Catechetical Letter



MEATFARE WEEK + Hieromartyr Blaise + Ven. Demetrius Pskov + Martyr George of Sofia

February 11, 2006



The Prayer Book & Lay Prayers


The temptation to fear private prayer or treat it with overmuch delicacy is a deadly one.  It can also be a misconception, since private prayer is never prayer ‘alone’. All Orthodox prayer is prayer in and with the Church, the Saints, the Angels. This is especially true of prayer in keeping the times and days and seasons of the Calendar (e.g. praying the Hours and the troparia). It is especially true of prayer from the prayer book, which is the prayers of Saints and the praying of Scripture. Prayed in an Orthodox manner, too, praying with these ‘prepared’ prayers, with brief intercessions of our own, is an act of humility. Letting the words come from the very heart of the Church, the Saints, rather than praying only our own thoughts, allows us to focus on the interior prayer; by this we learn to pray and to think as the Saints pray and think. We do not presume that we already know how to pray and how to think, but we regard it right that we should be transformed by the prayers of the glorified.


When I was first led to the faith, my catechist advised me to look upon the holy monks as the example for me, the layman, and to begin to pray the hours. He warned me to avoid attempting feats, such as regulating my breathing, or even reading certain texts, as these things are all spiritually dangerous for the layman and without the constant guidance of a spiritual director. But rather, beginning with the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy upon me the sinner.” and then the common (Trisagion) prayers, I was instructed to work throughout my life toward the praying of some of the hours, and keeping as close to remembrance of them as possible – never pushing hard enough to break, but ever stretching past my natural inclination. From striving to follow this advice, I learned (such as I have) fidelity to the calendar, to the days and the seasons, and by these both dedication to the Saints and to the Gospel, and so to seeing Christ’s Incarnation. Keeping fast and feast serve spiritual combat and salvation, the slaying of passions, the seeking of theosis, and praying for true repentance and the gift of tears. I am a pale ghost of the the words of my catechist, but I remember well that teaching, and am striving by small labours and by your prayers to fulfill it.


A prayer book is a layman’s very great help. I still use the ones given me by my catechist. With the layman’s prayer book, you should never feel shy or improper about praying the abbreviations of Vespers or Matins or the Compline. In fact, there is much to be gained in, perhaps once a week start out, praying one of the Hours in one’s own ikon corner, at a time when one cannot attend daily services in the Church. Praying one of these (e.g. the Vespers) until it becomes a familiar friend, while perhaps praying another (e.g. Matins) on special occasions, and perhaps prayig the evening prayers into the morning prayers if keeping a private vigil, or if feeling distressed or in great need, is a deeply beneficial custom.


Naturally, these are never to be regarded as an alternative to prayer in the Church, but they are meant precisely to supplement that prayer. Private prayers and lay prayers among families and godfamilies are supposed to be the natural result of prayer in the Church. As my catechist would say, it is the services of the Church that teach us how to pray, and free us from the burden of composition and of second-guessing our words and their orthodoxy. We find our meaning in their meaning, our thoughts take shape in the shape of those thoughts. Likewise, our private prayers, using the prayer book, are a help to us when we pray in the Church, making the prayers there less initially awkward for us, more familiar, our familiar work of prayer. We strive to make the prayer all one, whether at home or in Church.

The home, after all, is called “the little church”; it is fitting that it is made so through prayer.


Finally, the prayer book and the prayers in Church, teach us how to pray when we have no texts to use at all, as in moments of sudden need, or at any moments of veneration, thanksgiving, praise, intercession, petition, supplication.  These prayers also train the mind to think in an orthodox way. They develop, when prayed with the whole person, an Orthodox mind – the Orthodox mind. They teach us to think, and to think with the clarity of piety, and to apply the thoughts of the Fathers – of Holy Scripture - to our own. They keep the Scriptures in us as liturgical works, words of activity, theology and doctrine that are prayed, for we pray all that we believe and what we do not pray, we cannot believe. In this culture, especially, we keep ourselves from sinking, in the backs of our minds, by conditioning, by habit, and by the surrounding influence, into text-based religion.


Entering a Church: I will enter Thy gates with thanksgiving and Thy courts with praise.


Leaving a Church:  Lord, Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, O Master, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples; a light of revelation for the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.


Before Meals: The eyes of all hope in Thee, O Lord, and Thou givest them their food in due season, Thou openest Thy generous hand and fillest every living thing with good will.


