Category Archives: Prayer

Gleanings From a Book: “We Pray” by Daniel Opperwall

I never expected to be charmed by a nonfiction book. However, “We Pray,” written by Daniel Opperwall and illustrated by Jelena and Marko Grbic is no ordinary nonfiction book! It is a beautiful Orthodox Christian children’s book that helps children (and those reading to/with them) think about prayer. Each spread of the book talks about a different aspect of prayer and includes some of the basic theology behind that aspect. Some pages offer specific prayers that we can pray, along with ways in which we pray (with incense, with a prayer rope, etc.). Other pages talk about where we pray, how we pray, what we pray, and for whom we pray. “We Pray” may be an informational book, but it is not at all tedious. Instead, the book has an almost lyrical tone, so the spiritual instruction in “We Pray” is both approachable and enjoyable.

But the tone of the book and the knowledge it imparts are not nearly the only charms of this book! Its physical size is lovely, too. Ancient Faith Publishing has printed “We Pray” in a very “holdable” size for children. At 8 ¼” square, the book is a comfortable size for children to hold. And even better than its size are the book’s delightful pictures! Jelena and Marko Grbic’s charming illustrations are both colorful and enticing. Each drawing is whimsical, yet true to the Faith. The book’s pages are quite sturdy, which was a smart design choice, because children will likely return to the illustrations again and again, taking in all the beautiful details included in each! (To be honest, adults will do the same. I have paged through this book countless times just to savor the illustrations!)

“We Pray” is an excellent addition to any Orthodox Christian library. Its readers will learn about prayer and be encouraged to pray more fervently. Its size and darling illustrations will appeal to children of all ages. My guess is that you, too, will find it charming!

To purchase your own copy of “We Pray,” visit http://store.ancientfaith.com/we-pray/.

Here are a few excerpts from the book, as well as some activities that you can do together as a family after reading it!

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“We pray with lighted incense, making smoke like sweetened flowers, for its scent is a reminder to turn our thoughts to God.” ~ from “We Pray” by Daniel Opperwall, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2017

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“We pray The Jesus Prayer each day, repeating and repeating, so that words of asking mercy may be written on our hearts.” ~ from “We Pray” by Daniel Opperwall, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2017

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“We pray for all our families and everyone we love, that God’s great love would bless them in their sadness or their joy.” ~ from “We Pray” by Daniel Opperwall, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2017

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“We pray for all the world, every child, man, and woman, that all may come to know God’s love and learn to seek His face.” ~ from “We Pray” by Daniel Opperwall, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2017

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Look closely at the illustrations in “We Pray.” Talk together about how they fit with the words. Consider discussing things like this: “Who is holding the long prayer rope on the prayer rope page, and what can we learn from someone like that? Why are the people in a tree on the family page? How do the souls in the giant hand look, on the departed page? Who is that angel behind the child on the page that talks about praying in silence? Why do you think the Grbics chose that Person to hold the chalice on the page where the children are about to receive communion? Which illustration is your favorite, and why?

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Can you find the hedgehogs in “We Pray?” Perhaps hedgehogs are not the first thing you think of when pondering the theology of prayer, but they are an excellent example the level of detail in this lovely book! Take a closer look at the artwork in this book. Challenge your family to fill out this printable counting page (WePrayCounting), just for fun. You can work together on it or print two copies, split up the family, and have a friendly competition to see who can find everything (and how many of each thing can be found!)

Gleanings from a Book: “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson

The picture book “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson captured my attention from the moment I saw it. The cover illustration radiates peace as the main character stands prayerfully, gently illumined by a row of candle flames dancing like fireflies as she prays. That juxtaposition of peace and joyful motion made me curious, anticipating what I would read within its pages.

When I slipped the book open, I was not disappointed. It starts with flowers and bees, all blowing and growing in the wind. The life of a candle actually begins in that place: in nature, beauty, wholeness, just as God created the world and meant it to be. Bees partake of that sweet beauty and do their own work of using it to create honey and wax to share with their hive. A pleasant-faced nun sings her way into the book, ready to collect both honey and beeswax, and next thing we know there are slender beeswax candles lying patiently in a church’s narthex awaiting their next job. At last the reader meets the young pray-er from the cover, who dances into the book with much enthusiasm. Once she arrives at the church doors, Felicia stills herself, signs herself with the cross, then prayerfully enters. She notices the color and aroma of the beeswax candles, recalling their history for a moment before selecting one and igniting it, initiating it to its next task: carrying prayers. Felicia quietly prays, and as she does, she sees her prayers hovering, illumined by the candle. She watches as a gentle breeze wafts through the window, carrying the smoke from her candle into the heavens. Her prayers ride along to meet the icon of Christ, which watches over Felicia and reminds her that Christ Himself receives her prayers!

Amandine Wanert’s playful illustrations bring to life the swaying flowers, buzzing bees, singing nun, and dancing Felicia in this story. They also illuminate the gentle glow of candles casting light and hope around the interior of an Orthodox church. Readers will relish the peace that they feel as they read their way from the gleeful buzz of sunny fields to the serenity of prayer in church.

