If you ask people how they came to God, they will probably say it was due to a church their parents took them to as a child. Others may talk about their study of the Bible as an adult. Neither of those allowed me to receive the faith. Instead, I came to God through prayer, after feeling the compulsion to pray during a period of darkness and despair.
I didn’t know how to pray when starting out, because I had never done so in my life. All I knew about prayer was what Hollywood movies depict. I did a web search on “how to pray Orthodox,” since I was originally baptized as a child in an Armenian Orthodox church. I found a Greek Orthodox resource called Orthodox Prayer, which has been most helpful for me to establish a beginner prayer rule, especially their handy PDF worksheet. As I learn more about the faith, I have added specific prayers that suit my spiritual needs.
Wherever I live, I assemble a humble prayer corner that is aesthetically pleasing. It consists of two icons (one of the Theotokos holding infant Jesus and the other of Jesus), two wooden crosses, a blessing cross I like to hold while praying, and a prayer rope I use for the Jesus Prayer. In the morning, I pray after waking and then begin my day. At night, I pray once more before laying in bed. I read for some time and right before closing my eyes to sleep, I say one more short prayer that does not make the assumption I will wake the next day:
Into Your Hands, O Lord, I commend my soul and my body. Bless me, forgive my sins, and have mercy on me. Amen.
There is a large gap between the morning and evening prayers where you can easily “forget” about God, especially if you live in a large city and have a day that is filled with distractions. When I come across something that is naturally beautiful, I sometimes recite a simple doxology multiple times: “Glory to God, glory to God in all things.” In other moments, if I feel anger rising within me or am frustrated from having to wait in a long line, I recite the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The Jesus Prayer helps remind me that I’m experiencing no real pain or suffering compared to what Jesus endured, and that only through Him can I overcome the small and big trials of this world.
Another way to remember God during the day is to recite a prayer before and after your meals. If this is a new habit, you will forget to do it most of the time, but if you keep applying effort, it’ll eventually become automatic. Here is a prayer I use before all my mealtimes:
O Christ our God, bless the food, drink, and fellowship of thy servants, for thou art holy always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
And one for after meals, which I sometimes still forget:
Blessed is God, Who has fed and nourished us with His bountiful gifts by His grace and compassion always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
You may be tempted to ask what are the material “benefits” of prayer. Will it make you feel more calm? Will it help you complete more work during the day? This is the wrong approach. I believe the purpose of prayer is to worship your Creator and establish a direct line of communication with God to aid in your salvation. Such communion will help you battle against sin and fight demonic influences that are so prevalent in this world. Through prayer, I also show thanks and appreciation to God for creating and sustaining me. I ask Him to forgive my signs and to have mercy on me while I carry out my mission in this world. I certainly do not ask him for more fame, comfort, pleasure, or ease of life as if he was a genie in a bottle. Unless I am in dire straights, I do not ask him for worldly gain, and if I do, I always add “if it is according to Your will” to stress that it is His will be done, not my will be done.
If you’re new to prayer, I recommend you start with a small base and then build it up gradually. If you attempt too much in the beginning and fail to maintain it, you’ll get frustrated, stop praying entirely, and maybe even lose faith. Instead, warm up your prayer muscles with a nightly prayer that lasts no longer than five minutes. Ramp that up as you gain confidence maintaining the routine. When you have maintained a night prayer rule for a month or two, and feel the need to do more, add a morning prayer as well. Do what you can.
Once you’ve established a prayer rule, you can consider Church attendance and Bible reading for a set amount of time each day (be sure to use a study Bible like the Orthodox Study Bible). Take it slow. Don’t treat your faith as just another material hobby, something to be achieved. I prayed for two months before I stepped foot into a church, and am very careful to add more prayer time or other spiritual deeds. Recently, I tried to add a third daily prayer, but I was not yet ready for it, so I stopped after a few days. That’s okay—I will progress spiritually for some time and try again later. I would only advise you to “force” yourself to do at least one prayer per day (the Lord’s Prayer is suitable) and if that is still too hard for you, ask God to help you pray. Prayer is a gift from Him, so if you would like to pray, ask Him for aid.
Even if you establish a daily prayer rule, prayer will not be easy. You will procrastinate when it’s time to pray and be tempted to rush through it. The demons and your corrupted mind will flood you with distracting thoughts. You may feel that you’re just reciting words instead of feeling them. These problems were even common with the Saints. Start small, build up over the months, and stick with it so that you may develop a relationship with God and fully receive His grace.