More on Rules
Sometimes Christians use religious jargon and expect everyone to understand exactly what they are talking about. This is an unrealistic expectation. In my previous post on prayer, I mentioned the traditional practice of keeping a “Rule” of prayer, but I did not elaborate on what a Rule is. Simply stated, it is the practice of praying the same prayers every day, as a discipline. It is said that one prays “according to a rule.”
This evening, after Vespers, I discussed the Rule I have been keeping with my priest. I did this to keep him informed of what I am doing spiritually, and I also wanted his feedback on the wisdom of the Rule I have chosen. Is it too much? Is it too little? As I might have guessed, he was surprised at how much I elected to pray. He exhorted me that it is great if I can do it but reminded me that it is also good to pray less if necessary. As I quoted earlier, it is better to pray a few prayers consistently than to become weary in working good and cease praying altogether.
We also had a very fruitful discussion about the benefits of a Rule of prayer. Father said that when we pray these prayers of the saints regularly, their words become our own, and we begin to remember them at significant moments during the day. Thus, we draw closer to the scriptural ideal of prayer without ceasing. To this, I added that once the Rule becomes a habit, it becomes possible to pray even when we do not feel like praying. When our feelings would persuade us to give up is indeed when we most need to continue to pray.
Orthodox Christians learn to not be bound up with laws and commands and rigor, and they begin to value quality over quantity. Praying “O heavenly king” and the Thrice-holy prayers every morning is more valuable than praying the entire set of morning prayers from the Manual once every two weeks. Keeping a Rule looks different for each person. It is not at all about how much I pray, but that I pray consistently.
Finally, using set, written prayers, while important, should not be understood to exclude other means of prayer, such as contemplative prayer. Contemplating the icons can be a very fruitful means of prayer, and many include contemplation in their Rule. Lectio divina (sacred reading) can also be helpful. Fr. Thomas Hopko has written on lectio somewhere, and the Monks of New Skete devote several pages to it in their book In the Spirit of Happiness. It is the consistency of the Rule that is the beneficial discipline, not the idiosyncracies of how each person structures it.