Thursday, August 2, 2007

Spiritual Discplines 2: Prayer

Two months ago, as the Fast of the Apostles was beginning, I posted an entry on fasting. Now, as we begin the Fast of the Theotokos, it seems an appropriate occasion for the sequel on prayer. NOTE: The first three links will take you to some of my old articles that I have not previously publicized.

Anglo-Catholicism has traditionally emphasized the importance of maintaining a Rule of Life – essentially, a personal commitment to a discipline of regular prayer, worked out in conjunction with one's pastor, confessor, or spiritual director. While a rule might involve other elements, such as fasting, study, and volunteer work, its heart is always prayer. There are different ways to organize one's prayer commitments, but here I will use the scheme of Eucharist, Daily Office, and personal prayer.

I was probably typical of Anglo-Catholics in being strong on the first two and weaker on the third. My rule was to attend Mass on all Sundays and Prayerbook holy days, and always at least twice a week; and to say Morning and Evening Prayer daily. As a member of a parish that offered Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and two Masses every day, I had community support for this discipline. Even when, as usual, I was reciting the offices at home in my icon corner, I knew that other parishioners were reciting the offices in the Angel Chapel at church or in their own homes. Anglicanism has, from the publication of the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, offered versions of Morning and Evening Prayer that are practical for the laity, requiring nothing more than a Bible and a Prayerbook, which can be recited without hurry in about 20 minutes. Recent Prayerbooks include rubrics permitting the omission or shortening of some parts of the offices in order to allow them to be tailored to the needs, constraints, and preferences of parishes and individuals. And, if that is not enough, there are also "Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families" – abbreviated, one-page versions of the offices for home use. In short, one should be able to find an official form of the Anglican Daily Office that can be easily adapted to one's own Rule of Life, no matter where one is in the development of one's prayer life.

Anglo-Catholics often adopt additional prayer disciplines from unofficial Anglican sources, such as St. Augustine's Prayer Book, or from Roman Catholic sources. Official Anglican sources tend to be weak on devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, so Anglo-Catholics often supplement their worship and prayer with traditional Catholic prayers, such as the Angelus and the Rosary. With these being well integrated into Anglo-Catholic culture, it is easy to find both in Anglo-Catholic devotional books.

In Orthodoxy, I am finding that nothing is this easy. While there is a strong tradition of daily prayers at home, the usual forms tend to be short and without day-to-day variation. From December through February, I followed one of these forms. Every day I recited the Morning Prayers from the Antiochian Archdiocese's red Pocket Prayer Book, which Father Gregory gave me the first time we met to talk about my move to Orthodoxy. Following the morning prayers I would read the Gospel of the day from the Greek lectionary. It was a useful exercise for learning the standard Orthodox prayers I would encounter in various contexts, such as the ubiquitous Trisagion Prayers. I also found the short prayers practical during these busy months when I was in transition from Anglican to Orthodox and trying to participate in the lives of two parishes.

But, as Lent was beginning, I decided I needed something more. I especially missed the daily recitation of the Psalms, the central feature of the traditional Daily Office. Orthodoxy does not have a tradition of individual recitation of the offices, but Ruthenian Catholicism does. (My theory: The Ruthenians learned about the Breviary used by their fellow Catholics and decided to create a Byzantine equivalent.) I found a small Ruthenian book with versions of most of the offices for home use – only Prime and Compline were missing from its pages. I have settled into a pattern of praying Matins from this book before breakfast Monday–Friday. Instead of reciting Psalm 51 every day, I substitute a section of the Psalter according to the traditional Anglican scheme, which divides the Psalter into 60 sections for use over the course of the month at Morning and Evening Prayer. The traditional Byzantine canticles are divided over the days of the week, and propers for each day follow the traditional Byzantine weekly scheme:

MONDAY: The Holy Angels
TUESDAY: Saint John the Forerunner
WEDNESDAY: The Holy Cross and the Holy Theotokos
THURSDAY: The Holy Apostles and Saint Nicholas
FRIDAY: The Holy Cross

On Saturdays and Sundays I typically attend Vespers and Matins, respectively. On weekend days when I don't make to church for the offices, I'll pray Vespers from the Ruthenian book.

I am working on translating the book's idiosyncratic, often paraphrased, modern English into the traditional English that is standard in Antiochian usage. But this is not an easy process. Orthodoxy simply does not have official, universal, standard liturgical books like Anglican Prayerbooks. Every jurisdiction has its own books, not all of which are consistent, and parishes often do their own thing anyway. Moreover, most of the translations read as if they were created by someone who knew Greek or Slavonic better than English – which was, in fact, often the case.

Now that I have this pattern down, I am exploring ways to fill other prayer niches. Since I live less than a mile from my office, I typically walk to work once a week. I have gotten into the habit of repeating prayers as I walk. As I leave home I say the Lord's Prayer three times. Then, for the first half of the trip I recite the Orthodox equivalent of the "Hail Mary":

Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos, O Mary full of grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
for thou hast borne the savior of our souls.

The first obvious difference from the Catholic version is that it translates the angel's greeting as "Rejoice," rather than "Hail." The Greek Khaire and Latin Ave convey both meanings, but there is no exact English equivalent. In both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, one can find instances where the word is translated either way. In their book, Mary: The Church at the Source (1997), for instance, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar favored "Rejoice," even though "Hail" is more familiar to English-speaking Catholics. The second obvious difference is the concluding clause. The modern Catholic version concludes, "Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death." While the first two lines come straight from Luke (1:28, 42), neither concluding line comes from the Bible. The Catholic conclusion had its origin in Trent and was still not in universal use as late as the 19th century. I would not be surprised if the Orthodox conclusion had a similarly late origin.

When I turn the corner on my walk to work, I switch to reciting the Jesus Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.

This is an elaboration of the prayer of the publican (Luke 10:13). On my way home I reverse the order, beginning with the Jesus Prayer, switching to "Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos," and concluding with the Lord's Prayer as I arrive back at home.

I am currently considering how I might work an Orthodox version of the Rosary into my prayer life. While use of the Rosary is not widespread or well known in Orthodox circles, neither is it entirely unheard of. St. Seraphim of Sarov, for instance, was known for his devotion to the Rosary. In Orthodox contexts, the discipline of the Rosary is sometimes known as the Rule of the Mother of God. I have located a few Orthodox Rosaries on-line, such as this one. The prayers are slightly different and some of the mysteries are also different, but it retains the familiar structure of the Dominican Rosary, with fifteen decades, each dedicated to a different mystery from the lives of Christ and his blessed mother.

Earlier this evening, when a few of us were talking outside the church following a Paraklesis service, one friend asked another about developing a rule of prayer. One key piece of advice he offered, which I heard (and repeated) many times as an Anglican, is that the most important thing about a rule is that you will actually do it every day. The most elaborate rule of prayer won't do you any good if you can't keep it. But following even the simplest rule can begin to form the discipline of prayer, which can serve as God's foothold in one's daily life.


Trevor said...

A few thoughts on what I've been doing. I started out by picking up a prayer book pretty blindly. It was a paperback published by St. Tikhon's and not a bad place to start, as it turned out. Later, I came across some audio recordings based on the Jordanville book and bought a copy of that, so I could use both. I still use the Jordanville book for my daily rule. Its morning and evening prayers are considerably longer than in the red Antiochian book, so I find that they're just about right for a regular routine.

I also read the gospel and epistle each day (using Theophylact for the gospel, except John, which I don't have yet) and carry a prayer rope to help with saying the Jesus prayer whenever possible. At my evening prayers, I include some prostrations, prayers for specific requests from the HC list, and some intercessions for family members.

Perhaps one of my favorite books is the Psalter According to the Seventy (published by HTM). My wife and I use it in our daily devotions together, praying a third of a kathisma each day. There's also a table in the back that identifies the psalms used in the various daily services, so if I have some extra time, I often read the psalms for an hour or vespers or whatever fits the occasion.

I have a small book of the hours, which I used quite a bit for a while. I couldn't do them all regularly, but I like praying the sixth hour on my lunch break. I also bought pretty early on the Liturgikon, which is put out by the AOA and contains the main services, as well as the Nassar book, which has some more obscure stuff. Mostly, though, if I want to pray a service that I can't attend, I go to the AOA Web site and download it.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the insights.

Like Trevor, I started with the St. Tikhon's prayer book, which is similar to the Jordanville and much richer than the pocket prayer book. It has a version of small compline, which is nice as a night prayer. As I mentioned last night, I am thinking of buying a "Horologion" or Orthodox Book of the Hours. Any thoughts?

The other advice I received last night was that the rule ought to be imposed upon you by someone else (i.e., your confessor).

Trevor said...

I really like the hours, although you can find them online easily enough. (Which might be cause to save the money for something else.) Just don't get mixed up and buy the Great Horologion! Well, you can buy it if you want, but if all you want is the hours, you can do a lot better than $150. The copy I have was put out by the OCA, I believe. I think Fr. Gregory mentioned one produced by a women's monastery, but I don't recall offhand which one.

I've read and heard from a lot of sources that the rule ought to be imposed by one's confessor, but when I tried that, it seems like he was more inclined to tweak what I was already doing than to prescribe something altogether different. It would certainly be advisable to run the issue by one's confessor for input.

Roland said...

The first time I met with Fr. Gregory one of the subjects I raised was replacing my then-current prayer practices with an Orthodox equivalent. At our most recent meeting I showed him the Ruthenian book.

I have a copy of Nassar - I was just practicing chanting the Tone 1 stichera from it tonight in preparation for tomorrow's Intro to Chant class. I'm having trouble finding material for weekday services - most of the official material assumes we only attend Vespers on Saturday and Matins on Sunday! I did find a complete text for weekday Matins on-line, which has been quite helpful. The one thing I absolutely have not been able to find outside the Ruthenian book are the ikoi of the weekday kontakia. (A kontakion consists of a stanza and an ikos. We only sing the stanza in the Liturgy, so that's what is usually printed. But it is followed by the ikos at Matins.)

I'm looking for a good one-volume Synaxarion - any suggestions? I've seen the multi-volume Synaxaria, but to use one of those I would have to spend more time reading the Synaxarion than I spend reading the Psalms, and I know that's not going to happen!

Trevor said...

Not quite one-volume, but the Prologue of Ohrid is only two :-) I haven't shelled out the money for my own copy yet. Since I can read it online, I'm putting it off for now.

You might check whether the Great Horologion has the ikoi. I don't know offhand, but it seems to have everything else :-)