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Question 51.

Pater, is it possible to pray too much? 

 

Answer to Question 51.

 

St. Paul says that we must “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), that means that we should pray continuously every second of the day. There is no such thing as praying too much. Most people only remember that there is a God when they are in need of something, and usually resort to prayer when they suffer from some sort of ailment, when someone close to them is ill, when they are in trouble, when they need financial help, when they apply for a new position, in general when they have need of something worldly. At all other times they rarely think of God and live their lives without God and prayer. Others again have got into the habit of praying in the morning or before going to bed but don’t feel the need to pray throughout the day. On those rare occasions when they resort to prayer they expect God to respond by answering their prayers. If he doesn’t then that affects their belief in him and often people lose faith and say God didn’t help me when I needed him.

Prayer from this point of view is not prayer at all. True prayer is to seek for God’s love, because the kingdom of God is love. Prayer is the means by which we ask God to help us love him and this is what we mean when we ask for God’s mercy. It goes without saying that God is love and his love is there for us to experience thus we don’t ask God to love us, we take it for granted that his love for us is total and unconditional. It is we who need to heal ourselves so that we may be able to experience God’s love. It is we who have a problem in our relationship with God. When we ask for God’s mercy we are in fact asking him to heal our existence in such a way as to allow him to find rest within our own hearts and bring about a union with his love. This is what we must first and foremost ask of God. When this happens then God offers us whatever else we might have need of. If fact, when this primary need has been satisfied then all other needs seem to fade away, they are not important to us anymore. We see things in a different light and even our infirmities are not seen as a burden but as a blessing.

Now there are various forms of prayer. Prayer is doxology, praise, thanksgiving, confession, supplication and intercession to God. The things we petition for are also many, we ask God for all sorts of things especially in the liturgy and other church services. We ask for peace, a good harvest, protection for those at sea, good rainfall, etc. The way we pray are also many. Prayer is of course devout words but also the outward signs of piety as: the sign of the Cross, bowing our head, kneeling, prostration, etc. But prayer can also be offered without words, and without other external manifestations. This is the inner or hidden prayer of a pious soul, which is familiar through experience to many earnest Christians.

In the Orthodox Church monks and many laymen practice the “Jesus Prayer” known also as the “Prayer of the heart”. This is a short prayer that is repeated continuously throughout the day to keep our minds on God thus fulfilling what St. Paul said that we should “Pray without ceasing” The prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”.  It is repeated over and over, literally hundreds of times throughout the day and night, until it becomes unceasingly implanted in the heart as a “gushing spring,” a continual presence in the soul calling out to the Lord. It is often, but not necessarily, connected with one’s breathing, so much so that it is uttered “with every breath.” (St. Gregory the Theologian; St. John Chrysostom) There are various stages to the Jesus Prayer. It begins by being said vocally, then silently with the lips, then with the mind and then by joining the mind to the heart, the last stage is the gift of grace which takes its abode in the heart. One can continue this “unceasing prayer” even while engaged in the normal activities of life, while reading or writing, and even while sleeping, thus the “body sleeps,” but the “heart is awake.” Then, when one awakes from one’s bed, one finds that the prayer is continuing itself. This is of course in the advance stage of the prayer.