usually, when my kids are going to bed, I am in a meeting or visit somewhere.

This week, the focus of my ministry changes.  Now, I am just the pastor of my family.  We, as a family, have our pastor, Fr. Mark Fenn, and I have couple of others who have been my spiritual pastors, Fr. Patrick and Hieromonk Mark.  The ministry of these three men have helped me in understanding just what it means to be a pastor, and I hope to be that to my wife and kids.

At 8:00 tonight, I made my kids pause their movies and video games.  “Kids, it’s time to pray.  We are all going to pray together tonight, including mommy.”

For those who have not been following on the blog, over the last two years I have been learning about and moving towards the historic Christian Faith – and the Church of the Apostles and Prophets – the Orthodox Church.  My kids, who have intuitively known what I had to spend months looking at, have been far ahead of me in this journey.  My wife, who has had some difficult experiences in Christianity, has been much slower in her journey.  I would surmise it was just a couple of months ago, when she went to the Pascha service at the Church, that she went over the hump and began to slowly move towards Christianity and this ancient Faith.  She approaches everything with great caution, but I can already see that her Orthodox spirituality is in fact much further along then mine.

In the Orthodox Faith, prayer can look somewhat different than the typical Evangelical Protestant prayer time.  My prayers as an evangelical pastor were always extemporaneous (though, after a while, they followed almost an identical pattern), and were often focused on my needs.  Now, let me say, even now, I do not think there is anything wrong with extemporaneous prayers, and throughout the day I often utter a prayer in that fashion.  Neither do I think it is wrong to ask God for things, we do bring our petitions and requests before God.

But in Orthodoxy, there is another element – the liturgical or formal prayers we pray.  The best example of a given liturgical/formal prayer comes from the Lord Himself.  When asked how to pray, the Christ answered by saying, “when you pray, say this” and He gave the “Our Father” also known as “The Lord’s Prayer.”  Many churches still keep the practice of actually saying the Lord’s Prayer, and I did in my life until I was 18 years old, when I was told it was just a “vain repetition.”  I missed it over the next 15 years.

The fascinating thing I have learned about prayer is that there really is a two way communication in prayer.  Now, I used to teach, tell God what you want, then listen…spend 5-10 minutes in silence just listening.  Often, people would try that and get discouraged because they thought there must be something wrong – they weren’t hearing anything.  Last summer, my kids went to VBS at a charismatic church, and when my oldest didn’t “hear God speak” to him, he was sent outside “until he did.”  Feeling like something was wrong with him, he eventually made something up so he could come back in and play with the other kids.  Too often, I think, we are looking for some grand voice or something.

As I began to pray the prayers of the church – these ancient and God-centered prayers – the prayers of incredibly holy men and women, known as Saints (we’ll come back to them in the next post), I began to notice something happening in my own prayer life.  These prayers actually began to form me.  They were not just me expressing love and adoration to God, but they also communicated to me the glory of God.  This is something that can really only be understood through experience, by praying the prayers of the Church for a month or so, and seeing the effect it has.  I will make a feeble attempt to give an example though (trying to write about the painting 🙂 )

In the prayers, one of the most common things said is “Lord have mercy.”  One will say this 3 times, 12 times, 40 times.  It is said a lot.  In Apodiknon, or Compline (a formal after supper prayer service), one of the Psalms prayed speaks to this mercy of God, and that none of us could stand in His judgment without it.  Over a period of time, seeing God in this light – truly as a merciful and loving God – began to manifest itself.  Now, there were many things that contributed to this change – I’ve already mentioned the paper “The River of Fire,” (which I again encourage anyone who has not read it to do so – check my links).  Prayer , though, also played a fundamental role.  And I noticed this when I was praying with some other people from my former church and one of them began to pray and ask God to send His wrath on a certain group of people.  My soul cringed.  We do not pray for God’s wrath, but for His mercy.  I have seen, in many ways in my life, how the prayers themselves have taught me about God – that He has revealed Himself through the prayers, and in a way that is difficult to explain, prayer has begun to be a communion with God, rather than me just “placing an order.”

I still, if I need to want to, pray extemporaneous prayers.  I still look to God for things, and ask Him for needs (now, though, that is usually that He will show His mercy and love on people, and that He will guide me and them into His Truth, though there are other needs as well “Lord, help me find the job You want me to have”).  The extemporaneous prayers and the requests I now bring to the Lord AFTER I have prayed the prayers of Christ and His Church.  Praying them afterwards puts them in the proper perspective, and it changes my views going into them.  Hopefully this makes sense.  If not, try them out 🙂

So, back to my story.  Tonight we decided we were going to make a run at saying prayers every night as a family.  All of us came in, and we picked up our prayer books, and we began to glorify God:

O heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who art in all places and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord.

In the evening, our prayers are for forgiveness for our sins, and intercessions for others.  During this time, each of us takes time to name those we wish to pray for, asking God to “grant them mercy, life, peace, health, salvation and visitation, and pardon and remission of sins; that they may evermore praise and glorifiy thy holy Name.”

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Responses

  1. Shawn,
    The blessing of the Lord!
    Thank you and your family for this warm expression of our holy Faith and the beauty of prayer.
    Since you ended with the Prayer to the Holy Spirit, “O Heavenly King…,” I thought you might like to view a prayer I wrote, based on that:
    http://fatherpatrick.wordpress.com/2008/06/21/a-prayer-on-the-apodosis-leave-taking-of-pentecost/
    Rejoice!


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