How to pray for ourselves and others
Notes: Please keep in mind these were notes but I did alter it as I voice recorded it.
Also as you pray the Jesus Prayer, eventually you will shorten it. The whole prayer is Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, haver mercy on me a sinner. You will notice in my notes and sometimes in the recording I use different versions. This is why. In reality, I now say Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me. It's important to say the whole thing to begin with and then the Holy Spirit will guide you to shorten it to what suits you.
Christ is Risen!
My dearest members. I want to thank you for all your support.
I’m quite new to this so I ask for your patience and especially your forgiveness for any mistakes I might make. I wanted to make a video where you see me talking but I’m going to voice record these and put up an appropriate photo to make it easier and faster. One day I’ll do a video and introduce you to the abbess of the monastery.
I was deciding on whether to create the first video on prayer for others or prayer for ourselves first. And then I realised, it’s exactly the same thing! I will explain why this is but first I want to tell you two stories as a prelude to prayer.
There was a man in Rhodes and his job was to carry people by row boat from the ship to the harbour. This is in the days when there wasn’t these elaborate ports that we have now. I think early 1900s. This man was in the habit of saying the Jesus prayer as he rowed. One day the bishop was visiting Rhodes and this man was rowing the bishop and his entourage to the shore. And the man is saying the Jesus prayer but he’s saying Lord Jesus Christ do not have mercy on me. The bishops says to him, my brother, what are you saying? You are asking the Lord not to have mercy on you. And the man was so upset and he asked the bishop to teach him the prayer properly. And the bishop taught him, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me. And the man practiced it all the way to the shore with the bishop. The bishop went around the island for a few days and then it was time to leave and be taken by the row boat to the main ship. And the bishop was listening to the prayer and the man had forgotten the proper way was saying not to have mercy on him again. And the bishop said you are saying it wrong and once again they practiced the correct way. The bishop boarded the boat and the man headed back by himself to the shore. When he reached the shore he realised he was saying it wrong again but he couldn’t remember the correct way but the ship was about to set off and he didn’t have time to row his boat so he took off his jacket, and rode it like surf board to the ship and from below he says to the bishop, I have forgotten how to say the prayer properly. And the bishop is on the ship, looking down on this man in the middle of the ocean on his jacket! And the bishop says to him, don’t worry about what I said, Just keep saying it the way you always have.
Here’s another story
There was once a simple man named Yannis who loved Jesus greatly. Because of his medical condition, however, he couldn’t do anything in order to find a job. Finally, an Elder took pity on him and brought him to his monastery.
After much trial and error, the Elder found him something he could do: the fathers gave him plates of food and he would take them and put one on each table in the refectory.
The Elder told him to pray, but he couldn’t read. Even the Jesus Prayer was too complicated for him to retain in his mind. Then the Elder said to him: ‘At least say “Hello” to Jesus as often as you can or whenever you remember’.
So, each time Yannis passed in front of the icon of Christ, he always said: ‘Hello, Christ, I’m Yannis’ Or ‘Hi, Jesus, Yannis here’, or ‘Hey, Jesus, it’s me, Yannis’. He spent his entire life carrying plates of food and saying ‘Hello, Jesus, it’s me, Yannis’
Not that he lived long. He had a lot of medical problems and in a few years his health deteriorated to the point that everyone knew he was dying. As, indeed, he did, after a while.
When the fathers saw that he was dead, they had a faint hope that our merciful God would save his soul, even though he hadn’t managed to do much in his life. But when the monks laid him out in church for the burial service, a voice came from the icon of Christ above saying: ‘Hello Yannis! I am Jesus’.
The point in telling you these two stories before we begin is because it’s important to understand that God knows our heart. We can’t trick Him! We can’t trick God! We will now discuss prayer but it doesn’t matter if it’s really bad, or it feels empty. God knows our heart, He know why we are praying. And why are we praying? To help others and to help us have a relationship with our God.
Now this important. God does not need us to pray. He is God. What does God need from us? It’s us that need to pray! To have God in our minds and hearts. And when we pray for others, it fulfils Christ’s commandment of loving our neighbour.
I said at the beginning that I can’t separate praying for others and praying for ourselves. This is because even when we pray for ourselves, the grace that God gives us if we really work at it, will help everyone around us. St Seraphim of Sarov said “find inner peace and thousands will be saved around you”. I will go into more detail about the Jesus prayer, but when use this prayer and we say “have mercy on ME”, what does that mean? I ask God have mercy on Me but I want my parents to be well, my friends to be well and my children if I had any. So for God to have mercy on ME, that means I am also asking that he has mercy on everyone around me and especially the ones I love. This is why they say that monastics pray for the whole world with this prayer even though those ignorant to this will say that we monastics only pray for ourselves. It could not be further from the truth.
And the more we pray, the more God gives us the gift of loving not just our family and friends, but everyone in the world. In the book Way of the Pilgrim, the pilgrim is given the gift of prayer of the heart and he says “Sometimes I felt a burning love for Jesus Christ and for all God’s creatures”. Prayer gives us the gift to love everyone.
Saint Silouan of Mount Athos said he prayed to God to give him repentance in return God gave him to love the world.
Prayer cultivates love. This is why people who pray a lot have so much love. Love IS a by product of prayer!
Ok, now we understand that prayer is for us and everyone around us. So how is it actually done in practical terms?
I learnt a lot from going from the spiritual life in the world to living in a monastery. It’s not the same but it should be. It’s not the same because people just don’t know how. Years ago I went to my spiritual father that I had before entering the monastery. He was a pious married priest in my parish. And I asked him, how do I pray for other people. And he was humble and said, I don’t know. I appreciated his honesty but this is an example of how little we know in the world. And how much there is a need for monastics to teach about prayer.
First off, keep in mind monastics live in surroundings that cultivate prayer. Have a service in the morning that ranges in every monastery but lets say a minimum of an hour and a half. And then in the evening we have vespers and compline which is at a minimum of an hour. So everyday we are praying for at least 2 and a half hours daily not including personal prayers and other prayer programs most monasteries have. The monastery life, the chores are all based around these prayers. In the world your job, or your family life is not based around this sort of program so how does someone in the world pray for themselves and others?
This is a very simple answer. The Jesus prayer. For listeners who don’t know what that is, it is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”. Keeping in mind that when I ask for mercy on me, that it includes everyone around me. Don’t forget that because it’s very important.
Every monastic has a personal prayer rule that is normally completed before church in the morning. Or if you’re me and you like to sleep in, I complete it at any time of the day when I find time.
A personal prayer rule normally includes readings and repeating the jesus prayer using a prayer rope to count because we are given a number of prayer ropes to complete. I won’t go into the readings because this will depend on a person’s spiritual father. Everyone’s instructions are different but they should always include the bible at a very minimum.
So monastics wake up in the morning, and begin with the prayer ropes repeating over and over again, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on my a sinner until they’ve completed the number of their given rule. It’s hard to give you an idea on how many prayer ropes a monastic has. Some are given 2 hours worth, me personally, it’s only 10 which only takes about 15 minutes. It’s different with each person and how many other responsibilities they have.
Now before we start our prayer rule, this is how we include people who have asked us to pray for them. We read the list of names and then continue on with Lord jesus Christ have mercy on me and God knows that with every repetition of the prayer, it counts towards ourselves, the names we have read out and the whole world as we said. For example, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on your servants, John, Maria, Emmanual, Jason and then we repeated after Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me and continue like that only saying the names once.
The good thing about this method is you can include everyone easily. We have hundreds of names and it would be impossible to do a 100 knot prayer rope for every individual person. The other bonus is we can use this prayer for the living, the dead and also the non Orthodox.
Sometimes there might be a particular need like someone is sick and we might want to dedicate a prayer rope to that one person. In this case we would say, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on your servant Xenia and repeat that for a full prayer rope. Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on your servant Xenia. Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on your servant Xenia. Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on your servant Xenia.
If you’re praying for the dead, you can say Lord Jesus Christ grant rest to your servants Maria, John and continue with the list of names. And then keep saying Lord Jesus Christ give rest to your servants over and over. My abbess uses this method but I don’t. I say the list and then I continue on with Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner. It’s the same thing. Once again you may want to pray for someone in particular so you can say a whole prayer rope of Lord Jesus Christ give rest to your servant Maria over and over.
This explains how we use the Jesus prayer to pray for others and ourselves but there are also some other really important ways. The most important is to pray for names, once again, as a list during the Proskimide that the priest does to prayer the Bread and Wine for Holy Communion. You might see people give bread or at least names to the priest and this is why. In monasteries we do not charge a service for this but a lot of parishes do. I don’t agree with charging for prayer in any shape or form. I’ve started these videos to support our translation ministry. I don’t force people to join these memberships so I can pray for them. I will pray for anyone who asks me!
Back on to the subject because these things are out of my control. During the time when the Proskimide is being performed the priest reads names, BUT we can also read names at this time too. It does not have to be the priest reading the names. In some monasteries, a priest will ring a bell for people to start reading names and will ring it again when to stop, as in when the service is finished. Most don’t ring a bell because they don’t close the service for an hour or so, so that many names can be read in this time. I went to a church in Cyprus and they had clip boards of names and we each, including lay people were given a clip board of names to read at this time. I thought this was an excellent tradition! The only bad thing about this is it is only for the Orthodox dead and living. Secretly I think we all include non Orthodox at this time but we’re not meant to.
The other way is by praying using a supplication service which is called a Paraklesis in Greek or I think moleben in Russian. Almost every saint has a Paraklesis written to them because different saints are for different issues. For example Saint Ephraim the Great Martyr is specifically for praying for people with cancer.
Most monastics will read several Paraklesis to different saints each day. At the very least, they will read the one to the Mother of God and this would be my recommendation. The Mother of God is well known for granting prayer requests to people who use this prayer. I actually feel spiritually naked and vulnerable if I don’t do it every day. This prayer is for Her intercessions so you can use it for any cause but it’s only for the Orthodox Living. So it’s not for the dead or non Orthodox but once again I think everyone secretly includes the non Orthodox but not if it’s in church. In church these prayers go for about an hour but if you read it regularly, it should only take you 10 minutes. We totally skip anything said by the priest including the gospel. I’ll make a video on how to read it at home in a quick way because not everyone has an hour each day to chant a whole Paraklesis service.
The last way I’ll talk about is using the psalms to pray. The daily programme of services, if you do them all in a monastery means the whole book of psalms will be read every week. I read a quote that although you don’t know what the psalm means, read it anyway because the demons do and they tremble when they hear it. I’ve joined a group of monastics who read a set number of psalms every day so that between us all, the whole book is read each day. I’d like to start this a little down the track and establish a group.
If you look online there is some information available that is from Saint Arsenios which was the spiritual father of Saint Paisios. Saint Arsenios has allocated the meaning of each psalm to a need. It’s by the Orthodox numbering but for example years ago, I had some issues at work where some people were trying to ruin my business and I used psalm 16 3 times a day for 3 days as per the instructions of the saint, and this gets rid of enemies. And I’ve used this ever since when I had problems. Thank God I haven’t had to use it for years.
Psalm 1 is used when you’re planting a tree.
Psalm 2 is for meetings.
And the list goes on.
Herein ends our discussion on prayer. Please comment below or email me if you don’t want your question to be public and I will happily answer.
Thank you for your time. Forgive me and pray for me. Amen.