LIFE AS PRAYER, ST. SOPHRONY

From his book, His Life is Mine, chapter #12

Sophrony calls this chapter “liturgical prayer” referring to the priest’s prayers during liturgy.

Liturgical prayer is not merely the recital of words or performance of rituals.  To “live this sacrament to the full,” Sophrony says, the priest who celebrates the Divine Liturgy must “transmute his entire life into prayer.” “Preparing himself in awe” he will enter a deep state of prayer through which he “will be drawn into the domain of the divine.”  

Sophrony here introduces the concept of life as prayer that later on takes us beyond the liturgical context.

There is another component in the transformation of self into prayer, and that is love. The priest, we are told, ascends to the kingdom through mourning for the suffering of mankind and, thus, through love. His heart, Sophrony writes, must be opened wide “to embrace a multitude of lives and eons of time.”  

In fact, the more the priest grieves “the mightier the healing power dispensed to the world through his prayer.”

Alexander Schmemann talks of love through sacrifice:

The Church, if it is to be the Church, must be the revelation of that divine Love which God “poured out into our hearts.” Without this love nothing is “valid” in the Church because nothing is possible. The content of Christ’s Eucharist is Love, and only through love can we enter into it and be made its partakers.” Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World

The greatest eucharist of all, Sophrony tells us, is the one that the Lord performed. Liturgical prayer then is eucharistic in nature. The priest is called to be Christ-like, sacrificing himself for others out of his great love for them.

Sophrony has already alluded to the applicability of deep, liturgical prayer for all men and not just priests.

In the first place, taking part fully in liturgy teaches us to participate in “Christ’s Gethsemane prayer.” This is why “deep prayer comes gradually,” according to Sophrony. It cannot be swiftly achieved through academic study alone. It requires, what he calls, “the noble science of the spirit.” That is, liturgical prayer “…demands the whole being.”

Through deep prayer we become transformed. Little by little we “gradually perceive the eternal meaning and especial character of his sufferings.”

Life lived to the full potential God has endowed us with, is eucharistic in nature, says Alexander Schmemann.

The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world. 

He continues:

In its self-sufficiency the world and all that exists in it has no meaning. And as long as we live after the fashion of this world, as long, in other words, as we make our life an end in itself, no meaning and no goal can stand, for they are dissolved in death. It is only when we give up freely, totally, unconditionally, the self-sufficiency of our life, when we put all its meaning in Christ, that the ‘newness of life’ – which means a new possession of the world – is given to us. The world then truly becomes the sacrament of Christ’s presence, the growth of the Kingdom and of life eternal.” ― Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy

If we enter a life of “liturgical prayer,” our lives themselves—in or outside the church—become sacramental and eucharistic.”

…For eucharist—thanksgiving and praise—is the very form and content of the new life that God granted us when in Christ He reconciled us with Himself. The reconciliation, the forgiveness, the power of life—all this has its purpose and fulfillment in this new state of being, this new style of life which is the Eucharist, the only real life of creation with God and in God, the only true relationship between God and the world.”

Alexander Schmemann

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