Monday, July 9, 2018

Why to be excited about praying "a set form of prayer"?

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Lord's Prayer

Excerpts from Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament by Thomas Howard.

During my graduate studies I came upon the works of a man named Lancelot Andrewes. He was bishop successively of Ely, Chichester, and Winchester during the reign of James I in England and was James’s favorite preacher. His sermons are to preaching what filet mignon is to food. Andrewes worked out for himself a system of private prayer, which he entitled Preces Privatae (Private Prayers). He wrote it all down for himself in Greek and then in Latin. 

Somewhere I came into possession of an English translation. There are many forms of prayer in the book. The part that attracted my attention was the section called “Morning Prayers for a Week.” Eventually I pulled these pages carefully from the paperback edition that I owned and set them into a small black leather snap-ring notebook. 

I wanted to use them for my own prayers. That was perhaps fifteen years ago. I still use them daily. What I had found to be true of the prayers at St. Andrew’s Church, and then of the Office of Evening Prayer, I have found to be true here: the discipline enables; the structure frees

For many years I had tried, intermittently, to gird up my loins and settle into a faithful manner of daily prayer. But two difficulties always ran my efforts onto the shoals. 

First, sooner or later I found that I was neglecting them because I did not feel in the mood to pray. And second, when I did address myself to prayer, I found that I ran out of things to say. I cannot pretend that Andrewes’s order for private morning prayers has kept me steady from the moment I adopted it. But at least it has steered me away from those two sets of shoals. 

Like the worship at St. Andrew’s Church and Evening Prayer at the university chapel, it has taught me that one’s coming to God has nothing to do with how one feels. One simply makes the act of prayer. It is analogous to the Jews’ bringing their alms and sacrifices to the temple: you do it because that is what the people of God do. 

Moreover, in so doing, you discover that, far from being mere drab duty, it orders your life and undergirds it and gives it a rhythm. Any honest man will admit that prayer is indeed drab duty often, and if his inclinations are the only recourse he has to help him surmount the drabness, then things are bound to be sporadic; whereas, if he has learned to look on prayer as a plain habit, he will find that it is not so much of a struggle. 

He may have to struggle with the state of his soul often enough, but this will not bring his prayers to a halt since these are as objective a matter as were the turtle doves that Joseph and Mary brought to the Temple. 

Of course, we do not have to have a set form of prayer in order to get into the steady habit of praying. As far as I know, my father’s early morning prayers were offered extemporaneously, daily, for fifty and more years. But he was an extraordinary man. I myself found, early in the game, that I could not depend on my own resources in the matter. 

I have had enthusiastic friends who have urged that the Holy Ghost can keep us always fresh and eager. I daresay He can, but I know very few Christians who are kept unflaggingly fresh and eager by the Holy Ghost. 

What we know of Him would give us reason to suppose that He is the architect of order, and that props and helps and disciplines are His ordinary methods, just as natural processes are the forms under which He continually brings new life out of the earth from seeds. Evangelicalism had taught me the importance of prayer and had indeed taught me to pray. It had encouraged me to pray daily. But the impression I had formed was that one was more or less on one’s own here. The Holy Ghost would inspire me, and I would be able to pray. 

Eventually I came to learn that this general line of teaching has, fairly or unfairly, been called “enthusiasm” in the Church. The general tendency is to look for direct, personal experiences from heaven and to discount external structures and aids. 

Christian history has been marked by many vigorous examples of enthusiasm: the Montanists, and the Quakers, and even the Wesleyans have all been called enthusiasts, not because they were especially tumultuous, but because their teaching stressed the notion of direct communication from God to the soul, sometimes to the exclusion of more plodding and indirect techniques. 

If the testimony of nearly everyone I have known in evangelicalism may be at all credited, then I am not alone in having found the practice of daily prayer excessively difficult to maintain over long periods without any help. 

Lancelot Andrewes supplied help to me here. In his order for private prayers, each of the seven days of the week follows the same general sequence, but the actual words that constitute the parts of the prayer differ for each morning. On Sunday, for example, he begins with “Through the tender compassions of our God, the Dayspring from on high hath visited us.” 

Friday has, simply, “Early shall my prayer come before Thee.” The overwhelming majority of what Andrewes includes in his order for prayer is drawn from Scripture, although he also draws on ancient Jewish texts, Greek texts from the early Church, and the writings of the Fathers. The simple opening statement for each day locates the prayer. It places it starkly before God, on a firmer footing than what is to be found in the bog of one’s own immediate concerns or feelings. 

Then comes an act of commemoration. In this, following the seven days of Creation, one blesses God for His acts, which are recorded in Scripture as having occurred on that day On Sunday one blesses God for light, created on the first day-Glory be to thee, O Lord, glory be to thee, which didst create the light and lighten the world.” 

After enumerating a great number of the blessings that come to us by virtue of light including “the intellectual light, that which may be known of God, It has also taught me, or begun to teach me, that prayer is far from being a matter of just my own efforts. I stand with an innumerable company of intercessors before the Mercy Seat in behalf of all men everywhere. 

Prayer has gone up unceasingly from righteous men since the beginning of time, like the smoke of incense. If I cannot yet conceive of myself as being a very exemplary member of that company, I may at least aspire to be one of the men who prays daily for all men. 

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Σύμβολο της Πίστεως (Nicene Creed)
Πιστεύω ες να Θεόν, Πατέρα, Παντοκράτορα, ποιητν ορανο κα γς, ρατν τε πάντων κα οράτων.

Κα ες να Κύριον ησον Χριστόν, τν Υἱὸν το Θεο τν μονογεν, τν κ το Πατρς γεννηθέντα πρ πάντων τν αώνων· φς κ φωτός, Θεν ληθινν κ Θεο ληθινο, γεννηθέντα ο ποιηθέντα, μοούσιον τ Πατρί, δι' ο τ πάντα γένετο.
Τν δι' μς τος νθρώπους κα δι τν μετέραν σωτηρίαν κατελθόντα κ τν ορανν κα σαρκωθέντα κ Πνεύματος γίου κα Μαρίας τς Παρθένου κα νανθρωπήσαντα.
Σταυρωθέντα τε πρ μν π Ποντίου Πιλάτου, κα παθόντα κα ταφέντα.
Κα ναστάντα τ τρίτ μέρα κατ τς Γραφάς.
Κα νελθόντα ες τος ορανος κα καθεζόμενον κ δεξιν το Πατρός.
Κα πάλιν ρχόμενον μετ δόξης κρναι ζντας κα νεκρούς, ο τς βασιλείας οκ σται τέλος.
Κα ες τ Πνεμα τ γιον, τ κύριον, τ ζωοποιόν, τ κ το Πατρς κπορευόμενον, τ σν Πατρ κα Υἱῷ συμπροσκυνούμενον κα συνδοξαζόμενον, τ λαλσαν δι τν προφητν.
Ες μίαν, γίαν, Καθολικν κα ποστολικν κκλησίαν.
μολογώ ν βάπτισμα ες φεσιν μαρτιν.
Προσδοκώ νάστασιν νεκρν.
Κα ζων το μέλλοντος αἰῶνος.

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