Lots of people, in their spiritual life, fight on their own, without letting God in with them to ask Him strength and assistance, forgetting the Lord’s saying: ” for without Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). Those people, they don’t ask God to be with them in whatever they do. On the contrary each one of them depends only on his own thinking or on someone else’s, not putting in mind God’s work in him or for him!! At the same time Jesus says: “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full ” (Jn. 16:24).
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And many people when they intend to live in holiness or even intend to grow in the life of holiness they take many vows and give many promises as if they, with their own power, can actually do what they had promised to! They don’t even ask for God’s help when it comes to fulfilling those vows or promises. With confidence and feeling of the deceitful strength they think they can fulfill their vows. The branch of a vine can never grow or bear fruit unless the vine’s juice passes and reaches it otherwise it dies, as God says: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (Jn. 15:5). So, do you rely on your own self, in all the details of your life, or do seek the Lord and depend on Him?
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If you want to live correctly, you should continually seek God’s assistance and grace in every work you do constantly and all the time, ask Him to grant you wisdom, strength and blessing… This is very much clear in our ritual prayers whether from the Agpeya, most of the Psalms or in the Liturgy Prayer…it is beautiful that song which says “hold my hands and lead me according to Your own will…” Do you rely on our Lord in your daily life, is He the One who holds your hand and take the lead? Or do you lead yourself according to your own will?!
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Let’s take an example on the life of purity and repentance, the life of holiness: We say to the Lord in the Divine Liturgy “Purify our souls, our bodies, and our spirits”. We also add to it in the Fraction “our hearts, our eyes, our understanding, our thoughts and our consciences.”
We are not making promise to be pure, we are actually asking the Lord to grant us this purity. We pray in the Absolution of the 3rd hr Prayer saying “send forth upon us the grace of Your Holy Spirit, and purify us from all defilement of body and spirit. Change us into a spiritual manner of life, that we may walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh”; all of these are supplications in our prayers and not vows that we take…and at the end of the 12th Hour Prayer we say “Graciously accord, O Lord, to keep us this night without sin…”
In Psalm 50 which we repeat it in every prayer we say “You shall sprinkle me with Your hyssop, and I shall be purified: You shall wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow”, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin”…all of that is God’s work in us, without god we cannot on our own become pure…He is the One who washes us from our sin, purify and cleanses us…
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So beautiful is that supplication in the Book of Jeremiah “Restore me, and I will return” (Jer. 31:18). And here God’s work in our repentance is clearly perceived. Mar Isaac the bishop of Nineveh says “Drawn away by the Devil, he who thinks that there is any other access into repentance except by praying”…
Therefore, ask the Lord to grant you repentance according to His true promise in the Book of Ezekiel the Prophet who says: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you…” (Ezek. 36: 25-27).
Doesn’t this remind us with the prayer of David the Prophet in Psalm 50 “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit in my inward parts”… And he also says in the big Psalm “Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness” So pray brethren and say “Lord make me resent sin” “make me love you” “strengthen the bars of my gates” “deliver me from offences” “save me from my own sinful attributes and from my persistent trespasses”…”conduct my footsteps “… Isn’t that what God taught us to say in the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”?
In your prayer, you always need to ask for help. We cry out to the Lord in our prayers and say ” O God, be mindful to my help; make haste, O Lord, to help me” (Ps. 69), and we repeat this Psalm in the prayer of the 1st hour, the 6th hour and the Midnight Prayer. Monks also pray this Psalm in the Veil Prayer.
As we seek help from God; so we tell Him “For we have no helper in our hardships and tribulations but You.” You’ve got to fight, not only using your own wil but you should ask God for help saying with the chanter in the Psalm “My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net.” (Ps. 25:15).
You seek help from God because the Bible tells you: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding … Do not be wise in your own eyes.” (Prov. 3:5,7). Besides, don’t depend only on your spiritual desires. Those desires are never fulfilled without God’s assistance…for as long as you have spiritual desires, Satan also will still have the desire to obstruct your path if it were not for God’s help which keeps him off…
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How deep and beautiful is what we say in the Absolution of the 1st hour Prayer: “Grant us to please You this present day”… Here, we are not promising God or taking any vows to do what pleases Him; rather we are asking Him to grant us the help that we need to be able to please Him…its only a grace granted to us from His side.
We also say to the Lord “Guard us from every bad thing, from every sin, and from every adversative power”, that guarding or protection is one of the means by which God offers us His help through His strength which help saving us. We also say in the Psalm “My strength and my praise is the Lord, and He has become unto me a salvation.” (Ps. 117). And in seeking help we pray: “Give me strength to do the good;” “Make my way straight before You;” “Ease our paths;” “Save me from my enemies.”
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In seeking help, we also ask God to surround us with His angels and protect us. In the absolution of 12th hour prayer we say: “Send us an angel of peace to protect us from every evil, and every affliction, and every temptation of the enemy.” Lots of people ask for the angel of peace to be with them in their travels, so who asks as well that the angel of peace might also guard him from every evil and from and every temptation of the enemy?!
We also seek the angels’ protection and ask for it, at the conclusion of every hour in the Agpeya we pray “Surround us by Your holy angels, that, by their camp, we may be guarded and guided, and attain the unity of faith, and the knowledge of Your imperceptible and infinite glory…”
How nice it is that we can have relation with the angels in our prayers… In our prayer too, the Church teaches us to ask God for knowledge and guidance. We don’t claim that we know everything, we ask God to give us that knowledge in everything…His disciples said to Him “teach us to pray.” (Lk. 11:1).
Who at that time didn’t know how to pray?! It is a lesson in seeking knowledge in everything even in praying…and so, the result was that God taught them the Lord’s Prayer. In our prayers we say “Your Spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness” and we say “Guide us to fulfill Your commandments;” “Enlighten our minds, our hearts and our understandings, O Master of all”…”Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.” We ask the Lord to teach us to pray, to give us the word which we say in the service, as the chanter says in the psalm “O Lord, You shall open my lips; and my mouth shall declare Your praise”.
Paul the Apostle says “praying for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph 6:19). The chanter also prays in the psalm that God may grant him understanding to His commandments saying in the big psalm “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law”… And so, no one should say “I know. I understand. I studied …” Everyone should ask God for knowledge, for guidance of the Holy Spirit to all the truth. Even if we do know the good, we should still ask God to guide us in the way of truth, to give us the correct vision of the spiritual understanding and in the spiritual path.
The chanter says in the psalm: “Teach me Your statutes, Your commandments, Your judgments… Teach me O Lord to do Your will… Don’t you sometimes stand at crossroads and become confused in acknowledging God’s will in your life or in a certain situation. So ask Him then to unveil this for you.
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Another thing you should ask for, that God might hear your prayer, accepts and answers it. As the chanter says in the psalm “Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications” “Incline Your ear to me, and hear my speech. ” He also says “Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice”.
Not every prayer is acceptable in front of the Lord. Lets pray then that God might accept our prayers, and that our prayers are according to His own will and that He might answer them… We say in the psalm “Consider and hear me, O Lord my God.
Reprinted from El Keraza Magazine, issue Friday 17th June 2005 – 10th Paona 1721 AM.