Depravity and the Absolute Importance of Prayer

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Recently I’ve been reading one of the basics in Orthodox spirituality: “The Way of The Pilgrim, and The Pilgrim Continues His Way.” So I guess, that would actually be two books, but it’s in one volume, so…eh. But the Pilgrim books are the old story of a Russian pilgrim who wonders across the land with nothing but a knapsack on his back with breadcrusts and his Bible in it. He travels to various holy sites, attends liturgy, and somehow finds a way to get enough hospitality to survive.

One day the Pilgrim hears an epistle reading during liturgy in which the words “Pray without ceasing…” are said, and from then on he decides he must find out what this means. This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Orthodox prayer/spirituality. In the “Sixth Meeting,” in “The Pilgrim Continues His Way,” the pilgrim is having a conversation, when one of the wiser men decides to give him a lecture on some of the mysteries of the “Philokalia.”

Within this talk, the man decides to explain what part men play in their own salvations, ie: what is left up to our wills. First, he brings up faith, because obviously faith is necessary for salvation. But, the man says, man can’t just have faith. Faith is a gift from God. On his own, man cannot even produce faith the size of a mustard seed. So how can we get this gift? Ask and ye shall recieve the man responds.

Next, he brings up works. For as St. James says, “Faith without works is dead,” and “For a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” However, St. Paul reveals to us that we are powerless an unable to justify ourselves by keeping all the commandments of the law. So how can one be saved? The Savior Himself reveals this mystery: “Without me ye can do nothing,” and “He who abides in Me…bears much fruit.” To be in Christ, the man says, is, “continually to know His presence and to unceasingly to ask in His name.” So the man says, once again we see that it is only through prayer that one can ever perform good works. This, he says, is “why prayer is necessary above all else, because it gives life to faith and through it all the virtues are aquired.”

Not so fast though, the man next tells us that “True prayer requires its own conditions. It mus tbe offered with a pure mind and heart, with ardent zeal and undivided attention, with tremendous awe and profound humility.” Yet, obviously no one does this because as the blessed St. Paul tells us, “…we do not know what to pray for as we ought…” So what can a man do if he can’t even pray right, but all of salvation comes down to prayer? The only thing that is actually up to our will, the man says, is quantity.

So there you have it. How depraved are we? Pretty doggone depraved, but not completely. We have it within our power to choose how frequently we pray. It’s not within our power to have faith, do good works, or to pray rightly, but we can choose how much we pray in our own feeble, imperfect manner. True prayer is a gift of grace.

So the question is…how often do call up on the name of the Lord for mercy? Might want to rethink the priority that you currently assign to your prayer life. I know I have. Peace and blessings.

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One Response to “Depravity and the Absolute Importance of Prayer”

  1. Noah Johnson Says:

    Thank you for this article! I know you wrote it awhile back now, but it’s really encouraging to me as I’ve been wrestling to establish and defend my prayer life. I loved reading the Way of the Pilgrim it really gave me a shot in the arm to pray continually and now your article has done the same. Very well written my friend.

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