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Prayer Spirituality

To Whom Do We Pray? Pt 2

“The whole creation is created to pray and … the very heart of the creature … is its activity of prayer.”

– Fr Thomas Hopko

About this content: What follows are notes taken from previously recorded audio lectures given by Father Thomas Hopko to seminarians. The recording audio quality was poor at times since they were converted from cassette tapes to mp3. The date of the recordings is uncertain. It seems Father Thomas named this series of lectures “The Practice of Personal Prayer and its relation to the Spiritual Life in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition”. With God’s help, this series of posts simply aims to share some of the main points of this teaching with other people who have a sincere longing for God.

Created to Pray

  • According to Scripture (Genesis) the human being is at the center of creation, made in the image and according to the likeness of God
  • God has created all that exists with the human at the center for the sake of prayer: 
    • To have communion with God 
    • To glorify God
    • To praise God
    • To adore God
    • To be one with God
    • To share the divine life

Prayer in the Trinity

  • God eternally gives birth to His Son [begotten], and eternally breathes forth His Holy Spirit [procession], therefore this one God is not alone in His divinity.
  • God is a self-sharing Being by nature. 
  • God is not alone in His divinity, but expresses the whole fullness of His divine life eternally and absolutely … in the Person of another who is called His Son, His Word, and His Icon. 
  • There is a relationship between the Father and the Son which is eternal – one God is generating not creating… the Holy Spirit is proceeding from the Father and resting in the Son [this is Trinity].
  • [A dogma of] Eastern Orthodoxy affirms there is an eternal relationship of the Son of God receiving His Being from the Father, because the One God is God the Father… [and] that the eternal Son is receiving His being in life from the Father and is returning in glorification, adoration and even obedience eternally to the Father within the life of the Trinity. 
  • Something like prayer is going on eternally within the Persons of the Trinity. 
  • The Son of God eternally, not only praises the Father, glorifies the Father, thanks the Father, but …is eternally obeying the Father. 
  • The Source of divinity is the Father alone and [is] the one true living God of prayer, the creed and the liturgy.
  • There is a kind of “liturgy” of the Trinity that’s eternal – liturgy meaning “common action” – there is an activity of the Godhead. 
  • The Agent of Creation is the Logos [i.e the Second Person of the Trinity] – thats a biblical teaching and found in the Creed – “…Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father; by Whom all things were made”.
  • St. Paul is very clear that Jesus is the One by Whom, through Whom and for Whom all things are made (Romans 11:36).
  • The fullness of God is fully poured out eternally in the Person of the Son – that’s why if God is really love and the love really must be expressed, creation [alone] cannot be an adequate expression. 
  • If the Logos is eternally sharing this relationship with the one God Whom he addresses as Father, then the whole creation is created also to have that same relationship with the Father that the Logos has.
  • The creation is created to have the relationship that the eternal Son has with the eternal Father in the Holy Spirit.
  • Maximus the Confessor said “we are created to be by grace everything that the Divine Word [Jesus Christ] is by nature”.
  • The “Divine Word” becomes man as Jesus who [comes] to us, we who [have] spoiled and ruined and killed our world, how? By refusing our vocation of prayer. 

Prayer is restored through Salvation

  • Man is called to take the creation and to enter into that eternal relationship of the Son with the Father and the Spirit…Therefore you can say:
    • Prayer is a divine activity
    • Prayer is a gift that God gives us in and which we share divine light… 
    • Prayer is the ability to say to the ineffable, invisible, inconceivable, holy, super-holy God, “Father”.
    • Prayer is empowered in us by the very Holy Spirit who is eternally the Spirit of God.
  • St. Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit is in us:
    • He prays in us
    • He acts in us
    • He says “Abba” in us
    • He makes us to be Christs
  • The Holy Spirit anoints us to be children in Jesus, the real Adam, because the original Adam didn’t fulfill his vocation, therefore:
    • God sent his Son.. so loving the world
    • God knew even before Creation, that Adam would [sin]. 
    • God knew that the Son of God would have to come so that we could be what we were created to be, namely His children, sharing His uncreated, super-essential being and life. 
  • If we had not sinned, our whole life would be a continual song of “Holy Holy, Holy, Lord Almighty, heaven and earth are full of thy glory… Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”  This would be our natural way of life. 
  • When we rebel and as St. Athanasius says, “return to our own nothingness”, then
    • We lose all the attributes of God
    • We become fools instead of wise
    • We become idiots instead of communal persons (Note: the term for “individual” doesn’t exist in the tradition, you have persons and you have community, you don’t have individuals.
    • The Greek word for “individual” is idiot – idiot is an individual, the one who thinks that he or she is sufficient in and of one’s self and not in communion with all the others – the reality that exists which is created in God.) 
  • Prayer by calling out to God is a return to our true nature
  • Everyone eventually dies, it is a matter of time, ultimately we cease to [live] as humans on Earth.
  • Corruption is at the heart of reality when one breaks communion with God and therefore loses the ontological foundation of their own existence.
  • There can’t be any definition of the human without God because the human by definition is an icon, a mirror, a reflection, an epiphany.

  • Christ comes to [save us]; to restore us to our praying nature… and it can only be restored by Him becoming what we are – sinful, cursed and dead, so that through Him we can become righteous, forgiven, purified and alive – and that life is the adoration of God. 
  • In the Psalms, the worst thing about being dead is you couldn’t pray, you couldn’t sing alleluia. In the pit no one could glorify God and that was what was so bad about being dead.
  • So when the Messiah comes and enters into Sheol, into the pit and pulls everybody out, they can sing alleluia again and they can find their own life again.
    • we are redeemed to be able to pray
    • we are redeemed to be able to address the God as “Father”

  • Now it is the teaching definitely according to our tradition, the saints and the Bible that the whole of Creation is praying. 
  • In any course on the practice of prayer, the demons are also present, because when you try to practice prayer you meet the demons and you gotta know what to do with them. 
  • When the human prays consciously, he seeks and opens himself to God then automatically the person enters into the ceaseless adoration of God with the angels and when that happens all of the elements who are involved also rejoice. 
  • This is seen in the lives of the saints – when the saints are around the deserts blossom, the animals come, there is this cosmic rejoicing. 
  • Conversely, when there is rebellion against God then the demons rejoice and the angels are weeping. The angels somehow are unhappy according to Christ, they rejoice over the repentant prayer, but somehow even the prayer is connected to the human.
  • Our refusal to be priests, intercessors, mediators, adorers of God causes nature to weep, or to use the language of Romans chapter 8, “it’s in agony, it’s in travail”.
  • In the Jeremiah reading on Holy Thursday night [during Holy Week], the night of Holy Communion in the Orthodox liturgy, almost all of the liturgy is contemplating this union – Judas breaking the unity, defiling the cup…giving that kiss [of betrayal]. The reading at Vigil on Holy Thursday from Jeremiah is about how all the birds are weeping and plants are wailing and everything is in lamentation because there’s no holy communion, because there is supposed to be holy communion, but because of sin, there is no holy communion, the point is that the Christ restores that communion
  • Christ unites again the world to God.  He fulfills what Adam didn’t fulfill and then you have rejoicing again. There is a cosmic rejoicing.
  • When we pray, the angels and the elements enter into that prayer with us and we know it, the saints know it but the claim is that when a person in prayer begins to realize that heaven and earth is filled with the glory of God and is singing to God so that the praying person can hear what John of the Cross calls “the silent music” or “resounding silence”, but that silence all of sudden comes alive and an experience of everything as the epiphany of God really comes alive, because this cosmic activity of the adoration of God is going on all the time – if we could only see it.  That’s the point. 
  • All these elements are glorifying God – if we could only see it, if we could only hear it – and the praying person does see it and hears it and kind of plugs into it. 
  • The minute a person says “Our Father…” they are within the Trinity.  They are within the Divine life and the Holy Spirit is already in them and Jesus is already glorified in them and they are already becoming what Jesus is – by that very utterance.

Prayer is the Will of God for His Creation

  • If the will to seek God is what makes prayer and makes us human, then this is only because He has the will to seek us. 
  • The very Creation itself – not to speak of the history of salvation, the Incarnation and the Crucifixion – is nothing else but God seeking us and He wills with an infinite, boundlessly perfect and absolutely unstoppable will to be with us, that’s Gods will. 
  • God who didn’t have to create us, created us because He wants to be with us, He seeks us, He seeks us in the pit of hell, He becomes a creature with us and when I pray, I am not doing anything else but a very shabby, very creaturely imperfect response to what God Himself wills for me. 
  • Prayer is returning to God His own activity toward us.

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