|“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6)|
|Many times when I ask people why do they go to church, the answer is “I go to church to pray.” That’s a good answer. We should pray when we are in church. Sadly, for some people, this is the ONLY place where they are praying. And this is not what God intended.
Take your relationship with your parents, or spouse, or children, or siblings. What kind of a relationship will you have if you only speak to them occasionally. In my home, there is my wife and son. If I only spoke to them once a week, we would certainly have a very dysfunctional home. The home is functional and our relationship strong because we communicate. In a family, you have to communicate more than once a week. You should communicate daily, even throughout the day. Sometimes communication consists of a short message, and other times it’s a long conversation. But communication is frequent-that’s how one keeps a relationship strong, whether with God or with another person. You have to pray outside the context of Sunday worship.
So, where then should prayer occur? There is a tradition in the Orthodox world of having a prayer corner at home. Some people will take one wall, or one corner of a room and place many icons there. A small table might hold a Bible or prayer book. The prayer corner becomes a place of retreat, where one can go and pray. A recent movie called “War Room” was about the same concept. A woman took a closet in her house and that became her “war room,” the room where she fought all of her problems in prayer. There were no icons but the concept was the same, a sacred space in which to pray. In Orthodox circles, we call this place the “Kat’ oikon ekklesia,” the “Church of the Home.”
In my office at church, I have icons on one wall, like a little chapel, and many times when I pray in my office, especially with other people, we go to that wall of the office to pray. Why? Can we just pray from the conference table? Certainly we can. But having a prayer corner reminds us, first and foremost, that we are not alone in our prayers. When we pray, the angels and the saints are praying with us. They are interceding to God for us. The prayer corner is a powerful reminder that we are not alone in our lives, alone in our struggles. The prayer corner can also help us focus-the icons give us holy images on which to focus our thoughts. I find that praying in front of an icon, whether in the altar or at home or in the office helps to minimize distractions.
Having said that, the prayer corner should not be a hindrance to prayer. And the prayer corner most certainly does not pray by itself. There are many people who have beautiful prayer corners but never stand in them, and never pray.
The most important thing you need to know about prayer is simply that YOU NEED TO PRAY. Icons and prayer corners are nice things, but you need to pray, having icons are tools that helps you pray, but they don’t pray in place of you. Make sure that you pray.
Some people wear prayer ropes-these are the black bracelets with 33 knots on them (representing the 33 years of Christ’s earthly ministry) and people use them to say the Jesus Prayer, offering the prayer many times and moving your finger up one knot each time. Prayer ropes, like prayer corners, are helpful tools in prayer. But just wearing a prayer rope does not make you prayerful. And not wearing one is not a hindrance to prayer either.
One caveat about having a prayer corner or wearing a prayer rope is that our behavior must be in line with the presence of these things. While we shouldn’t waive a fist in anger any time, doing so while wearing a prayer rope around your wrist is problematic, because it identifies you as an angry Christian. When you have a prayer corner in your house, be careful what you are doing in the room where you have the icons. Do those activities line up with the presence of holy images in the corner?
The positive thing about having a prayer corner or wearing a prayer rope is that it is a visual reminder to be more careful in your practice of Christianity.
Prayer corners or prayer ropes are not necessary requirements to pray. You can pray in a car, while walking, or on a couch. PRAY!
Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You have given me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer. O men, how long shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to Him. Be angry, but sin not; commune with your own hearts on your beds and be silent. Offer right sacrifices and put your trust in the Lord. There are many who say “O that we might see some good! Lift up the light of Your countenance upon us, o Lord!” You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for You, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4
Have a blessed day!
+Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis, St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, Tampa, FL