7. Pray in front of the holy icons
Few people know that the spiritual tradition of the Orthodox Church discourages praying with closed eyes, if there isn’t a good reason to do so. Our minds can’t handle lack of visuals well. When we don’t look at anything, our minds start creating various images or visualizations. It may even be pleasant at times but if we pray in this manner, we can easily be carried away by these images, and our prayers will turn into dreams or fantasies. That is why there are holy icons. Looking at them, we direct our thoughts towards the Person who we pray to.
8. Your prayer must have a proper recipient
Proper recipients of a prayer include the Lord God glorified in the Holy Trinity, the Most Pure Theotokos, saints, and heavenly hosts. All other recipients are unacceptable. For instance, we don’t pray to the reposed: we pray to God for their blissful repose. We cannot address the “Mother Earth”, the Blue Sky, the Green Grass, the Fire, and everything else that can be found in pagan rituals. Even if you pray together with people who claim to be Orthodox Christians but encounter things like these, you have to stop and state that this kind of prayer is wrong in clear terms. Prayers like these have nothing in common with Christianity.
9. A true prayer cannot impose any conditions on God
A prayer is an opportunity to talk with God. Only humans have this opportunity. Sure, all creation praises its Creator but only sentient humans can communicate with God using words. A prayer is first of all an interaction between a human being and God. Nevertheless, if the human being starts demanding anything from the Lord, his or her prayer will be more like a magic spell than a truly Christian fear of God and reverence.
10. You must not rejoice at the misfortunes of other people in your prayer
There are three main modes of prayer: gratitude or praise, petition, and penitence. All other emotions that are rooted in our passions, such as anger or resentment, are absolutely impermissible during the prayer of a Christian. For instance, it is wrong to want revenge, to curse other people or to ask God to punish them. It is forbidden to rejoice at other people’s misfortunes and to thank God for sending them these or those trials, and so forth.
11. Prayer mustn’t be formal
You mustn’t read the holy words aloud just to mark them as read. If you don’t want to pray; if you feel that you don’t have enough time or energy for prayer, better pray less but call to God as sincerely as you can. However, it is worth pointing out that reducing the time of prayer must not turn into a habit.
Holy Fathers used to say that God won’t hear the prayers that we don’t hear as we pronounce them. It’s clear that the Lord knows all our petitions before we start praying but if we are careless and read the prayers halfheartedly, just to perform a certain ritual or a ceremony, the value of our words amounts to zero.
12. Prayer cannot be hollow
Before we pray to God or His saints, we ought to prepare by reflecting to whom we are going to pray and what we are going to pray about. More often than not, people who spend years in the Church get so accustomed to the prayers that they start reading them without thinking. Your prayer won’t be powerful if you simply repeat some words, the meaning of which you don’t know or to which you’ve grown insensitive. A prayer isn’t a magic spell that ostensibly possesses power of its own. It cannot be hollow and careless. Apostle Paul says, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” (1 Cor. 14:15). You have to try and put your mind into the words of a prayer.
End of Part II
Translated by The Catalog of Good Deeds