The Nature of Prayer
By Fr. Matthew the Poor
“Lord teach us to pray”Lk 11:1
“You have said, ‘seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’”Ps 27:8
Prayer that is spiritual and genuine is both a call and a response: a divine call and a human response.
This definition of prayer rests on an important fact: Prayer does not reach its power and efficacy as an actual communion with God until man is fully aware that his soul is created in God’s image. He should feel that it derives its very being from him. In this being, nothing is more vital than this self-awareness. Once man’s soul becomes sure of this, it will have laid hold of the source of such awareness-which is God. Thus, the soul realizes, sees, and touches God’s self.
There is only one true, realistic, and honest way for man to be aware of himself. It is to be first aware of God. For it is God who has created man’s soul in his own likeness. When man then becomes aware of himself, he finds himself at once facing God’s likeness.
Although prayer is a spiritual sense implanted in man’s soul, in the very core of its self-consciousness, many people never pray. Prayer thus remains dormant for a whole lifetime. A man may die without ever having been aware of the self or of its affinity to God. St Jude the Apostle described such souls as “wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved for ever” Jude 13.
This is a very serious matter. Prayer is not merely a sense to be used to organize our lives in this age alone. It is implanted in our nature that, through it, we may ascend to God and achieve union with him. We may thus pass from this fleeting perishable life to an eternal life with God.
It seems as if we were created for prayer. Prayer is the only bond that links us to God. It stands before our hearts as the eternal life, which is our hope. Prayer is the condition in which we discover our own divine image, on which the stamp of the Holy Trinity is impressed.
When we lose prayer, we actually lose the glory of our image, and we no longer resemble God in any way. God draws us to himself through prayer, and through prayer we mysteriously travel towards him in a manner too deep to understand. In fact, through prayer we draw God to ourselves, and he comes to us and makes his home with us.
To God, love is not an emotion but a self-offering. In prayer, God offers us himself. God offered us himself when he created us in his own image. Through prayer, he offers us union with himself so that he may become totally ours, and we may become totally his.
Prayer opens up our lives towards God:
“In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them”Is 63:9
Prayer also opens up God’s life to us:
“The Spirit himself intercedes for us [during prayer] with sighs too deep for words”Rom 8:26
Extract taken with permission from the book Orthodox Prayer Life the Interior Way by the late Fr. Matthew the Poor published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press