WINDOW TO ETERNITY
PRAYER IS A WINDOW TO ETERNITY
By the Rev. Fr. Andreas Michailidis
We usually have a wrong notion of what prayer is. We consider as prayer the few moments spent usually standing somewhere and saying some words, sometimes reciting them from a prayer book, addressing God. That could be considered as prayer only when our inner self is wholly dedicated to God. However, that is not the only way that we can pray.
St. Paul calls upon us to pray incessantly. He says to the Thessalonians: 'Pray without ceasing' (1 Th. 5.17).
How could that be, though?
Could that be practised?
And, how could that be put into practice?
To be able to answer these questions, we should firstly know what prayer really is: PRAYER IS A WINDOW TO ETERNITY.
When man was in Paradise, man did not need prayer since man lived in that kind of existence that made man living in union with man's Creator and in that entirely different kind of light, the true Light, which is Him. However, after the fall, man lives in a kind of dark room. This room has a very tiny window through which light comes in. That light can be seen only by those who want to see it.
At first, that light is very dim. It can be hardly discerned through all that darkness of our fallen world. With the quest for the truth and true liberty, that light becomes greater and grander until it becomes the window to etemity. Through that window, we can escape from our fallen world of darkness and find ourselves in the world of etemity, our lost Paradise. Or even better: the Kingdom of Heavens.
How could that be a continuous reality? How could we pray unceasingly? Well, when we really find that window in the cave of our fallen world, we would not wish to be in darkness any longer. We would like to be in the light of that window which would help us escape from this fallen state of our existence.
That does not mean that we do not want to be in contact with our fellow man. Actually, our fellow man is the only 'vehicle' or 'craft' that we could use to escape from this world and find ourselves in etemity.
Therefore, every day, as soon as we open our eyes from sleep, we think of God in relation to the world around us. We look at all kinds of things (trees, flowers, mountains, animals) and we are inspired by the fact that all things were made by Him. We can see, like the prophet, that God created everything in a kind of wisdom that cannot be grasped by our limited mind. That makes us ready to pray to God, together with the prophet and glorify Him: "0 Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all!" (psalm 103.24).
That is a kind of prayer. We do not pass by all things without noticing how beautifully and wisely everything was made by the Creator. The fact that our mind goes to the Creator is a kind of prayer. And this helps us escape from the dark cell of our fallen existence and be in the Kingdom of God, without having abandoned this world of ours, which is now the creation of God and not a world of coincidence as it is for the non-praying man. The latter has not yet discovered that dim light which passes through that tiny hole of our cave. The reason for that is that he does not want to. These unfortunate people resemble the bats which love the dark and hate the light. They like living in darkness.
Now, let us come to the practice of unceasing prayer. My mind and especially my heart is focused on God whatever I do. I might be driving my car going somewhere. Without taking my mind from what I am doing (driving), I think of God. Not only praying that I drive in safety and reaching my destination safe and sound, but thanking Him for all His blessings, which are innumerable. When I am at work (wherever and whatever that is), I thank God for providing me with this means of making my living. At the same time, I see my boss as an instrument of His and I also look at my colleagues as images of God. They are part of the body which is called humanity of which I am also a member. This makes it even stronger when my colleagues are Christians and therefore members of the Body of Christ, of which I am a member, too. Even when they are not Christians I look at them as potential members of the Body of Jesus Christ. Their faith to Him depends on my own true faith which is translated not so much in words but deeds and my life in Jesus Christ.
Once I was a high school teacher. I taught my students our faith. While I was teaching them, I looked at them as images of God. I looked at them in that way and I thought of myself as most privileged and blessed for having before me so many images of my Creator. All those students of mine looked at me with their most beautiful eyes wide open and I was overwhelmed by inexpressible feelings. I felt how blessed I was by God to have all those images of His before me. And my students responded to my looking at them in that manner in a miraculously attentive fashion that will always be imprinted in my mind. That whole experience was a kind of prayer. There are innumerable ways of praying that could render our life into an incessant prayer.
In this way, we could open a WINDOW TO ETERNITY, which we could leave open throughout our present life until we depart from this transient world and our whole self be found in eternity, in the Kingdom of our Father.
Now, let us proceed to the way one might be able to achieve a prayer of the above kind. First of all, we must be informed that we live in a fallen state of existence. Secondly, we must know what brought about this fall. And thirdly, how we can escape or be liberated from this kind of existence.
The latter is absolutely necessary as there is no other way of attaining this great blessing of incessant prayer.
The first condition is necessary since without that knowledge we would think that there is no escape from the world we live in and that we should conform to it and in the way things are. Socrates wished that there was a way of his knowing about what was actually revealed in the Bible. He was unfortunate that he did not belong to the chosen nation of the Jews who knew, through Moses and their prophets how this world was made; how man was created; how his existence was in Paradise and how man fell from that kind of existence into this one. Therefore, the Jews had this knowledge of the first condition mentioned above. What they did not have was the way by which they would be able to really escape from this fallen world.
The Mosaic law was not destined to free man from his fallen existence. It was intended to make man acknowledge that there was no escape without the Messiah. And this was so because the Jew found out that his only difference from those who were not Jews (the heathen or gentiles) was that he knew the Mosaic law, he endeavoured to comply with it, yet without any success. The expected Messiah was to make man able to achieve not only compliance with the Mosaic law but the law that is above it and which is the law of Love; and in this way attain union with God, which was lost with man's fall.
This brings us to the second condition: the knowledge of what brought about our fall. It was a piece of information that would make Socrates most happy. He did not know why man was in that kind of miserable existence and what was necessary for him to escape from it. From his quest into the depths of his inner self, Socrates was informed that his Creator was most benevolent and that He would find a way, perhaps send a representative of His to our world, in order to free man from this cursed existence of agnosia (lack of existential knowledge).
The Bible discloses to us the truth and the reality of our fallen existence. It tells us that we were first created in His image and likeness. God placed us in Paradise and we were in His company and in the Light of His Glory. However, we fell from that state of existence and we were found in this state where there is absence of God, of His Light and of everything that is good. We live in the company of Evil and Darkness, which is represented by the Fallen Angel, the Prince of Darkness and of all evil. However, God, in His supreme benevolence and Love, sent His Son, the Logos, to us, by taking up our human nature and in order to save us form our miserable existence. In this way, the Son of God, the Logos, became flesh in the divine person of Jesus Christ in order to save man.
This brings us to the third condition mentioned above: how to escape from this state of fallen existence. We are fortunate that we live in the era of grace. The Saviour has already come. It has been more than two thousand years that man can escape this fallen world and be found in eternity together with our Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became the Son of Man, that is: the incarnate Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity.
This state of existence can be attained only through the Holy spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity, with the will of the Father, the first person of the Holy Trinity.
Now, the question arises:
Does the Father want us to be saved? Does He want all of us to be saved? Or are there some that He wants to be saved and some not?
And we come to the most crucial question: How could I know whether He wants me to saved?
Well, the answer is provided by the Bible itself. Here is what it says:
'Who (God) will have ALL men to be saved, and to come into the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself a ransom for ALL, to be testified in due time" (1 Tim. 2.4-6).
And how are we saved? The answer to this question is given in a most eloquent fashion by Jesus Himself in one His parables: the great parable of the prodigal son. The father of the parable is, who else but, God Himself. The father does whatever his younger son wishes. He does not refuse him the portion of his estate that would belong to this son of his. Then the father does not prevent his son from leaving him and going away once the son chooses to do so. The father does not try and find where his son has gone in order to find a way to bring him back. He does not use any means, direct or indirect, to make him return. He leaves his son, through all those tribulations of his life, to decide to return to his father's mansion at his own free will. And the father shows all his love to his son who had gone away and squandered half of his estate in living in a most immoral way. He does not accept his son's suggestion of becoming a servant to him. He accepts him back, as a son, in a most rejoicing manner. Which means that no matter how far away from God we have wandered, God is ready to receive us back into His arms, full of Love and benevolence.
The conclusion that we obtain from the above parable is that: God is supreme justice, love, freedom and above all supreme simplicity. The One, the only One, who could rightly boast for anything as everything is due to Him, He above all and everybody is the most humble. He should be expected to come into this world as God and not as a man, that is: one of His creations. And then, even so, He should be expected to be born in the most glorious palace that has ever existed. On the contrary, he was born in a cave that was used as a stable for animals. He lived in a house of a carpenter of those times. During his three years of his Ministry for the salvation of man, He did not have anywhere 'to lay his head' (Matt. 8.20). Before the end of His earthly life, he underwent a series of most horrible tortures and humiliations and finally He suffered the worst kind of deaths: that of crucifixion which was only the fashion in which the most terrible criminals were put to death.
What else could God do to show us how humble He is. He Himself tells us:
'Come unto me all of you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls...' (Matt. 11.28-30).
And then, if we turn back to the parable above, we could discern the Father's meekness and humility most triumphant. He does not wait for his son to approach and even wait until he knocks on the door again and again. He does not pose as a strict father who would not accept his son back because of his unforgivable behaviour. On the contrary, He comes out of His mansion (the Heavens) to approach his prodigal son and embrace him after such a long absence. For God, our decision to return to Him is enough to make Him rejoice. A definition of God that someone gave sounds most appropriate in this case: 'God is a vast heart'. It is so clearly said in the Bible:
'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life' (Matt. 3.16).
Having all the above in mind, one might be able to search and find the way to true prayer and acceptable worship of God. That is, as we mentioned at the beginning, the only way to use the window to eternity. What helps us in our endeavour is basically the Holy Spirit. From the day of Pentecost onwards, the Holy Spirit resides in the Church and also in the hearts that are really ready to receive Him. To be ready means that one is willing most dearly to welcome the Holy Spirit into one's life and mostly into one's heart. However, the Holy Spirit wants to be sure about our willingness to receive It into our hearts.
When we are in the process of receiving a VIP into our house, the first we do is clean our house most diligently, leaving not a spot of dirt anywhere and decorating our house in the most luxurious fashion. The VIP is a mere human being. How much more should we prepare ourselves when we are ready to receive the Holy Spirit into our hearts! What should be the first thing we do? Shouldn't we first try and clean it from at least the most dirty spots of our soul? So the first thing we should try and do is purification of our souls. This is the best proof that we really want the Holy Spirit to reside in our hearts and stay there for ever. We do not want the Holy Spirit to leave our hearts. The rest of the purification of our hearts is carried out basically by the Holy Spirit. We should never stop reciting that great prayer addressed to the Holy Spirit:
'Heavenly King, Paraclete, Spirit of truth, present everywhere, filling all things, Treasury of Blessings and Giver of life, come and dwell in us, cleanse from every stain, and, 0 Good One, save our souls.'
Once we have reached that
point of having the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we can have what we were saying
above: unceasing prayer; the prayer which is an inseparable part of our
life here on earth. Every deed of ours and every word uttered from our mouth and
every thought conceived in our brain is blessed by the Holy Spirit and comes out
of our being as a prayer most acceptable from God.
©Rev. Fr. Andreas Michailidis
Fr. Andreas is a Presbyter in the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain.