Friday, May 18, 2012

A Prayer Rule for Busy People

One thing wonderful about reading the lives and writings of the great spiritual fathers is that their vast experience, both on the individual and collective levels, provides wonderful advise for folks in any state of life. So often now I hear that everyone should be spending anywhere from three to six hours a day in prayer, dividing up one's prayer time in the morning and evening. The reality is that for the majority of us, this is simply impossible. The duties of family life and work alone make too many demands on our time.

Fortunately there are some simple solutions. St. Seraphim of Sarov, that great Russian mystic and elder of the 18th Century, recommended the following prayer rule for busy people. In the morning, after rising from sleep, simply stand before your icon corner (or your home altar if you are a Roman Catholic), focus your attention in your heart, and pray three "Our Fathers," three "Angelic Salutations/Hail Marys," and the Creed. Then go about your work in a prayerful way, doing all things for the glory of God, and repeating some form of the Jesus Prayer while you work. If you are in a large crowd and cannot focus on the Jesus Prayer, simply repeat "Lord, have mercy" as often as you can. At noon repeat the morning rule mentioned above. Then, if possible, repeat some prayer to the Mother of God: "Most holy Theotokos, save us," "Lord Jesus Christ, through the intercession of the Theotokos (Mother of God), have mercy on us," or the "Angelic Salutation/Hail Mary" (I will provide the Byzantine "Hail Mary" at the end of this post). Before bed again repeat the morning rule. It's as simple as that. St. Seraphim says that if we busy folk follow this simple rule it will be possible for us to achieve some level of holiness.

The wonderful thing about this simple rule as that one can add to it according to one's circumstances, abilities, and/or spiritual progress. In the morning and in the evening one could add on the Prayer Rule of St. Pachomius. Or if one wanted to follow the recommendation of repeating the Jesus Prayer in the morning and some prayer to the Mother of God in the evening, one could pray the Rule of St. Pachomius in the morning and the Prayer Rule of the Theotokos (Byzantine rosary) in the evening. The possibilities are limited only by the number of people engaging in the rule.

Another recommendation for prayer comes from St. Theophan the Recluse. If you haven't noticed by now, he's one of my favorite Eastern spiritual writers. He recommends that focus not so much on saying a set number of prayers in our morning and evening prayer rules, but rather that we set aside a certain period of time in our day in which to focus completely on our prayers. This time can be 10, 15, 20, or 30 minutes, or even an entire hour, according to our strength and our ability to focus our attention in the heart. I find that I personally can't go much beyond 20 minutes at a time, both because I'm a weak sinner who's mind wanders almost constantly, and because I have two children that demand a great deal of attention. But I'm sure most of you out there are much stronger than this poor sinner and could devote 30 minutes to an hour to prayer; and please remember me in your prayers while you're at it. :)

Byzantine "Hail Mary" (aka The Angelic Salutation
Hail Virgin Theotokos (Mother of God), Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, for you have borne the Savior of our souls.

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