Why do the Orthodox Christians Pray So Much?

Many people consider attending Divine services and praying for a long time to be a big waste of time. How can we explain why do Orthodox Christians need all these bows, fasts and long services? How is prayer combined with the aspects of everyday life such as work, studying, household chores, family life and secular celebrations? Priest Peter Patskan, Ludmila Stanislavenko, a public person, and Phares Nofal, a theologian, will answer these questions.

Archpriest Peter Patskan, the lector of the church in honor of St. Prince Alexander Nevsky in Mogilev-Podolsky

- Is there any norm of prayers, which an Orthodox person should read everyday, on Sundays or certain church feasts and during lent, and especially during the Great Lent?

- The Savior Himself was the One Who showed us the norm of praying and fasting. “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred” (Matthew 4:1-2). An Orthodox Christian should imitate our Savior and Teacher Who showed us how to pray.

Another question is how much to pray. The norm for each person is defined individually. The thing is, a person should feel the need for prayer with the call of his soul and conscience.

It is impossible to limit a faithful person with a particular prayer – some of them need more, while the others need less. A person comes to the church and no one states for how much hours, minutes and seconds he has to pray. The Church serves according to the statute and canons, while a layman is a voluntary listener and participant, who is standing during the service, but at the same time can leave the church. No one will punish him for this because no one forces him to pray.

Prayer is a voluntary sacrifice to God.

No one can make a person to come to the church and no one can expel him out of there. In the past during the Liturgy of the Catechumens unbaptized and non-Orthodox people would leave the church or go out to the porch. Still one has a right to be a participant of the service – he prays himself and participates in the common prayer.

- Time for prayer depends not only on a person’s desire but also on how much work and responsibilities someone has. Some people also have to care for their ill relatives and so on. How does the necessity for prayers correlate with real abilities of people?

- If a person does deeds of mercy and works for his neighbor’s benefit – cares for an ill person or does another similar work – then this work amounts to prayer because it is a sacrifice to God as well. The sacrifice of our time, soul and heart can be reflected not only in our prayer but also in physical works and worries. However, just like a bird has two wings, a person needs fast and pray work and prayer. Everything should be within the limits of our abilities.

We must not diminish the meaning of prayer because it is a specific feat and spiritual food for our soul. Without it, the  soul becomes weak.

- Many people work for 10-12 hours and there is no feat in this – they just have such a schedule. A person who works every day also needs time to cook for the whole family several times a day. There is nothing special in this, but this work takes up a lot of time. It seems that in such cases there is no time for prayer.

- One can pray during any work. Then there will be less idle thoughts and unnecessary talks.

- What if a person has no time for a full morning prayer or reading a chapter from the Gospel or a kathisma from the Psalter?

- As a last resort, one can follow the prayer rule of St. Seraphim: to repeat the Lord’s prayer, pray to the Mother of God  or read the Jesus’ prayer. If a person cannot focus on the Jesus’ prayer, then he should constantly repeat “Lord, have mercy on me”.  

- What to do if a person cannot attend important services during the great Lent for various reasons?

- Every Orthodox Christian must attend Sunday services. If it is the Great lent, then one should attend the Great Canon by St. Andrew of Crete and the Marian Vespers. If there is no possibility to come for some reason, then a person should try to read the canon at home. If a person is ill when the service is held in the church, he can pray at home as well.

Ludmila Stanislavenko, a member of the regional council of Vinnitsa, the mother of two children.

- The time of prayer is the most precious time for me, no matter whether I spend only ten minutes for this or try to focus all my forces on prayer just like during the first week of the Great Lent, when I attend the most mysterious and deep services. Nevertheless, it is the time when I am alone with myself and God. These are the moments, which help me to move forward and do all the necessary work; the moments, which help to live.

Some people also have different means with the help of which they find themselves, recover and gain strength. Some people visit psychologists, while other people meet with their friends. Sometimes it helps them, but sometimes it does not… At the same time, it is much easier for a person who has God in his soul, for we know that we find strengths to live mostly in these moments of union with God. Such moments come for me when I attend special services where I can unite with God with my soul and heart.

- How can we explain to people who do not go to church why do we need to play for so long? Why does a service last for 4-5 hours?

- It is great if a person who is standing at the service for 4-5 hours can be with God at least for 20 minutes. I cannot stay focused on prayer for the whole service, because different thoughts distract me from this, and I begin to think about various secular things. This is why sometimes I need such long services just to find these precious 20 minutes when I can be with God.

What is more, we all spend so much time for unnecessary things that the time that we devote to prayer is not a waste of time, but the least what we can do for God. Quite often, it happens so that this time becomes valuable for us as well.

I know many people who think about God only if something special happened to them… They come to a church, light a candle, sometimes they order a moleben and just leave. They think that now God owes them, because they have visited the church. They do not understand that we do so many bad things, that we need to make a lot of effort if we want to recieve something from God. All the time and strength we spend on prayers, services, fasts and deeds of mercy reveal our sacrifices to God.

Everything is very individual. For example, people make bows just as they can – some people cannot make bows because of physical illness, they can even sit during the service, but at the same time, they can pray wholeheartedly. Every person chooses the extent of his feat on his own. There is no common rule for everyone, for example, to stand for five hours, to read five chapters from the Gospel and to make a hundred bows without any alternatives.

If we speak about me personally, I can say that my spiritual father helps me to estimate my own extent. I know that sometimes a 10-minute-long prayer can be so sincere that you feel God hears you at this moment. On the other hand, sometimes we can automatically do certain usual things, while mentally we are not here at all.

- How can you combine your need for prayer with all the work, public activities, and secular family celebrations?

- We can say again that everyone has their own extent. Public life and events take much time and energy – this is truth. I refill my energy when I communicate with God, with my family, close and loved ones, when I hug my children. If there is free time, I try to read spiritual literature, which fills me and helps me to restore a certain level of purity. Of course, I also try not to miss Sunday and feastal services and to teach my own children to do so through my own example.

- However, there are spiritual feats, which are considered obligatory for an Orthodox Christian – morning and evening prayers, Gosper and Psalter readings, akathists…

- Unfortunately, I cannot do everything as prescribed. I just cannot keep up with it. Individual approach, once again. I cannot leave my house without the Lord ’s Prayer and other simple prayers.  If there is enough time, I read more. If there is no time, I read my own minimal amount of prayers.

If I manage to read the whole Rule, it is a joy for me; but if I do not, then it makes me feel guilt. Among others, I also have a small prayerbook of the Intercession of the Mother of God “For protection from worries and troubles on the ways of life”, which I love very much. I try to read prayers for my children and family welfare, which are in this prayerbook too. I will worry a lot, if I do not do this.

Phares Nofal, a Syrian, an Orthodox Christian, a theologian, an expert on Islamic studies

- Once Vladimir Bibikhin gave a great description to the word around us: the being which “speaks”. Perhaps, that was the most important discovery of the 20th century: dealing with the problems of language and communication, the modern and post-modern philosophes found out that we are always and everywhere surrounded with speech.

It turns out that with diverse speech, “speaking”, we can even say voluntary multiloquence lies in the foundation of any culture and life. Anyone can see it for himself: two or three short ideas can often turn into long novels or poems, into long-lasting conversations or talks about feelings. Everything is "speaking" all the time, and this is why everything lives.

Today our services are not so long as they were three or four centuries ago, but still they remain equally necessary and important for our salvation. During a service, the Church tries to bring a person to a single simple thought, to one deep idea, to one slight rustle in his soul – how can it be achieved without “speaking”?

To let the sincere declaration of love be born in us, we try to speak to each other in the church with the help of different languages: verbal, musical and sacral-esthetic. And quite often it helps. It happens so that after the 4-hour-long Great Lent services we feel “so bright, as if a poetry was born in our heart” as one modern classic said. The service which seems so long is if fact the greatest school of language and the feeling behind it. 

Translated from: http://www.pravmir.ru/pochemu-pravoslavnyie-tak-dolgo-molyatsya/