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.
“As he was dying, Abba Benjamin said to his sons, ‘If you
observe the following, you can be saved, “Be joyful at all times, pray without ceasing and give thanks for all things.”
– The Sayings of the Desert Fathers
Abba Benjamin #4
Prayer is Praise and Thanksgiving
- We should pray with honesty in any condition in which we find ourselves.
- The Lord’s Prayer and [Orthodox Christian] prayer books help us set proper reverence and respect.
- Give glory to God for everything.
- Give thanks to God for everything.
- Authentic praise of God is [shown to be] true by one’s behavior, not just verbally saying “Praise the Lord!”.
- Authentic praise of God means that we want to do God’s will.
“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’”
– Matthew 7:21-23
- If you are really saved by grace it is proven by your works.
- If you are really praising God it is proven by your works.
- “Faith without works is dead…” (James 2:14-26)
- “Even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood…” (Isaiah 1:15)
- If we are petitioning God properly, then prayer itself is a [form of] thanksgiving and praise.
- We ask for [that which] will give God the glory.
- “For Thy Name’s sake” is similar to saying “In Jesus Name” or “Thy will be done”. These all make prayer [into a form] of praise because we are seeking glory to the name of God.
“And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”
– Job 1:21-22
- Our Lord’s high priestly prayer led to His prayer at Gethsemane.
- Our’s Lord’s prayer at Gethsemane led to His prayer from the cross.
- In all of these prayers, Jesus Christ perfectly glorified God in all things.
The Trisagion Prayer
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!
O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere and fillest all things; Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life – come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.
Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us. (3x)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
O most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. O Lord, cleanse us from our sins. O Master, pardon our transgressions. O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Thy name’s sake.
Lord, have mercy. (3x)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
“O Heavenly King…”
- Words given to us [by the Church] to pray inform our attitude for prayer.
- The words are not “magical”, this is never in the Tradition.
- The point of prayer is to desire what God desires.
- The cause of every dissatisfaction is desire.
- We need to get to harmony with the Divine Will, then we will have peace and the dissatisfaction [will subside].
- To pray “In the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” means we want what God wants.
- Every prayer in the Orthodox Church begins “O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth…” this is a prayer to the Holy Spirit.
- We ask for the Holy Spirit because the Lord tells us the Father gives us the Holy Spirit, therefore we want what God does and is doing.
- [We invite the Holy Spirit to] “Come and abide in us“
- This is the only direct prayer to the Holy Spirit in the Eastern Tradition.
- Why do we pray this way?
- Every prayer that is right and acceptable to God…is prayed through us by the Holy Spirit.
- There is perfect union in the Trinity and Christ prays that we have union with Him through the [same] Holy Spirit.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
– Romans 8:5-11
- St. Paul teaches we become one spirit with the Holy Spirit
(I Corinthians 6).
- Our Lord teaches where the Holy Spirit dwells, so are the Son and the Father (John 17).
- We can only pray acceptably to God when praying in the Holy Spirit, Who prays in us and gives us the words to pray.
- By authentically invoking the Holy Spirit, there is proof that the Holy Spirit does abide in us.
- St. Seraphim of Sarov and St. Isaac of Syria have even spoken of such real union with God through the Holy Spirit to the point that life became one unceasing prayer and obedience to the Gospel commands in Holy Scripture.
- We invoke the Holy Spirit and pray through the Son to the Father.
- When the Holy Spirit is in us, we are a child of God because the very same Holy Spirit that makes Jesus Christ the Son of God also makes us children of God. It is the same grace and the same Holy Spirit. (Galatians 4:1-7)
- The first act in prayer must be to invoke the Holy Spirit.
“Lord have mercy”
- “Lord have mercy” is mainly our affirmation that God is merciful.
- “God, we want You to be as You are” [i.e merciful].
- In the Orthodox Tradition, “mercy” is not always used in a penitential way.
- Eleos (mercy) is not mercy as opposed to justice. Rather [the Lord’s] justice is totally merciful and His mercy is totally just.
- God is merciful to me [whether] I ask for it or not, however I am condemned when I don’t want His mercy and that is what hell is.
“Hell is being tortured for all eternity by Divine mercy, because God is saying ‘you are forgiven’, but the people tormented say ‘we don’t want to be forgiven'”.
