In the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, at the end of the litany that precedes the Lord’s Prayer, the priest intones:
And make us worthy, O Master, that with boldness and without condemnation, we may dare to call upon Thee, the heavenly God, as Father, and to say: Our Father…
It is a phrase that relfects Hebrews 4:15-16:
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
It also echoes Ephesians 3:12 – “In whom [Christ] we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.” Having been made the children of God and joint-heirs with Christ, we are able to enter into the place of a son in our prayers. My experience over many years of pastoring, is that people generally do not like to pray. Most Christians would not state their feelings so clearly – we would rather say that “I do not pray like I should…etc.” But underneath that confession lies the uncomfortable fact that most people find prayer difficult, awkward, and full of distraction.
One of the desert fathers said, “Prayer is a struggle to a man’s dying breath.” Thus our difficulties with prayer are perhaps nothing new. But since prayer is, at its heart, communion with God – it is among the most essential expressions of our reconciliation with Him. I have long suspected that our hesitancy and distaste for prayer is rooted in the our lack of experience of prayer as communion. The reward of prayer is nothing other than this communion with God. Such communion, made possible by the reconciling work of Christ, often remains at the level of “idea” rather than becoming the content of our experience. This is true both because of our own failings, as well as God’s gentle care for us in which He draws us slowly into such an experience lest we become afflicted by our own pride (and other passions). Thus we pray with patience and humility.
I offer a small passage from Mar Jacob of Serugh (6th century). It is a meditation on the “boldness” of prayer and its measureless worth. I trust that readers may find it an encouragement in the life-long struggle.
Prayer reveals the deep things of the Divine,
by it one enters to behold the mystery of hidden things.
It is the key able to open all doors.
From it one can clearly espy what is hidden,
by it the soul can approach to speak with God,
it raises up the mind so that it reaches the Majesty.
It is easy for prayer to learn the mysteries of the divinity,
for it can go in and out unhindered by the angelic powers:
no angel is as swift-winged as prayer,
nor do the seraphim fly up with it as it ascends;
it whispers its words in the ears of the Lord, without any intermediary,
it murmurs in the heart, and God hears it in his exalted place.
Where it ascends not even the Watchers have ever reached,
for it is capable of approaching the very Divinity.
The seraph hides its face fromm the divine Being with its wings,
but prayer stands there unveiled before the Majesty:
nothing at all stands in the way between it and the Lord,
for it converses with him and he hears it gladly.
The Watchers tremble and the heavenly hosts in their modesty are held back,
whereas prayer goes in and relates its affairs before God.
The cherubim are harnessed and cannot see him whom they bear,
but prayer goes up and speaks with him lovingly.
In its love prayer speedily attains the exalted place,
in its love prayer advances to be raised up above the heavenly orders.
The cherub is afraid to raise its eyes to the Majesty,
being harnessed in its modesty with the pure yoke of flame;
the ranks of fire do not approach the Hidden One,
whereas prayer has authority to speak with him.
Prayer enters closer in than they and speaks unashamed;
above the myriads of heavenly hosts does it pass in flight, unhindered by their ranks.
As though to a close relation prayer reveals its secret to the Lord of the Watchers,
asking of him what is appropriate in all sorts of activities.
Prayer does not bend down to the angels to speak with them,
for it asks God himself, and he bids the angels attend to its affairs.