Prayer is the touchstone of a person’s spiritual life. It discloses the true stature and authentic condition of one’s life. Prayer is what ultimately reveals who we are in relation to God and other people. Moreover, in the Orthodox tradition, prayer does not constitute a stage––whether preliminary or ultimate––in the spiritual life; rather, it is a pervasive activity that permeates all stages and all aspects of life. Prayer presupposes a life that is fully integrated with the life of the world rather than something that only happens at a particular point in our daily or weekly routine. Our aim in reciting prayers on given occasions, and retiring for prayers at particular moments, is to advance from the stage of saying prayers to the point of becoming prayer. To adopt the words of an early theologian, Origen of Alexandria (175-254 AD), “The entire life of a saint is one great, unbroken prayer.” Our goal is to become fiery flames of prayer, living prayers, comforting those in despair and warming those in need.
There are many different ways of praying. Yet prayer cannot be experienced by means of a detached perception or an external connection, in the same way that objects external to us are experienced. Prayer must be personally lived or “touched,” as St. John of the Ladder (579-649 AD) says in his Ladder of Divine Ascent. Prayer cannot exist in itself—it exists, as the English term denotes, only as the activity of someone at prayer. Simply put, a “pray-er” is a praying person. Prayer is not merely a text, but a living human being with a burning heart. “Prayer” is a relationship word; it can never be thought of in abstraction, isolated from others or from God. Prayer presupposes and aims at mystical connection or sacramental encounter. Unless this is clearly understood, all talk about prayer tends to falsify what is at stake. As such, prayer is truly universal. Prayer is not the privilege of the few but the vocation of all.
– Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople