So I've had a number of ideas floating around in my head lately, and I do have some upcoming posts that are still in the development stages, but as I was praying this morning something struck me. I realized that in the Eastern traditions of the Church, particularly in the Oriental traditions, there is a very different attitude towards prayer than there is in the West. Allow me to elaborate a bit.
In the West the predominant attitude towards prayer is focused on the individual and his personal/private relationship with the Lord. The Liturgy of the Hours and even the Mass is almost supplemental to that private relationship. Personally I believe that's why we get so many folks who stop going to Mass because they "don't get anything out of it." The Mass and the Liturgical life of the Church are viewed almost as extensions of our private devotions. What happens when a private devotion doesn't ignite some sort of spark within us? We set it aside and search for another private devotion that does kindle that spark of God's love.
In the East, however, there is this strong emphasis on the corporate or communal nature of prayer. Any and all private devotions are meant to flow from the Liturgical life of the Church and be formed by a healthy liturgical life. I realized this especially this morning when I realized that in the Maronite tradition and the Chaldean tradition there are not numerous books of private prayers, but rather books containing primarily the Liturgical prayers of those particular Churches. Even in certain traditions like the Coptic and Ethiopian traditions there is still a sense that the faithful are obligated to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, even if they cannot participate in the Hours at their parish or a local monastery. So in the East the primary focus is on corporate worship that is meant to form the individual, the private/personal worship and relationship with God.
I'm not here to say that one of these is better than the other. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. In the West the strength is that emphasis on personal relationship. We do need to develop a strong personal relationship with God the Trinity. But we need to learn from the East and realize that our relationship with God is mediated through Christ and His Body, the Church, and that we must allow our relationship with God to be formed within that context.
In the East the strength is that emphasis on the corporate nature of our relationship to God. But we need to learn from the West in developing a healthy emphasis on the personal relationship as well. I've seen far too many Eastern Christians who believe that showing up for Liturgy and for parish events is the sum total of a healthy relationship with God. That completely ignores the priest's injunction at the end of the Liturgy: "Let us go forth in peace!" And we respond: "In the name of the Lord." What we experience in Liturgy is meant to carry over into our personal lives, including a nurturing of the relationship with the Trinity that is rooted in the Liturgical life of the Church.
May heaven consume us.