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Orthodox Prayer - What, Why and How
by Bishop Paulos Mar Gregorios
Part 2: Why Pray?Does not God know what we need even before we ask him? Why does He want us to ask? Does prayer change God's will in any way? Can my prayer change the future that God has already determined? These are legitimate questions that need to be answered. The Bible says clearly 'you Father knows what you need before you ask Him' (St. Matthew 6:8). But God wants that we know what is good for others as well as for ourselves. God wants that our will should not incline towards evil, but desire the good with deep yearning. Prayer is therefore a way of training the will to desire the good, as well as of turning our wills toward the highest concentration of all good, namely God. Prayer is thus a way of becoming good by using our freedom to turn towards the good and to will the good. By prayer we become like God. God is good and wills the good. We should also become like God in willing and desiring what is good. By communion with God we also learn to desire the good which God also desires. God said: 'Let there be light' and there was light. And God saw that the light was good (Gen. 1:3-4). What God willed became reality. We are to become like God. So we must also acquire the capacity to will the good, and it will happen as we desire, when we become more and more like God. Prayer is an expression of our will in desiring the good and realizing it. When we are delivered from selfishness, pride, and evil desires, our prayers will become more like the creative Word of God, which merely by saying 'let there be light' can create light. God has made us partakers of His own divine nature. He has called us to share in God's own glory and excellence (2 Pet. 1:4). When we trust in God and live a life of discipline, prayer, worship, virtue, knowledge, godliness, brotherly affection and love (2 Pet. 1:5-8), we are transformed into God's likeness and share in His divine power. God wants us to have a part in the task of shaping this world through prayer and knowledge and work. By prayer we do change reality. God has given us that power. But this power is not available to us until we become more godlike. That is why the prayers of the saints are more effective than our own prayer - because they are more godlike than we are. If the power to change the world by our will is in the hands of evil men, they will make the world evil. We have to grow in the capacity for prayer by developing the habits of prayer and loving service. And our prayers should not be selfish. In prayer the first focus is God. The second focus is other people. Only in the third place should we ask things for ourselves. In the Lord's Prayer all the first petitions are focused on God - His name, His kingdom, His will. This is the way our prayer should also be. We pray that God's purposes may be established in the lives of all people, that evil may be banished from the earth, that all men may live together in peace and justice, praising God the centre and source of all good. Even in the prayers that ask for daily food, for forgiveness and for protection from evil, the first person singular (I, me) is not used in the Lord's prayer. We ask for things for us, for all men. When we all pray with love and faith, without selfishness or pride, our prayer changes things. God has more laws than the laws of physical science. He can make prayer achieve 'miracles' of healing and transformation which cannot be explained by medical science. Our science knows only some of God's laws. Prayer is also subject to certain laws. It is the same power of God which operates in the scientific realm, and in the realm of prayer. In prayer, we are never alone. Not even alone with God. Especially in Group prayer, we commemorate all those who are members of the Body of Christ, for it is as a member of the Body that we pray, and the other members are always with us. This is why we commemorate the Prophets, Apostles, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Martyrs, the Saints, the great Teachers and all the faithful departed and all the faithful living.
Next: Part 3: How to Pray?
Source: "What is Prayer? Why Pray? How Pray? (written for Orthodox young people in India)" pages 76-83 "The Joy of Freedom" 1967 (republished 1986 by CLS, Madras, India)
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