The Rule of Prayer

A monk at prayer, Bebenhausen, Germany (photo by MJH)

A monk at prayer, Bebenhausen, Germany (photo by MJH)

Life is prayer. Lex orandi. Lex credendi. Lex vivendi.

St Paul encourages us to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:16). The Great Cloud of Witnesses (Hebrews 11) shows us many Jesus followers, many lovers of God, who have sought to live out this goal in a practical way, filling the interstices of life with prayer and the abundant presence of God.

Life is prayer.

Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, observes that until you pray somewhere at some time, you will not pray everywhere at all times. Prayer lies at the heart of all Christian spirituality whether we are thinking of Susanna Wesley praying beneath the kitchen table where her children could not find her, or the Desert Fathers alone in their Egyptian cells, or the prayer meetings of the Azuza Street revival, or St Francis meeting with St Clare, or Billy Graham on his knees, or you or me wherever we are.

Life is prayer.

We have chosen to join the Great Cloud of Witnesses in structured, daily prayer.  Christians of all ages and all walks of life have found this pattern of prayer enriching and empowering as they seek to imbue the substance of their lives with prayer and with Christ. We pray four times a day — Morning Prayer, Mid-day Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline (or Night Prayer). This rhythm of prayer has roots in the city churches of the ancient church, in the daily lives of ordinary believers in ancient Carthage, in the routine of life of the monastics, in the rule of prayer of the Anglican clergy.

The sources of our prayers

The standard at the Witness Cloud is The Book of Common Prayer (BCP). The Canadian BCP of 1962 has provisions for all four offices; it is available online from the Prayer Book Society of Canada, as well as for purchase in print from Augsburg Fortress, its publisher. The 1662 BCP has only Morning and Evening Prayer; many editions of it exist online. One easy-to-use digital copy is this one. If you have the money and space, the Everyman’s Library Edition is well-produced and elegant; less expensive is a copy that has some of the earlier editions edited alongside it.

An alternative to the BCP that we recommend for the community is the Anglican Society of St Francis’ Celebrating Common Prayer. It is available online here but is out of print, and all copies on are disturbingly expensive!

If you wish to use the 1662 BCP, the missing offices can be found in Breviary Offices from Lauds to Compline, a product of the late 1800s by J. M. Neale. For ease of use, the Order for Mid-day Prayer, or Sext, has been made available here: Office of Midday Prayer.

Some thoughts from the modern Serbian Orthodox Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica to close this rule of prayer:

‘Let us all fall down before the Lord with an innocent heart, using our own words in addition to the prayer rule that we all adhere to and which we very much need (for if we have no prayer rule, then the evil one will give us his own rule — all kinds of thoughts). That’s why we need prayer, no matter how short. As soon as we are out of bed, let us give thanks to God for having allowed us to live through the night. When evening comes, let us give thanks for everything, for the Lord is the Giver of life and the Giver of all things. This is how we show our love toward Him, and because of this love, He will draw us into His embrace.’ -Elder Thaddeus, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, 189

‘Prayer should not be something that is said and forgotten. You stand in front of an icon, recite your prayers, and go about your business. That is not prayer.’ -Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, 113

How to Pray: Calling and Responding

If you are a part of a liturgical tradition, responsories (or, patterns of call-and-response) are familiar to you as a conversation or dialogue between pray-ers.  If you have not been a part of a liturgical tradition, you may be wondering why some text is printed in bold and other text not.  When you pray the liturgy in private, you are both the caller and the responder.  Let these two identities be genuine.

Jesus, in the midst of prayer in the garden, confronts His followers with these words: The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41).  May your willing spirit invite the transformation of your weak flesh, and may your weak flesh respond in due course.  This is a tension that should be held and wrestled with; never neglected.  The transformation of Christ, in the believer, is total – covering the body and the soul.

Top image: La Sainte Chapelle, Paris, 13th-c (photo by MJH)