Here are some ideas of ways to enhance and extend what we have learned in the book:

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After reading “In the Candle’s Glow,” learn together about bees. Find an excellent source of information about honeybees, including facts about bees and honey, the history of beekeeping, and many links and books that can give you more information here: http://www.buzzaboutbees.net/honey-bee-facts.html

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There are a host of reasons to love bees and how they help our world! Check out the information and links provided here: http://www.buzzaboutbees.net/Inspiring-Children-To-Love-Bees.html

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“Visit” a bee farm with this family to learn more about bees and what they do: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCVR1MNgm6A

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In gratitude for the gifts of honey, pollination, and beeswax that we receive from bees, together as a family investigate what flowers bees like that you could grow at your home. Here is one possible resource: http://thehoneybeeconservancy.org/act-today/plant-a-bee-garden/.  Then plant a little “Bee Gratitude” garden for them to enjoy. You may want to pray the prayer of blessing for the bees found near the end of “In the Candle’s Glow.” (And if you’re feeling especially grateful, you could also put in a beehive!)

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Did you know that beeswax candles are better for your health than paraffin ones? Pure beeswax candles are not made with petroleum and chemicals (as paraffin ones are) and instead of adding pollutants like artificial scents into the air, they actually purify it while  they burn! Read more about the health benefits of beeswax candles here: http://candles.lovetoknow.com/Beeswax_Candle_Health_Benefits

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Why do we light candles when we pray? Talk together as a family about that question. http://www.stmattroyalton.org/About-Orthodoxy/Candles-and-Their-Symbolism suggests this reason: “Orthodox faithful light candles before the Icons as a sign of their faith and hope in God’s help that is always sent to all who turn to Him and His Saints with faith and prayers. The candle is also a symbol of our burning and grateful love for God.”

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Learn more about St. Zosima and St. Savvaty, keepers of bees, here: https://www.facebook.com/Historical.Honeybee.Articles/posts/822731504448014

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One evening after reading “In the Candle’s Glow,” take a moment to quietly approach your family’s prayer table so that you can think about/experience what Felicia experienced. (Before you do this, be sure to acquire a few beeswax candles for this prayer time: one for each family member, if possible.) As you approach the table, talk softly about what you learned in the book about the flowers, the bees, the beeswax, the nun, and the candles. Then have each family member hold a beeswax candle in their hands and smell it. Think about all of the parts of God’s creation that have happened so that that candle can be in your hand at this moment. All of creation helps us to pray and to worship God! Then light your candle and, just as Felicia did when she lit hers, pray the Jesus Prayer. Quietly watch the flame and think about the words you are saying as you pray the Lord’s Prayer. Then take turns “adding others into” your flame as you pray for your loved ones. When everyone has had all the turns that they need to pray for whoever they want to, talk about how our prayers rise to God. You may want to simultaneously demonstrate how heat from the candle rises, as shown in this simple experiment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cOMushj7w8. Encourage each other to remember that all of creation is here to help us worship God, and that our prayers rise to Him as we offer them in the candles’ glow.

Gleanings from a Book: “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis

I was so excited when I learned that this book was in the works! Before reading it, I had great expectations: I anticipated that it would be filled with gentle nudges towards godliness based both on years of education and personal experience. I knew that the wisdom in this book would be presented in a practical way backed by the in-the-trenches research that life with 7 children offers to their parents. And once I received and read the book, I was not at all disappointed!

My expectations for this book were the result of personal experience. Our family had the privilege of meeting the Mamalakis family at Family Camp at the Antiochian Village years ago when they were the featured presenters for the parent sessions. We learned so much from Dr. Mamalakis (and from his lovely wife, Georgia) while we were together. My husband and I could step out of the parent sessions and immediately apply the concepts we had just discussed. Our family is the better for having learned these principles, however imperfectly we have applied them. (An aside: We also benefitted from watching the Mamalakis parents apply the principles they had shared, as they interacted with their children over the course of the family camp sessions. It is a joy to watch these parents lovingly guide their children using the principles! There is an abundance of love in Mamalakis family, and these principles allow them to parent their children in the context of that great love. It is a joy to experience.)
But I digress. Let’s get back to the book. “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” outlines the principles that the Mamalakis family has followed:

  1. Always parent with the end in mind.
  2. Respond, don’t react.
  3. Understand struggles in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.
  4. Separate feelings from behaviors.
  5. Teach the joy of obedience.
  6. Teach the joy of repentance.

Each principle has a chapter (or four!) of the book dedicated to it. Every chapter takes an in-depth look at the principle and cites personal experiences or related stories. The stories and examples make this book very accessible to its readers. The principles can be immediately applied, just as my husband and I experienced when we sat under the Mamalakis’ teachings at Family Camp. I would highly recommend this book to any parent or educator who wants to lovingly guide the children in their care in a godly manner. The book would be a great Adult Sunday Church School curriculum, parish book study, or parenting class text.

“Parenting Toward the Kingdom” is easy read. However, its principles will take a lifetime to apply. May God help (and forgive!) all of us as we parent, grandparent, godparent, and otherwise raise His children towards His Kingdom!

