Why Do We Repeat So Many Set Prayers?
Our life is full of repetition. It makes us who we are. For example, we are alive because we repeat the basic function of breathing. Do we think about breathing? No! We just do it. So much of our day is filled by repetition. This morning you brushed your teeth, or bathed, as you have every day for the past many years. Teeth brushing has become a part of your life, a part of who you are. Now let’s look at prayer in the same light.
If prayer is a part of your life, you have chosen it primarily to fulfil the desire to connect with our Lord. Many of the Saints, when teaching about prayer, write in the same language as a physical fitness coach. They recommend consistent repetitive application, a good routine, focus and patience. They remind us not to be too concerned about the content of the prayer. Our Lord already knows our needs, our pains, our joys, and our weaknesses. The Saints teach us that the goal is not the words, rather to open our hearts so the Lord can enter and rest in there. In achieving that, we will enjoy His presence, His love, His warmth, His joy and His energy. We will feel peace. We will trust Him and leave everything in His hands. Suddenly the words will not really matter.
The question remains how to open our hearts. What about our own words? Sometimes your heart will overflow with something and with your own words you will speak with the Lord. That is wonderful, but impossible to maintain over time. Over time using your own words for prayer, you will fall into a routine and repeat the same things each day. That too is good, but others have written much better prayers. That is why most often we read prayers written by others.
In communal prayer and in private prayer, we have been taught to leave the actual words to the experts and focus instead on the condition of our heart to accept a visit from the Lord. Who are the experts? The experts are our Lord Jesus Christ Himself with the Lord’s Prayer, David who wrote the 150 Psalms, St John Chrysostom who compiled the Liturgy we use, Saints such as Basil the Great, Ephraim, Damaskinos, Cassiane, Nektarios and so many others who left us with an enormous wealth of material to use for prayer. Like good physical exercise, tooth brushing, or homework routine, we repeat these prayers, some daily, some weekly, and some annually.
We use the prayers of these Saints over and over and they slowly become our prayers, their words become our words because we dipped those words into our heart and sent them to the Lord as our own. In return, the Lord visits us and we connect to Him. Done! Repeat as regularly as possible! Finally, there is one little prayer that the Saints recommend for us to repeat constantly, all day, every day, wherever we are and whatever we are doing.
They say to repeat it like we repeat breathing. Breathing results in life for your body. Yes? Well then, breathing this tiny prayer gives life to your soul. The deeper and more slowly and carefully that you breath this prayer, the more life and health you will give to your soul, the more connected you will remain with the ultimate source of Life. “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”.
Fr N. S.
Source: Lychnos June – July 2017