After Meals: We thank Thee, O Christ our God, that Thou hast sated us with the good things of Thine earth: do not deprive us also of Thy heavenly Kingdom.


When about to fall asleep: Into Thy hands O Lord, Jesus Christ, my God, I commend my spirit; bless me, save me, and grant unto me ever-lasting life. Amen.


It is neither wrong to pray one’s own prayers, nor absolutely necessary to pray with a prayer book. It is important, in either case, to avoid pride and delusion. All this must be worked out with the knowledge and guidance of one’s spiritual director or father confessor.


St. Theophan wrote:


In Letter 31: Accustom yourself to pray your own prayers. For instance: it is the essence of evening prayer to thank God for the day and everything that happened, both pleasant and unpleasant; to ask forgiveness for all wrongs committed, promising to improve during the next day; and to pray that God preserve you during sleep. Express all this to God from your mind and from your whole heart.

The essence of morning prayer is to thank God for sleep, rest and regained strength and to pray that He will help us do everything to His glory. Express this to Him with your mind and with your whole heart. Along with such prayers in the morning and evening, present your greatest needs to the Lord, especially spiritual needs. Besides spiritual needs, present your worldly cares, saying to Him as would a child: "See, O Lord, my sickness and weakness! Help and heal!" All this and the like can be spoken before God in your own words, without the use of a prayer book. Try this and, if it works, you may leave the prayer book altogether; but if not, you must pray with the prayer book, otherwise you might end up with no prayer at all.

In letter 47: You ask about the prayer rule. Yes, because of our weakness, it is proper to have a prayer rule. For one thing, it controls excessive zeal. The great men of prayer had a prayer rule and kept to it. Every time, they began prayer with the established prayers, and then, if self-initiated prayer came, they turned to it from reciting prayers. If they needed a prayer rule, then we need one even more! Without formal prayers, we would not know how to pray correctly at all. Without them, we would be completely without prayer.

Nevertheless, we should not collect too many prayers. A few prayers, correctly read, are better than many prayers raced through. And, of course, it is hard to keep from rushing when, in our eagerness to pray, we have gathered more prayers than we can handle.

For you, it is quite adequate to complete the morning and evening prayers as they are found in the prayer book. Always strive to complete them with as much attention and feeling as possible. To do this successfully, make an effort in your spare time to read them with extra care, attention and feeling, so that when you are at prayer, you will be familiar with the holy thoughts and feelings contained in them. Praying does not mean repeating a certain number of words of prayer; praying is reproducing the contents of the prayers within ourselves, so that they flow as if from our own mind and heart.





Sun 2/19 5:00am




Vespers & Compline:

Saturdays 6pm


Hours & Typica:

Sundays 9:30am



Meatfare Week:

Economia from fasting

Feb 12 – Feb 19


Cheesefare Week:

Dairy, Eggs, Fish

Feb 27 – March  5


Great Lent:

March 6 – April 22


Holy Week:

April 16 – April 23



Name Days

Jan 17 St. Anthony
Jan 18 St. Athanasius

Feb 6 St. Photios

Oct 14 St. Petka
Dec 22 St. Anastasia



Items to Prepare

For Holy Baptism


·          The white towels (2large,1small)

·          The small bottle of olive oil

·          The candles (4-5? white)

·          The Gowns.

·          The Crosses

·          Cameras (!!!)



Prayer is the test of everything; prayer is also the source of everything; prayer is the driving force of everything; prayer is also the director of

everything. If prayer is right, everything is right. For prayer will not allow anything to go wrong. - St. Theophan the Recluse

Every prayer must come from the heart, and any other prayer is no prayer at all. Prayer-book prayers, your own prayers, and very short prayers, all must issue forth from the heart to God, seen before you. And still more must this be so with the Jesus prayer.- The Art of Prayer, by Hegumen Chariton of Valaam

Praying does not mean repeating a certain number of words of prayer; praying is reproducing the contents of the prayers within ourselves, so that they flow as if from our own mind and heart. - St. Theophan the Recluse


"This life has been given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits." – St. Isaac the Syrian


Prayer is learned only by praying. No one can teach another to pray. But a good way to begin to pray is to use the prayers of the prayer book. This is so because, since "we do not know how to pray", the Holy Spirit reveals in the prayers of [the Son and] the saints the proper form and content of prayer. In the prayers of the books - especially the Lord's Prayer - we not only pray truly by putting ourselves into the words of the prayers, but we also learn what we must pray. – Fr. Thomas Hopko




If you should think of me at all, pray Christ have mercy and save me. –unworthy