Here are a few quotes from the book, to give you a taste of its contents. Purchase your own copy at http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

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“Parenting cannot be reduced to a series of steps, techniques, or strategies. The goal of this book is to help parents understand how the daily challenges of parenting relate to our journey in Christ and  our child’s journey in Christ, intimately connected to the life of the Church, and how that connection can inform our responses. Understanding this, we can put all the techniques and strategies in this book in their proper context. Using this book requires that you take a genuine interest in your child and reflect on your own personal spiritual journey. Understanding this, we can put this book in its proper place.” (pp. 12-13)

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“Thinking long-term means thinking about how  you want your children to conduct themselves when they are on their own, away at college, or married with children of their own. What type of adults do you want them to become… As parents… we want our children to be successful in life. As Christian parents, we need to be clear about what we mean by successful. That’s where God’s perspective on success becomes important.” (p. 19)

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“Parenting is not about stopping misbehaviors or getting children to listen to us. It is the process of shaping and guiding our children’s souls in and toward God’s love through the tasks that need to be accomplished and the struggles of daily life. We are teaching them about the spiritual life and the path of holiness as we break up sibling fights or get them to clean their rooms. We are walking with them on that path, on the journey, of growing closer to God in daily life.” (p. 24)

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“We would never deface an icon, yet when we get angry, attack, criticize, or mock our children, we vandalize the icon of Christ. We don’t worship icons, either, yet when we are lenient or indulge our children’s desires, giving in to their demands, we are worshipping our kids, not Christ—which is equally destructive.” (p. 36-37)

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“Learning how to parent is not about learning how to get our children to behave; it’s about learning how to get ourselves to behave. Remember, modeling is the most effective way to teach our children. The goal of this parenting book is to invite parents how to learn to act like adults, no matter what childish behaviors our kids present to us.” (p. 51)

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“While some children act up because they want everyone to look at them, I’d like to suggest that most often our kids are looking for a connection with their parents, not for mere attention… Connection is central to our human nature, and children are wired to seek it.” (p. 66)

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“If we correct, command, direct, or react to our children before connecting with them, it communicates that we are more concerned about where cleats and balls go than about who they are.” (p.165)

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“Time-outs are most often misused as consequences by parents… A time-out is not a consequence, just a good idea. It is, in fact, exactly what a child might need at that moment… Sports teams don’t take time-outs as punishment but as an opportunity to slow down, regroup, and make a plan for going forward… Kids need time-outs when they cannot control themselves or their behaviors. In fact, taking a time-out is something we all need to learn to do when we feel out of control.” (p. 210)

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“Never make decisions for your children or tell them what to do when they can figure things out by themselves. Letting children experience the effects of their decisions respects their intelligence, their ability to learn, and their developing judgment and autonomy. Kids learn better from firsthand experience than from our telling them what to do, anyway.” (p. 227)

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“We teach the joy of obedience by helping our children see that obedience is not something just for children. Obedience to God’s commandments is the path for all, parents and children alike… When children feel connected to their parents and see their parents living in obedience to God, they internalize obedience to God as the path of life.” (p. 264)

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“If we are trying to love our children and grow in Christ, then our mistakes become just another opportunity to teach. Remember, our children will learn ore from how we live than from what we say. Children learn how to handle their mistakes by watching how we handle our own… When we repent we show our children both the right path and how to get back on the path when we fall off.” (p. 288)

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“To parent toward the Kingdom requires us to improve the way we interact with our children in every situation and to connect our hearts and homes to Christ and His Church. In this way our children experience the love of God in the home and encounter Christ and His Church in the center of it.” (p. 317)

Gleanings from a Book: “Orthodox Christian Parenting Cultivating God’s Creation” By Marie Eliades

We recently discovered the book Orthodox Christian Parenting – Cultivating God’s Creation by Marie L. Eliades, published by Zoe Press in 2012. This book is a compilation of quotes and writings about raising and educating Orthodox Christian children. The text is gathered both from Church fathers and contemporary Orthodox Christians, and is presented by theme. (An important note: the introduction to the book tells more about the project and encourages readers to discuss what they read with their spiritual father to see what is best for their own family.)

Themes include:

“The Bigger Picture” (addresses why the book’s content is important)

“Marriage and New Beginnings” (sets the foundation for a new Orthodox family, and offers Orthodox perspectives on infertility/pregnancy/childbirth/adoption/loss of a child)

“Raising our Children” (speaks to childrearing from early childhood through youth)

“In the House of the Lord” (offers the basics of Orthodox family life at Church and at home)

“Adolescence and Growing Up” (talks about the issues and challenges that older children and their related adults face)

“So, They’re Leaving Home” (suggestions for launching a young adult)

We found many encouraging and challenging quotes throughout the book, and will share a few of them with you. This book will be of great benefit to any Orthodox Christians who marry, raise children, and/or teach children about the Faith. We recommend that people in those categories consider reading the book because of its insights into what the Church has taught about raising and teaching children of all ages.

Find the book here: http://www.shop.zoepress.us/Orthodox-Christian-Parenting-Cultivating-Gods-Creation-978-0-9851915-0-4.htm

Here are a few quotes from the book:

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“Marriage… is a journey through sorrows and joys. When the sorrows seem overwhelming, then you should remember that God is with you. He will take up your cross. It was He who placed the crown of marriage on your head. But when we ask God about something, He doesn’t always supply the solution right away. He leads us forward very slowly. Sometimes He takes years. We have to experience pain; otherwise life would have no meaning. But be of good cheer, for Christ is suffering with you, and the Holy Spirit through your groanings, is pleading on your behalf. (cf. Romans 8:26)” (p. 58)

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“When a woman is pregnant she must be calm, read the Gospel, pray, say the Jesus Prayer. Thus the child is also sanctified. The child’s upbringing begins in the womb. One should be very careful not to upset a pregnant woman for any reason. When my wife was expecting a child the Elder [St. Paisios] told me: ‘Be careful not to upset her now in any way! Be very carefull!! Tell her to say the Jesus Prayer and to chant. That will help the child a lot! She should do this later on as well.’” (p. 70)

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“I once understood Orthodoxy as a beautiful expression of faith on Sundays and holidays, but I have learned that we must bring every moment of our days and every inch of our homes into the Church. I learned first how to surrender myself to Him, and now I am learning how to surrender my children and everything else as well. The only path to healing is to offer up our entire world to Christ. We must lift up these broken pieces of our fallen world and have faith that He will restore them. He will.” (p. 83)

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From a section from St. Porphyrios:

“The sanctity of the parents is the best way of bringing up children in the Lord. When the parents are saintly and transmit this to the child and give the child an upbringing ‘in the Lord,’ then the child, whatever the bad influences around it, will not be affected because by the door of its heart will be Wisdom—Christ Himself.” (p. 86)

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From a section from St. Tikhon of Zadonsk:

“A gardener binds a newly planted sapling to a stake driven and fixed into the ground lest it be uprooted by winds and storms; later, he prunes unneeded branches from the tree lest they harm the tree and dry it up. You should act likewise with your small and young children. Bind their hearts to the feet of God lest they be shaken by the machinations of Satan and depart from piety. Prune away the passions that grow in them lest they mature and overpower them and so put the new, inward man that was born in holy Baptism to death. For we see that as children grow up, sinful passions also appear and grow with them as unneeded branches of a tree.” (p. 112)

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From St. John Chrysostom:
“If artists who make statues and paint portraits of kings are held in high esteem, will not God bless ten thousand times more those who reveal and beautify His royal image? For man is in the image of God. When we teach our children to be good, to be gentle, and to be forgiving—all attributes of God; to be generous, to love their neighbor, to regard this present age as nothing, we instill virtue in their souls, and reveal the image of God within them.” (p. 137)

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“Tired of laundry? Parenting and homemaking are indeed a holy calling. Daily chores are a blessing to us and to our family. Even laundry is blessed—no children, no laundry. What would our life be like without them? So as we wash, fold or iron each item we can say, ‘Lord have mercy on (name of clothing wearer).’ This works for your husband’s clothing, your children’s and your own clothing. ‘Lord have mercy on me.’ This sanctifies our time and work. It also helps us acquire peace and unceasing prayer.” (p. 171)

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“Pray, pray, pray for your children and trust our most holy Lady with their guidance. Please do not think that just because you attend church with your children, receive Communion regularly, or because they belong to a youth group that this is some sort of fail-proof guarantee. No, that is not enough You mothers and fathers must pray as much as you can for your dearest possession, the children God has entrusted to you.” (p. 269)

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“When I first read a quote by Elder Porphyrios that parents should talk to their children less and pray more I did not understand it since my children were young and at home and they needed me to speak to them to teach them. But since they have all grown and left home I understand. This may be difficult for some parents to understand yet we all should know that even as our children are a gift from God, they are a temporary gift. From birth until they leave home they are our gift and it is our job to love and teach them; but once they leave we are to release them on their path with their Guardian Angel and God’s Grace. Then our job is to pray for them, not to control them…” (p. 275)

Bedtime and Other Rituals: Conclusion and Facing Fears at Bedtime

We have examined so many different aspects of an Orthodox Christian family’s bedtime routine. We discussed winding down together; reasons to read books (as well as suggestions of what books to read); scriptures to share together; learning about the saints together; singing together; and praying together before bed. If you have missed any in the series, you can find it in its entirety on our blog at https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/category/bedtime/.

We have come to the end of the series, but before we conclude, we wish to once more thank those of you who participated in our survey over the summer! Your myriad of ideas and suggestions were indispensable to us in this project. We are sure that your responses have been helpful to the rest of the community as well. Thank you for taking the time to share them!

To conclude our series, we will begin by offering the following meditation called “the Liturgy of Bedtime.” It reaffirms some of the things that we have discussed in prior posts. We also know from experience that nighttime can be a fearful time for children, so occasionally “the liturgy of bedtime” is still followed by children feeling afraid. Thus, we will also offer links to ideas of ways to help children face their nighttime fears. Speaking to our children about God and leading them to Him on their way to bed during the “bedtime liturgy” is the best way to begin to address nighttime fears.  

May God grant you wisdom to know exactly what your children need at bedtime to help them relax and rest in the safety of God’s protection and the Theotokos’ watchful prayers. May He bless you as you then create and carry out that bedtime routine. May He grant peace to your children and great joy to you in the process. And may He have mercy on us all and save us. Amen.

“The Liturgy of Bedtime,” an excerpt from “Talking to Children About God”

By Dr. Albert Rossi, Ph.D.

Published originally in Orthodox Family Life,  Vol 2 Iss 3,

reprinted with permission (entire article can be found here: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/inchurch/talkgod.htm)


One of the more regular times of “Letting the children come” to God is bedtime. Often stories and prayers at bedtime can be relaxed, non-competitive time with children. When everything is right, bedtime can be a time when the unconditional love of parent for child is almost tangible. Children are usually tired and sometimes less frenetic. It also goes without saying that some nights seem more like thinly veiled chaos. But, hopefully, most nights are more peaceful.


Going to sleep for children happens gracefully only within an elaborate ritual. This is the liturgy of going to sleep and is not totally unlike other liturgies. Father Alexander Schmemann spoke of the Eucharist beginning with the long ritual of getting dressed for Church and continuing through the trip to Church and all the beautiful liturgy preceding Communion. In a similar way, children go to sleep after intricate ceremony. This usually includes taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing their teeth, kissing everyone in the household goodnight, hearing a story, saying prayers, getting tucked in, and for little ones, a Linus blanket and Teddy for special security. This is the liturgy of bedtime. It’s a tender time, a loving time. It’s a rare and precious time. It’s a time to be close to each other and to God.


There are many ways to talk to children about God at bedtime. As was said, we do this primarily by the way we put them to bed. We do this by mustering patience as our own busy day comes to an end. We do it with a tender kiss and an “I love you” as we leave the room. But, we can also do it with stories.


Children love stories, stories, stories. In our family there is one type of story which is the regular, nightly request. It takes the form of “Daddy (or Mommy), tell me a story about when you were a little boy.” This has been going on so long that I am running dry of stories, or so it seems. Rather than forego a story, Beth will beg for a re-run of some oft-told story. I have overheard her telling these stories to her little friends as they played in her room. As I get older I am beginning to appreciate this form of story more. It tells of heritage, of lineage, of roots. Inevitably, these stories involve grandparents, moments of virtue, of relatives, humor, tales of Church events. All this is a remembrance of God’s activity in one’s personal history, and can occasionally be explained as such. Grandparents can have a incalculable value in strengthening the faith of a child with stories about “When Baba [grandmother] was a little girl.”

Here are some ideas of ways to help children face fears at bedtime. (Note: Not all are Orthodox, but there is enough that is helpful in each that we are sharing them anyway.)

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This blog post is written in the context of Halloween, but the Orthodox Christian suggestions of what to do when your child is scared suggest very practical steps that every Orthodox parent should “have in their back pocket” and be able to offer to their child anytime he/she is afraid. http://www.theorthodoxmama.com/what-to-do-when-your-child-is-scared/

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Here is a concrete way to show our children how prayer helps us to face fear. This piece is not Orthodox, but is a very helpful visual for our kids. (We should also be sure to remind our children that we have the added peace-giving knowledge of the prayers of the saints as an additional, much stronger protection for our little “flame” than just our own prayers can offer!) http://www.playeatgrow.com/2013/02/grow-helping-your-child-deal-with-fear.html/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+PlayEatGrow+(Play+Eat+Grow)  

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Here are two blog posts related to bedtime prayer by Fr. Stephen Freeman. We are including them here because of his son’s personal bedtime prayer (in the first blog) which he wrote when he was 4 years old. His sweet prayer includes a sound answer to what to do with bedtime fears: ask the saints to extinguish them! https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2009/10/14/what-do-you-say-when-you-turn-out-the-light/  And this post is an interesting look at a non-Orthodox children’s bedtime prayer: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2007/11/05/now-i-lay-me-down-to-sleep/
The comments after each blog are both interesting and helpful, should you have time, read them as well! (Comments include some practical suggestions such as sprinkling the bed with holy water before going to sleep.)
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This blog post recommends praying the Jesus Prayer if you (or your child) are having trouble sleeping: http://simplyorthodox.tumblr.com/post/32070899950

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When our family was in the process of converting into the Orthodox Faith, my young children found that having the “new-to-us” opportunity to make the sign of the cross to be helpful to them when they had bad dreams or felt afraid at nighttime. This book can help children learn how and why to make the sign of the cross: http://www.theorthodoxchildrenspress.com/our-books/on-our-shelf-every-time-i-do-my-cross/

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Find ideas for helping your child with bedtime fears/sleeplessness in the “When a Child Sleeps Poorly” section of this Orthodox Christian psychotherapist’s booklet: http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/orthodox_psychotherapy_d_avdeev_e.htm

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This non-Orthodox post offers practical Christian solutions for parents to extend comfort to their children after bad dreams: http://www.faithgateway.com/praying-through-bedtime-fears/#.WBDN31QrLIU

