There are often controversies over the best way to pray. The apostle answers: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.” We also have a book of the Psalms of David. There is also the Lord’s Prayer. There are some brief prayers by various people, which the Lord approved and answered. For example, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner” (Luke 18:13), or – “I believe, O Lord, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). We also have some prayer rules associated with such names as Basil the Great or John Chrysostom. There are also ancient Church rites, as well as more recent canons and akathists. Finally, there are common brief exhortations: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner, as well as short prayerful supplications to the Mother of God and other saints.
The apostle did not forbid praying in your own words, either. Nevertheless, the Orthodox mentality is characterized by a humble readiness to learn to pray. We have to learn everything: how to behave in society, and especially how to talk to God, how to address Him, what to thank for and what to ask for. It is not accidental that the Lord gave us the “ready-made” prayer Our Father when His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray.
As to length or brevity, not everyone has enough of the sacred simplicity and perfection to enclose their souls in the simple Lord have mercy. The soul of the beginner is not yet fully rooted in prayer, which is why long prayers allow us to touch every corner of our souls in detail, to recall every sin and to express every good movement of our hearts. Over time, our souls change. When asked what his prayer rule was when he got old, St. Ambrose of Optina answered: “I used to say many prayers but now I know only one prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!“
So we should use all kinds of prayers: both long so as to reach all corners of the soul and short, so as to summon up the whole soul in a few words. Most importantly, it is to be done “with all perseverance” and with “supplication for all saints”, remembering that I am not alone and there is the whole Church along with us (hence Our Father, not My Father). Moreover, we should not just utter some words, but also pray “in the Spirit” so that our prayers would emanate from our hearts.
We can pray for the relief in earthly life as well as the deliverance from suffering, which is what the Lord Himself showed with his own example. He knew that He had come to drink His cup, and yet He prayed the day before, “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass by Me.” I wish we could conclude our petitions like He did, “…not as I wish, but as You please.”
It is also important that we do not rely on ourselves in our most diligent prayers, but on the prayers offered by our brothers for us. The apostle Paul, who was the great devotee and a man of prayer, was always requesting others to pray for him: “[Pray] for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel”.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds