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The Prayer Rope

We receive requests occasionally about the use of rosaries in the Orthodox Church. Here is an article on their use excerpted from a publication of the Serbian Orthodox Monastery of Hilendar on Mount Athos.

The prayer rope (rosary) is an aid to prayer. On it is carried out one of the most powerful prayers in the Orthodox Church. Whoever is persistent and determined in being occupied with this prayer can witness to the riches which it brings to our souls: peace, joy, repose, ardor, love for our neighbors, zeal in service, cheerfulness at work, physical lightness, and enthusiasm for life. This prayer leads us into all other virtues and makes our lives full and fruitful.

The fitness of this prayer is to be found in its brevity and its simplicity. But its power flows from the Name of God which is repeated in it. The prayer is: "O Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!" (For this reason it is called the "Jesus Prayer.") With these few words we build up our eternal salvation, and at the same time make our earthly lives happy.

The prayer rope (rosary) is carried on the wrist of the left hand. Whenever we have a little time - during a break at work, on the way to our jobs, before going to sleep - take the prayer rope between the thumb and finger of your right hand, and at every knot or bead say the words of the prayer, "O Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." While doing this it is important to lay aside all other thoughts. One should follow the words with the mind and feel them with the heart.

During the day and during work, whenever you look at the prayer rope, bring the prayer to mind and say it mentally.

The fruits of the prayer are a physical relaxation. The body is freed of tension and fatigue. Then come the fruits of the soul: an end to nervousness (interior disturbances) and the attainment of peace of soul. Finally come spiritual fruits, which make our lives elevated, fruitful and joyful.

October 1984

Priest Prayers

Q. Why does the priest recite some of the most beautiful and meaningful prayers of the Divine Liturgy inaudibly?

A. Nearly all of the inaudible prayers of the Divine Liturgy are repeated by the priest when a hymn is being sung by the choir or the people. Originally, the majority of these prayers were in fact said aloud by the priest. It is believed that for the sake of shortening the service, which grew to take increasingly more time, the hymns and prayers began to be "dovetailed" and to be said concurrently, so that while both were said, only the hymns were heard.

The prayers are truly very moving and expressive. Often, while the hymns are strong in doctrinal significance, the inaudible prayers are personally oriented. Two things have happened recently which help overcome the disadvantages of this accommodation. First some priests, on a selective basis, will occasionally read some of the "inaudible" prayers aloud. Secondly, many of the newer service books designed for use by the laity include the texts of some, if not all, of the inaudible prayers. Thus, the laity can read the prayers along with the priest

Orthodox Worship

We recently received this article. It seems to capsulate Orthodoxy. Perhaps you could share it with friends.

"When I think of Eastern Orthodox churches I spontaneously think not of doctrines but of worship, not of words but of symbols. I think of ikons and incense, of long solemn liturgical services. I imagine priests still wearing heavy rich vestments, solemnly swinging incense holders, singing liturgical chants."

Eastern Orthodox worship suggests to me a sense of awesome mystery. While much of the liturgy is visible to all, parts are carried out in secret behind a heavily ikon-hung screen.

The words that seem to recur most frequently are “Lord,” and “Holy.” The prayer heard most often is “Lord, have mercy.” A kind of solemn wonder characterizes Orthodox worship and even their sacraments are called “Mysteries.”

I find the Orthodox tradition of solemn worship most valuable. Our age is often described as becoming more and more secularized. There seems to be little sense of the sacred as science progressively probes the mysteries of nature and man, and as technology steadily increases man’s control of natural powers. In contemporary culture everything seems out in the open, nothing is sacred, little remains hidden. Man’s sense of mystery is in danger of dying.

Western expressions of Christianity seem to move with the secularization of today’s world. Recent religious interest centers more on man than on God. Becoming more human and building a better world are recognized as ways of fulfilling the Christian ideal. Worship has tended to take the same direction, seeking to make the liturgy readily understandable and easily accessible. While the contemporary Christian focus on man and the world is basically sound and healthy, there is a growing risk of losing the sense of mystery that is so much a part of Christian tradition.

The Eastern Orthodox churches remind us that God, Who is certainly with us in our world, is totally other than we conceive Him, utterly beyond man’s understanding or control. They highlight the mystery of God.

It is a common tendency to try to bring God down to human terms, to make Him in the image of current human ideals and values. It is perhaps a particularly Western Christian temptation to think one can know god by defining Him in precise words.

The Orthodox churches preserve the Judeo-Christian tradition of awe and wonder in the mysterious Presence of the Almighty. They are a constant reminder that man approaches God with fear and trembling, even as one approaches Him confidently as a Father.

They (the Orthodox) show us that worshipping God is more radically Christian than thinking, talking about and attempting to define God.”

October 1983

Following your conscience

We are told many times to “follow your own conscience.” This seems like a good idea on the surface but how do we know if our conscience is “good”? We must be aware of the standards given to us by Jesus Christ and taught in the Church. There is danger in acting solely on our own. If we do, it’s hard to avoid one or the other of the following pitfalls: being too lax – judging unreasonably that something is not bad when it really is; or being too strict – judging unreasonably that this action is bad or worse than it is.

Suppose you are faced with a situation and you’re genuinely doubtful about the right course to take. You have to try to resolve your doubt. It is better not to take action while your conscience is in a state of doubt. It shows indifference or even willingness to do something even if it turns out to be wrong. For example, if a hunter is not sure what is rustling in the bushes – a deer or a man – he cannot simply pull the trigger and hope for the best.

There are rules to follow when resolving a doubtful conscience. You should put off your action if you can do so. Then you should consult an authority who can help you discern what to do.

If you can’t put off the decision and must act at once, take a good look at the whole situation and choose what seems like the lesser evil. Another way of putting it would be: If there are serious reasons for two different ways of acting, choose the view with the better reasons – better in the sense that they more closely follow Christ.

August 1983

The Litiya

(A) Sometimes when you attend the Vespers, you may find that before the conclusion of the service, the priest goes to the back of the church and sometimes outside (chapel) where he reads prayers which are responded to with an unusual number of Lord, have mercy. This portion of the service is called a litiya from a Greek word meaning fervent prayer. This procession to the back of the church building is all that remains of the ancient Processions of the Cross in the streets which were made mostly at night during which time the early Christians offered up fervent petitions when they were faced by calamities which affected the community.

(B) Sometimes when you come to the church for the Vesper Service, you will see a special tray on the table in the center of the church. On this tray, you will see three candles and across. On separate units – containers, you will see five little breads, wine, oil and wheat. At the end of the service, you will see the priest take one of the breads and make the sign of the cross with it over the other breads while he is saying this prayer: “O Lord, Jesus Christ our God, who did bless the five loaves and did satisfy the five thousand; do Thou the same now Lord, bless these breads, wheat, wine and oil and increase them in this community and in all the world and bless the faithful who partake of them …” You will be given some of the bread and wine.

This custom started in the early Church when the service lasted all night into the morning. It became customary to distribute the offerings which all the people brought of bread, wine, and oil after the Vesper Service so that those who would stay for the service immediately following would be strengthened.

After the benediction, the priest and deacons would leave the sanctuary and eat the food which had been blessed. They did not have idle chatter during this time because either the Acts of the Apostles or selections from the Epistles were being read aloud.

The custom is still observed in some monasteries on Mt. Athos.

No Date

In the days of the Early Church, wheat, bread, wine and oil were basic to health and survival, so do we now ask God to bless us and to provide an adequate supply of food for everyone.

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