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In previous blog posts, we talked about sharing the scriptures at bedtime. Here are some suggestions of specific scripture verses that we can share with our children for them to think about instead of focusing on their fears at bedtime:

http://www.graceparenting.com/BibleVersesAboutPeacefulSleep.html

http://learnscripture.net/verse-set/5-sleep-not-sheep-bedtime-verses/

Bedtime and Other Rituals: Bedtime Prayers

“Whether you are in church, or in your house, or in the country; whether you are guarding sheep, or constructing buildings, or present at drinking parties, do not stop praying. When you are able, bend your knees, when you cannot, make intercession in your mind, ‘at evening and at morning and at midday’. If prayer precedes your work and if, when you rise from your bed, your first movements are accompanied by prayer, sin can find no entrance to attack your soul.” ~ St Ephrem the Syrian

“Pray also before your body rests on the bed.”  St. Hippolytus

As we can see from the Church fathers’ quotes (and, better yet, from their lives!) prayer is a vital part of our Orthodox Christian life. Therefore we must include prayer in all parts of our day, including at bedtime. It is so important that we model this in our own lives as well as teach it to our children. Prayers should be part of our family’s bedtime routine. They give us the opportunity to review our day, ask forgiveness for sins we have committed, renew our focus on God, entrust ourselves and our loved ones to His care while we sleep, and thank Him for his kindness and mercy through the day just finished. Bedtime prayers offer the opportunity for the soul to be at peace, and are thus a great way to begin a restful night.

The survey we conducted last summer asked participants about including prayer at bedtime. Only 4% of those surveyed answered that their family does not pray together at bedtime. Of those that do pray together at bedtime, we asked where their family gathers for prayer. Our respondents answered in this way (and evidently the location varies by night for some families):
at our icon corner 53%

  • around the dining room table 3%
  • in the children’s bedrooms 53%
  • in the living/family room 3%

8% of respondents’ families pray elsewhere than the options we gave. For example:

  • We made a chapel in our house.
  • In our own bedrooms. [We have] older children.
  • Children’s icon corners
  • Varies between the chapel or our icon corner
  • Icon corner in the child’s bedroom
  • In front of the icons in the children’s room

Even more important than WHERE the family gathers to pray is the question of WHAT do they pray? Our respondents were very kind and shared their family’s traditions of prayer, often including the prayers themselves. Here are the prayers that they pray together at bedtime (in the order in which they were received). Perhaps you will find them helpful for your own family’s bedtime prayer routine:

  • Lord’s Prayer; Heavenly King comforter; Trisagion; Other hymns from liturgy or hymns for feasts (e.g. Troparion for Pascha and Theophany)’ “God please watch over [children’s names], give them sweet dreams and a good night of sleep so they may be good listeners, helpers and learners tomorrow. God please keep [insert names of deceased] close with you in heaven. Thank you for [children offer special thanks]. Please bless [children name special intentions]. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen” (or something similar)
  • Lord’s Prayer & Jesus Prayer
  • Lord’s Prayer, and a prayer of protection, and they each tell God the answer to the questions: something they are thankful for, something they are sorry for, and something/one they want to pray for.
  • “Now I lay me,” God Blesses, prayers from the prayer book.
  • Russian Orthodox prayer book
  • We say the Lord’s Prayer and we give thanks for each individual in our house, extended family and for our deceased family members and we give thanks for the day that we just finished and pray for a good day tomorrow.
  • We pray the prescribed evening prayers from the Orthodox Prayer Book, including the child’s evening prayer.
  • “Our Father” followed by “Into thy hands O Lord we commend our souls and our bodies. Do thou thyself bless us, have mercy upon us, and grant us life eternal. Amen.”
  • In the upstairs hallway icon corner: O Heavenly King, Trisagion, “Our Father,” the Marriage Prayer (from red Antiochian prayer book), prayer for children and godchildren (from that red prayer book), and end with seasonal (eg, during Paschal season, The Angel Cried, or during Lent, prostrations with Prayer of St. Ephraim) hymn to the Theotokos. Then as laying in bed beside toddler, saying the Jesus Prayer slowly, quietly and monotone until they fall asleep.
  • Trisaigion
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • The Jesus Prayer first and then whatever comes into our hearts.
  • Usually we sing “O Gladsome Light” as me and my son light the candles in the evening time. Depending on when we get to doing that we either go about the rest of our evening and then come back to do evening prayers or we go right into evening prayers after “O Gladsome Light” which consist of the Lord’s Prayer, “Come let us Worship,” Theotokion, “Remit Pardon Forgive O God…” (I don’t know if some of these are the actual names of the prayers but more like the first line of the prayer.) Sometimes we change it a little to say different prayers but basically it is very similar. If it is a feast day I substitute one of our daily prayers for the festal troparion. I have a bad habit of making prayers too long for my 6 yr old. I have to be careful of that!
  • We say a prayer before dinner. Both kids participate 3 & 5.
  • The Lord’s Prayer and the Trisagion sometimes
  • “Our Father”; “Song to the Mother of God”
  • From a children’s prayer book, but mostly nights from memory
  • The prayers before sleep from the prayer book put out by Jordanville. We say the whole thing with all the kids all ages (teens down to baby) it only takes 20 min.
  • We sing a hymn, usually a troparion. We do whichever one we are trying to memorize. Once the kids know it well we work on a new one. We do the Jesus prayer & Lord’s prayer or Trisagion & pray for our family & friends by name. Right now we are memorizing the Creed so we do that instead of the Lord’s prayer. Our kids are young so can’t do it all due to short attention spans.
  • We use the little red prayerbook by the Antiochian archdiocese – evening prayers
  • “O Lord our God, as Thou are Good and the Lover of mankind, forgive me wherein I have sinned this day in word, deed, and thought. Grant me peaceful and undisturbed sleep and send thy guardian angel to protect and keep me from all evil. For Thou art the guardian of our souls and unto Thee do we send up glory: to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
  • Orthodox prayer book or menaion.
  • “O Angel you are truly mine, given to me by God Divine, to always be at my side and teach me what is right. I am little you are tall. I am weak, you make me strong. Never go away from me. From all danger keep me free. Amen” “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John bless this bed that I lay on. Four corners round my bed. Four angels round my head. Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Keep me safe all through the night and wake me with the morning light. Amen”
  • The “Our Father”; The Jesus prayer; The Guardian angel prayer; A prayer to the Theotokos for guidance and intervention
  • Trisagion, Lord’s prayer, ask their patron saint to pray them, then venerate icons
  • At this point, the opening Trisagion Prayers from memory
  • Personal [prayers]
  • We are recent converts from Roman Catholicism and our bedtime prayers have remained the same- the guardian angel prayer and the prayer to St Michael the Archangel
  • the beginning of the formal evening prayers up to “Our Father” and to each Saint our child is named after. We extend evening prayers using the Orthodox Prayer Book as they get older.
  • We are ROCOR, so we often do a modified (shortened) version of the Night time prayers from the Jordanville Prayer Book. But we also greatly like and admire the prayers of the Western Rite Orthodox church, so I’d say about 1/3 of the time, we pray/sing either their Vespers or Compline service.
  • The evening prayers in the “Come to Me” prayer book
  • Basic prayers from Orthodox prayer book. Occasionally shorter, occasionally add hymns from vespers: “Blessed is the man,” “Bless the Lord O my soul,” “Let God arise,” “O gentle light,” etc
  • The prayers in the back of the Orthodox Study Bible
  • Trisagion, Evening Prayers, other prayers from red prayer book, special other prayers.
  • “Our Father” followed by saying what we are grateful for that day and what good deed we did for someone else
  • We pray the Trisagion and sing “More Honorable Than The Cherubim…”, then we pray for a list of sick and suffering, a list of the dead, and finish with “In Your hands, Lord Jesus Christ our God, we commit our souls and our bodies. Forgive us, have mercy on us, and grant us life eternal. Amen.” (During Paschaltide, we sign Christ is risen three times or more to open each prayer time.)
  • from the Orthodox children’s prayer book
  • Evening prayers from the Jordanville prayer book. We read the Trisagion and Psalms in the icon corner, then complete the rest of the prayers snuggling our daughter to sleep.
  • We pray the trisagion prayers and then “O Lord our God as thou art good and a lover of mankind, forgive me wherein I have sinned today in word, deed or thought….” and then we have a prayer list (names of family and those we are praying for) that the kids take turns reading, then each member of the family says their own little prayer.
  • We have switched between eastern and western rite evening prayers.
  • We pray the trisagion, and add intercessions.
  • Typical evening prayers outlined in our prayer book.
  • The Lord’s prayer, plus individual prayers with our 3 year old daughter.
  • The Aaronic blessing from the book of Numbers
  • Trisagion prayers is about all we do with a baby and a toddler!
  • The Jesus Prayer
  • “Our Father”; Jesus Prayer
  • Trisagion- chanted, plus evening troparia – sung. Then we adjourn to the kiddo’s room, read a story, hug and snuggle, sing a song, and say the prayer “Into Thy Hands, O Lord Jesus Christ, my God, do I commend my spirit…” Then Mama goes back to the icon corner and finishes her prayers — this part has helped me not put off my own prayers till I get too sleepy.
  • Oh Heavenly King, the Trisagion
  • “Oh Heavenly King” through “Our Father”, then each night a different person says a personal prayer from the heart, then we recite a verse from the Bible that we are memorizing together that is written on a board in our icon corner.
  • At the very least the Trisagion, and sometimes the evening prayers found in the little Antiochian Prayer Book
  • small compline or bedtime prayers or prayers in preparation for holy Communion. It is easiest to share a common translation, so we found the digital text to the St. Tikhon’s “Orthodox Daily Prayers” book and have updated some of the language. We added the prayers to our private website for our family’s homeschool and use our phones/tablets for the prayers so we’re all on the same page and the rest of the lights can be kept low.
  • Lord’s Prayer; Evening prayers from a prayer book
  • The “Our Father”; Jesus loves me; Sometimes work through, over the week, the third and sixth hours. The kids (7&5) enjoy following along and then they get to say the Lord have mercy’s.
  • “Our Father”… We also recite three things we are grateful for from our day. Finally, we make special prayer requests for people we know who are sick, in need, etc.
  • Evening prayers from the little red prayer book, with family intercessions
  • We pray the “Our Father,” followed by asking God to bless our friends and family. Sometimes additional prayers. Sometimes we sing a 7th century prayer, especially when scared of bad dreams: “Before the ending of the day Creator of the world, we pray that with Thy wonted favor, Thou wouldst be our Guard and Keeper now. From all ill dreams defend our eyes, from nightly fears and fantasies: tread under foot our ghostly foe, that no pollution we may know. O Father, that we ask be done through Jesus Christ Thine only Son, who, with the Holy Ghost and Thee, shall live and reign eternally. Amen.”

