“If you cannot pray ceaselessly, pray frequently” St. Ignatius Brianchaninov
There is no substitute for following a rule of prayer. The Nativity Fast has come to an end and we (new calendar) Orthodox Christians begin 12 days of feasting the birth of Christ. It will be a struggle for me not to gorge on meats and dairy products after refraining from them for 40 days. Gluttony is one of my worst habits. However, I was blessed to learn how to strengthen my weakness in Compline (evening) prayers. I also picked up a quirky habit to pray at the 9th Hour (about 3 pm). The fast has been good to me.
The Apostle Paul taught us to pray without ceasing in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. The constant prayer of the Church was behind Peter’s release from prison (Acts 12:5). There are stories of saints who were so focused on their union with God that nothing distracted them. Not only monks and nuns, some deeply religious person in our families may have achieved states of holy ecstasy that seem biblical.
But, how many of us can spend hours in worship every day? Moreover, even when we have time beyond our Sunday morning routine, what about the other days of the week? Even those who do not attend church on a regular basis call on the Lord in a time of crisis. Praying ceaselessly is a tall order for monastics, much more those of us who live in society.
Archpriest and educator Fr. Thomas Hopko advised people to “pray as you can, not as you think you should.” Chances are, we are able to carve out a few minutes to give to God to start the day. Saying a prayer before bed is not a stretch for most of us. These two places are perfect starting points. Sometimes we are in a rush in the morning, or we crash in the bed as soon as we get home. Maybe a quick lunchtime scripture is doable. Exact time and words are not the most critical thing about keeping a rule. What is critical is that we pray what and when we can on a regular basis.
From the one or two starting places, we can add times of prayer. Praying the Hours is an admirable goal. If, let us say, one is in traffic at 3 pm (Ninth Hour) it can be done either earlier or later. There may be six passages of scripture with the Third Hour (9 am). If it is not possible to read them all, read what fits in our time constraints. There is no “one size fits all” prayer rule. Find an experienced spiritual father or mother to help develop a rule with you.
Be consistent and seek to grow in prayer.