- Hell is being tortured by God’s mercy that one does not want.
- We are blessed when we say “Lord have mercy” because we want the mercy He is already giving us.
- Mercy is often translated many as “steadfast love” in the Psalms.
- Kyrie eleison means “Lord have mercy” in Biblical Greek.
- pronounced “KEER-ee-ay uh-LAY-zawn”
- Gospodi pomilui means “Lord have mercy” in Old Church Slavonic.
- pronounced “GOSS-poh-dee paw-MEEL-oy”
- Mercy is the One who provides good things.
- “Lord have mercy” never ceases [in Orthodoxy], it is not emphasized only during Great Lent.
- “Lord have mercy” is ubiquitous in Orthodox Christian services.
“Holy, Holy, Holy”
- Trisagion means thrice-holy or “holy, holy, holy”.
- The prayer of angels in heaven is unceasingly singing “holy holy holy” (Isaiah 6).
- We join the angels in this prayer.
- “Holy” means completely different; separated for righteousness; set apart.
- Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us:
- Holy God refers to God the Father
- Holy Mighty refers to God the Son
- Holy Immortal refers to God the Holy Spirit
- There is a legend about a boy caught up into heaven during a natural catastrophe and he descended and exhorted the people to pray the Trisagion prayer and then he died.
- The Trisagion Prayer is also at center of the Christological controversy.
- Monophysites pray to this day “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal Who was crucified for us“.
- The Trisagion Prayer is an affirmation of three Persons of the Trinity.
- The Trisagion Prayer offers a distinction of One God in essence, undivided, yet three Persons.
Abba Anthony’s Equal
- The Trisagion Prayer can also be used during continuous prayer, between rules, similar to the Jesus Prayer.
“It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus [the Trisagion Prayer] with the angels.”
– Sayings of the Desert Fathers
St. Anthony the Great (#24)
- We can imitate the angels, but we are and always will be human beings.
- Monastic life is the angelic life, the schema, but [monks and nuns] are not transformed into angels.
- We do not turn into angels.
- We don’t try to become angels.
- Even our Lord says in the resurrection we are “as the angels” (i.e. like angels) – we do not become bodiless. (Matthew 22:30)
- We do not marry or procreate in the resurrection.
- There is a heresy, influenced by Origen, followed by some people that tried to become angels.
- We do take on angelic means to continuously pray “Holy, Holy, Holy” in our hearts.
- Angels sing in choirs, pray perpetual prayer, fight evil and are messengers of the Gospel to the world.
- What is the end of the Holy Holy Holy?
- Have mercy on us.
- Cleanse us from our sins.
- Pardon our transgressions.
- Visit and heal our infirmities.
- For They name’s sake.
What kind of healing?
- What kind of healing are we praying for?
- Ultimate healing is forgiveness of sins in the Orthodox Tradition.
- No petition for deliverance from bodily suffering is found in the Lord’s Prayer.
- Healing of soul and body in communion prayer.
- The source of death is rebellion against God.
- Jesus healed as Messianic sign.
- Ultimately we have to pass through the cross [of death].
- Our ultimate prayer is to trample death by our own death in Jesus the Messiah.
- The moment of truth is when we die.
- Death is the ultimate enemy to overcome.
- Suffering is the moment of truth for the Christian.
- The only healing that glorifies God is healing that gives person more time and health to glorify God, more time to repent and serve God.
- Faith in suffering is more of a witness to God than a miracle.
- Jesus said “If you will be My disciple take up your cross and follow Me.” We cannot bypass the cross and still follow Christ.
- Our unction service is not last rites [like Roman Catholics in the West], but the unction service is for those that are particularly sick.
- The prayers of this service are mostly for forgiveness of sins.
- Unction service is not a last effort for physical healing, but rather for total healing including forgiveness of sins and even more a consecration of the suffering and possibly death.
- A long life of many years is not always indication of blessing from God.
- St. Panteleimon and so many other saints that died young.
- If a person simply prays “Lord have mercy, Thine kingdom come, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy name sake”, that’s all we need.
Thy Will Be Done
Let your longings be known to God – even for the healing of self or another, or of a child, but still be ready to say “Nevertheless Thy will be done” or “If not Thy will, take away my desire for it“.
– Fr. Thomas Hopko