Amongst all topics written about in the history of the Christian Church, prayer is sure to be one of the most discussed.

Because prayer is part of coming to know God, all of this experience and writing does not even begin to explore the depths of prayer. Nevertheless, below is a humble attempt of outlining the basics of prayer as passed down to us by the Holy Fathers of the Church.

What is Prayer?

Prayer, most simply, is a conversation with God.

Prayer is able to be done alone and with others, and in the Orthodox Church, are both necessary to help us pray well. The Lord taught his disciples and those who would hear Him about prayer.

Why Do We Pray?

There are many forms of prayer, just as there are many forms of conversation.

Through each of these types of prayer – thanksgiving, supplication, intercession, repentance – we learn about who God is and who we are. Ultimately, prayer is an opportunity to come face to face with the cause and purpose of our existence: Union with God.

How to Pray

We have been given many beautiful examples of how to pray by the saints of the Church.

Regarding the proper approach to prayer, the Lord gave the parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee. Though the Pharisee prayed arrogantly and “with himself”, the tax collector was humble and repentant, and prayed to God.

Below is a short rule of prayer sometimes called the “Rule of St. Pachomius,” or sometimes “The Little Rule of St Seraphim.” It is said to have been given by an angel to St. Pachomius of Egypt, who used it each hour of the day and night. St. Seraphim of Sarov assigned it to many of his spiritual children living in the world, telling them to use it morning and evening. Many variations exist.

The idea is that the rule can easily be memorized, and thus can be used without the need for a prayer book. It gives us practice in the precious Jesus Prayer, which we can then begin to use throughout the day, learning in small ways to pray without ceasing.

When to Pray

Ultimately, our goal as St. Paul instructs, is to “pray unceasingly.”

In our efforts to move toward this goal the Church gives us The Jesus Prayer, prayers for our morning and evening routine, at meal times, and corporately during the divine services.

The best time for our personal prayer rule is in the early morning and evening, when it is darker. “It is important to remember that we will never have time for God but rather must make time for God, for the ‘Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force’ (Matt. 11:12).”

Where to Pray

Following the idea of praying unceasingly, it is possible to pray anywhere.

The king and Prophet David says in his 138th Psalm, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.” As Orthodox Christians we pray to the Lord, “Who art everywhere present and fillest all things”. There is no where we can go where we cannot pray. This is a beautiful and comforting realization.

However for our own good and in order to remain focused, it is important that we are able to “go into our closet” and pray. “A prayer rule must not and cannot be said in the car, but rather alone, in front of the icons and Gospel, preferably with a lit candle and, if possible, the room lights dimmed.”