Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Prayers of Bursting
 St. Nil Sorsky and the Miracle-Workers of White Lake

There are times that we set aside for prayer, when we follow a prayer rule, or set aside time to sit in the Lord's presence, or take part in the Church's Liturgy.  Yet we are called to pray unceasingly, and few of us can spend all of our time in prayer rules.  So we have other ways to pray: short prayers we can say when God spontaneously comes to mind, or when our hearts are filled to bursting to pray to Him.  These prayers are many and varied, and they stretch across many traditions.  The Roman Church used to call them "ejaculation" or "aspirations," while the Copts have a common one they call "the Arrow Prayer."  What matters is that they are short prayers we can offer to God at any time, when our souls are filled to bursting with love of Him or with a desire to plead to Him.  "It is possible to pray sitting, walking, sleeping, working, alone and in company. Everywhere, at all times, in all our activities, eating and drinking, in devout conversation, we are able to raise our minds and hearts to God, to present our needs with faith and humility and ask Him pardon saying: Lord, have mercy upon me" (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk).  When our hearts are running over with the river of living water, it bursts forth from us like a fountain in the form of these prayers: they are like a geyser erupting forth our prayers to the Lord.

We can see these bursting prayers in the Scriptures, even.  Think of St. Paul's Μαρὰν ἀθά, Maranatha.  Think of St. John's Ναί, ἔρχου, Κύριε Ἰησοῦ, "Yes, come, Lord Jesus."  Think of the prayer of the blind men: "Have mercy on us, son of David!" or "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!"  It is from these cryings of the blind men that the Byzantines receive one of their greatest prayers of outburst: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner," better known as the Jesus Prayer, by which we can flog our foes with the name of Jesus, as St. John Climacus says, or we can ruminate upon the name of Jesus like cows on cud, as St. Makarios of Egypt says.

The same Makarios teaches prayers such as, "Lord, as you will and as you desire, lead me" or "Lord, help me!"  He lived among Copts, being in Egypt, and their tradition gives us the "arrow prayer": "My Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me; my Lord Jesus Christ, help me; I praise you my Lord Jesus Christ."  The Byzantines have many bursting prayers too: we can say, "Rejoice, O Theotokos!" or "Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!" (that repeated refrain of the Akathist of St. Romanos) when we kiss an icon of the Mother of God, or we can pray, "Guard me, O Lord, by the power of Your holy and life-giving Cross, and keep me from all evil" upon venerating the All-Honorable Cross; or, for the dead, we can exclaim, "Eternal memory, eternal memory, blessed repose, and eternal memory!"

Joy of All Who Sorrow

The Romans have many such prayers.  For instance, for reparation for blasphemy, one can say "Blessed be the name of the Lord!" (Sit nomen Domini benedictum!).  To acclaim the Lord one can say, "May the Holy Trinity be blessed!" and "Christ conquers!  Christ reigns! Christ commands!"  From St. Faustina Kowalska we have the prayer, "Jesus, I trust in Thee" (Jezu ufam tobie).  To the Cross we may say, "Hail, O Cross, our only hope" and "We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee; because by Thy holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world."  With the Lord's Prayer we may pray, "Thy will be done!" (Fiat voluntas tua!).  We can implore the Theotokos with the prayer of the Miraculous Medal revealed to St. Catherine Labouré: "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!"

There are countless more prayers like these.  "O God, make speed to save me; O Lord, make haste to help me," as Abba Isaac prayed.  "The Father is my hope, the Son is my refuge, the Holy Spirit is my protection," as St. Joanniky appealed to the Most Holy Trinity.  For forgiveness, we can implore the Lord with Abba Apollo, "I, who as man have sinned, do you, as God, forgive."  To drive away the devil, let us command with St. Nil Sorsky, "Depart from me, evil one, and come, Beloved!" and "Depart from me!  God Who created me according to His image and likeness, may He destroy you!"  By using all of these prayers, we can fulfill the words quoted by Sahdona: "You should remember God at every moment; then your mind will become heaven."  Therefore, let us use these prayers and those like them to constantly have our minds focused on Jesus, Who is the Leader and Perfecter of our faith, to Whom is due glory and power and majesty and honor, together with His Good Father and His All-Holy and Life-Creating Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.
A representation of praying the Coptic arrow prayer

Nota Bene: The quote from St. Tikhon is from Sergius Bolshakoff's Russian Mystics, volume 26 of the Cistercian Studies series (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1980).  The prayers of St. Makarios are from his Coptic Sayings §23, and the reference to is his discussion of rumination is from the Virtues of Saint Makarios of Egypt §34, both found in St. Macarius the Spiritbearer: Coptic Texts Relating to Saint Macarius the Great, translated by Tim Vivian for the Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2004).  The Roman prayers are from Fish Eaters.  The quote from Abba Isaac is quoted from St. John Cassian in H.A. Hodge's Introduction to Unseen Warfare; the quote from St. Joanniky is from this text, I.51, and reference to St. John Climacus is from a quote in I.16 of this text, which is St. Theophan the Recluse's Slavic revision of St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite's Greek edition of Lorenzo Scupoli's Spiritual Combat and Path to Paradise, from the translation by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1987).  The quote from Abba Apollo is his Saying 2 found in the alphabetical collection of the Apophthegmata Patrum, translated by Sr. Benedicta Ward, SLG, as The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984).  The quotes from St. Nil Sorsky are from his Monastic Rule (Utsav), Ch. VI, and his Letter II to Gurii Tushin, both found in The Complete Writings, edited and translated by George A. Maloney, S.J., as part of the Classics of Western Spirituality series (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2003).  The quote from Sahdona is from his Book of Perfection II.8.59, as found in The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life, translated by Sebastian Brock, volume 101 in the Cistercian Studies series (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, Inc., 1987).

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