Repetition in Prayer
By Fr Anthony St Shenouda
A common problem that Orthodox Christians face is distraction during Prayer. One of the reasons for such distractions is usually the fact that it seems we are doing the same prayers. The Agbia with the same psalms daily, the weekly liturgy and for some daily and the list goes on. But if you look around you, you will notice that the vital things in life are usually the once that are repeated frequently. Take for example breathing, your heart beats, eating, drinking, sunrise, and so on. If you decide to stop breathing one day because breathing is getting boring, well, you surly not feel boredom any longer. If the sun decides not to rise one day, the whole world will be in trouble.
Abba Evagrius of Pontus, the disciple of St Macarius the great, has presented us with a wealth writings about different aspects of the spiritual life, one of which is his “Chapter on Prayer”. In his chapter on prayer, Evagrius suggests that not enjoying prayer may at times come as a result of our inner sin that we have engaged in during the day.
“When you are praying, guard your memory vigorously so your own passion may not be presented to you, but rather so that it (your memory) may move you towards the knowledge of your presence before God. For the mind has a strong natural tendency to be plundered by the memory at the time of prayer”
He also said,
“No one with a love for true prayer who entertains anger harbors resentment escapes madness. For that is like one who wants to acuity of vision but does harm to his own eyes”
So if we are not enjoying prayer, it is not because prayer itself is repetitive or too long, but because we have not prepared enough before we prayed. The prayers used in the church have been practiced for more than two thousand years, if we consider the psalms, which were used for much longer. Yet they have not lost their power as they are the heart beat of the church.
If you also consider babies who have not yet been contaminated with worldly thoughts, you can spend hours playing with them simple repetitive games, such as “pick a pow” and they will laugh every time as if it was the first time ever you played the game with them. That is why God made becoming like children a condition for entering into heaven.
Abba Evagrius calls us to make attaining pure prayer our life long goal, and he does this with these encouraging words.
“If you have not yet received the gift of prayer or psalmody, persevere and you will receive”