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Friday, October 22, 2021

A Few Thoughts on the Importance of Prayer

Fr. Konstantinos Koutroubas
Fr. Konstantinos Koutroubas
Father Konstantinos Koutroubas Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church

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Our Lord and our Savior, He who is more merciful, more loving, more forgiving than we can ever be, calls us to His embrace.  He awaits for us with such eagerness, just like the loving father in the parable of the Prodigal Son who embraced his wayward and Prodigal Son, the Prodigal Son who had insulted and abandoned his father, the Prodigal Son who lived a riotous, sinful lifestyle and then came to his senses and, in his dark place, remembered his father’s love.  The loving father, when he saw his son at the distance returning home and “was still a great way off…saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). This is our God! He loves us! He welcomes us! He wants to dwell with us, within us.
 
The Church in Her wisdom knows human nature and the human condition inside out. There are many temptations and distractions in our lives that can cause us to lose our way. The Church provides spiritual weapons though, and one of those weapons not to be neglected, not to be cast aside is prayer. We hear this from Christ Himself, who told his Apostles, when they could not cast out a demon from a certain boy before the Resurrection, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29).  What soldier in his right mind casts aside a weapon in the midst of a battle? We are waging a spiritual battle.  Should we therefore cast aside our weapon of prayer?
 
Here are some simple suggestions for prayer:
1. Make the firm resolve to make Sunday a priority for liturgical worship. With the way the world has become, please make Sunday a priority. What would Saint Kosmas the Aetolian have to say to all of us with how far we have strayed, when he labored so tirelessly all over Greece to try to help our ancestors keep the light of Christ and the light of our Orthodox Faith lit during those challenging and difficult years under Turkish slavery?  
 
Sunday is the Lord’s Day. We cannot even say the word in Greek (Κυριακή) without acknowledging that it is the Lord’s Day. Every Sunday is a mini-Pascha, a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, because Christ rose from the dead on Sunday. One of my close friends used to tell me “Χριστός ανέστη” when I would see him on Sundays to try to strike home this reality and to try to bask in this reality. Because Christ resurrected, all of us too will one day resurrect. The departed already await for this resurrection in the cemetery. We cannot even get away from acknowledging this reality in our vocabulary in Greek or English, as the cemetery (το κοιμητήρι) is the place of those who are asleep, of those who have experienced the small sleep of death, as Saint John Chrysostom says, and await the resurrection of the dead, because Christ is risen! And, as I have said before, we hope for resurrection unto eternal life with the Lord and not resurrection unto eternal hell.
 
2. Pray in the morning. Pray in the evening. Pray before and after meals. Pray before you go to sleep.
 
3. Do your sign of the Cross when you wake up, before you go to sleep, before and after meals, when you leave the house, when you are about to drive.
 
4. Wear a cross (not a mati!). It does not matter if it is made of gold, silver, wood, string, or rope. Make sure you wear one.
 
5. Pray to the Panagia, the Angels (especially Archangels Michael and Gabriel), and our Orthodox Saints.
 
6. If you have a patron Saint, pray to your Saint.
 
7. Pray to the patron Saint or Saints of your home parish.
 
8. Pray the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.” Either have a prayer rope (Kombosxoini) around your wrist or keep one in your pocket and use it to pray. You can also pray, “Most Holy Theotokos, save us!”
 
9. If you have Orthodox prayer books at home, open them. If not, look into getting something. In the meantime, use Orthodox resources we have online. Pray some or all of the Akathist to the Theotokos or Paraklesis to the Theotokos.
 
10. Pray for your departed! They still exist!
 
11. Pray for those who have hurt you and for those whom you have hurt. Praying for someone, even one’s enemies, even those with whom we are at odds with, is an act of love. It softens your own heart too.
 
12. Go on a retreat or mini-retreat to an Orthodox monastery.
 
It is of life-sustaining importance for both young and old alike, to know that, in times of great joy and happiness but also in times of sorrow, trials, temptations, tribulations, sicknesses, problems, challenges, and suffering-and even during this time of the coronavirus-that they can and should not only turn to but run to the Church for prayer, for refuge, for encouragement, for strength, and consolation. The Church should not be an afterthought, a minimized priority, or a reality that works only when it is convenient, but the Church is essential, as the spiritual hospital that paradoxically works also as the spiritual home, where we find the Spiritual Doctor, who is Christ, whom we need more than the air we breathe, as Saint Gregory the Theologian tells us.  
 
A number of questions to honestly ask ourselves: 
-Are we spiritually lost? It is a little frightening to ask ourselves this, but are we spiritually dead?  Have we hastened to the Church and to the Church’s prayer in the same way that we have hastened to the doctors?  When was the last time we had a spiritual check-up?  When is the last time we have been to a church service? Has it been months, weeks, a year, years? Do we think that this is good and spiritually beneficial? What if it is spiritually harmful?  Are we experiencing loneliness, depression of any sort, isolation? If so, do we think the Church can help us cope with these experiences?  
 
– Are we physically able to get to church? Are the parish and the church services the same thing as going to the store, the supermarket, the mall, the restaurants and bars, etc.? Have we gone on vacations? If we have done any or all of these things, why can we not attend the church services? 
 
-Is there not something to be said about the countless liturgies and services that have been carried out at a parish? Is there not something to be said about the very presence of the Body and Blood of Christ on the altar table and in the church? Is there not something to be said about the relics of Saints present within the church and the sacred icons?  So many Saints, including the Panagia, have appeared during the Divine Liturgy to holy people.  Is this environment the same as the Walmart?
 
-What is our approach to death? Are we prepared to meet the Lord in the next life? What if we do not live to be 100? What if something else takes us and not, for example, the coronavirus? 
 
-When is the last time we have been to confession? Have we ever been to confession?
 
– When is the last time we have received Holy Communion?  If the Lord Himself was able to heal a woman who suffered from an infirmity for many years with the hem of His garment, if Saint Peter the Apostle’s shadow was able to heal people, if the handkerchief and apron of Saint Paul was able to heal people, if the bones of the Prophet Elisha from the Old Testament were able to even resurrect someone (all of the above instances are in the Bible), if there were miraculous occurrences with the Holy Cross when Saint Helen founded it, if the miraculous icon of the Panagia Prousiotissa saved Karpenisi, Messolongi, and other areas in Evrytania from the Spanish flu, should we stop approaching Holy Communion and stop kissing the holy icons and relics? I realize for Holy Communion that it might take some time, but Holy Communion is the Body and Blood of Christ, the medicine of immortality.  The Body and Blood of Christ, with preparation that it entails and Holy Confession,  is the antidote to the brokenness that sin brings into our lives. 
 
Regarding Holy Communion, I just want to give a gentle reminder that, as a priest, I have to consume what remains in the Holy Chalice, using the same Communion spoon (lavitha) that has been used by multiple people, the same Communion spoon that has been dipped multiple times into the chalice, , using the same Communion cloth that has been used by multiple people as well. The priests are the science experiments!  We use gold and silver that are naturally antiseptics for the chalice and the Communion spoon. Combine that with boiling water that we add and the alcoholic content that truly becomes the Blood of Christ (which should be enough reason to not transmit the virus anyway), how can any virus or sickness possibly be spread by Communion?
 
Forgive me if I have offended any of you, but I write this out of spiritual concern. Come home. Increase your personal prayer.  Increase your prayer within the bosom of the Church. Get your foot in the door and then we can work on everything else. The Lord welcomes you home. Bring your struggles, your fears, your concerns to the Lord. Let us try to remind ourselves continually of what the Lord says, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7). 
 
Picture: Xenophontos Monastery on Mount Athos
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