As you can see, there are a myriad of prayers to pray at bedtime. Some bedtime prayers are very brief, others long: it depends on the children and what they can handle. You may have noted that some respondents told about changes that they have made in the family’s bedtime prayers as their children grow older. Each family, under the guidance of their spiritual father, needs to decide which prayers to pray together before sleep. Whatever route we choose, let us pray to the Lord, especially at bedtime.

Lord, have mercy.

Here are links related to bedtime prayers, including links to some of the prayer books mentioned by the survey participants in their comments about what prayers they pray:

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The Russian prayer book mentioned by our survey participants is available as an app on Google Play (https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Dr_John_Ellsworth_Hutchison_Hall_Daily_Prayers_for?id=5Insc_AzAkYC) or in print (https://www.amazon.com/dp/0615666205/ref=rdr_ext_tmb)

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The “Jordanville” prayer book mentioned by our survey participants offers its prayers online as well as in print. Find the prayers before bed here: http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/prayerbook/main.htm

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The Antiochian prayer book that our survey participants referred to is available online here: http://www.antiochian.org/orthodox-prayers (Find the evening prayer service here: http://www.antiochian.org/orthodox-prayers/evening-prayers.) But the printed book is such a nice size for children to handle, and it fits in a pocket or purse, so you may want to purchase it already printed: http://store.ancientfaith.com/a-pocket-prayer-book-for-orthodox-christians-vinyl-cover/

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Here is a link to one Orthodox children’s prayer book: http://store.ancientfaith.com/childrens-orthodox-prayer-book/

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Here is a (free!) printable Orthodox children’s prayer book: http://www.themccallums.org/michelle/2014/02/03/orthodox-prayer-book-for-children-2/

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Find Orthodox bedtime prayers for all ages here: http://www.orthodoxcheyenne.org/daily-prayers-for-orthodox-christians/prayers-before-sleep

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This printable booklet of prayers includes a section of evening prayers: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/family/for-families/family-activities/docs/tpg-dailyprayers.pdf

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Families with older children (who have been praying Orthodox bedtime prayers and are well acquainted with them) may find it beneficial to occasionally read and talk about the prayers that other Christian children pray. It can be helpful to our children to know what some of their friends are praying at bedtime. Talking about these prayers offers parents the opportunity to strengthen our children’s faith as we share the prayer, then affirm similarities and help our children understand the differences. Here are some of them: http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/10-popular-bedtime-prayers/

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Want some help kickstarting an evening prayer routine? Check out this blog post: http://www.theorthodoxmama.com/evening-prayers-creating-a-routine-of-prayer-in-your-home/

The Church Fathers on Prayer

We recently looked together at the Lord’s Prayer. That is such an important prayer, one of many prayers that we Orthodox Christians should pray regularly, or “without ceasing,” according to St. Paul in 1 Thess. 5:17. We all know that we should pray, and that we should do so continually. But in this busy era, how can we actually do that? What is the best way for us to pray? What should we pray for when we pray? Why is prayer so important? This week we will glimpse at the answer to those questions by studying the words of the Church Fathers. Although they were alive on earth in different time periods, all of them successfully lived Christian lives in a world that flew in the face of their faith. We can benefit from their wisdom, if we take a moment to ponder their words. May these words encourage us each to examine our own prayers. Better yet, may we apply them, begin to actually pray more, and lead our children to do so, as well!

How can we pray without ceasing?

“The other day one of our skete schema-monks came to see me. ‘I’ve fallen into despondency, Abba, since I don’t see in myself- in one who bears the exalted angelic habit- a change for the better. The Lord calls one strictly to account if he’s a monk or schema-monk only according to his clothing. But how can I change? How can I die to sin? I sense my total feebleness.’

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘we’re absolutely bankrupt, and if the Lord judges according to works, He will find nothing good in us.’

‘But is there hope for salvation then?’

‘Of course there is. Always say the Jesus Prayer, and leave everything to the will of God.’

‘But what kind of benefit can there be from this prayer if neither the mind nor the heart participates in it?’

‘Enormous benefit. Of course, this prayer has many subdivisions, from simple utterance to creative prayer. But for us, even if we were to be on the bottom step, it would be salvific. The powers of the enemy run from one who utters this prayer, and sooner or later he’ll be saved all the same.’

‘I’ve been resurrected!’ the schema-monk exclaimed. ‘I won’t be despondent anymore.’

And so I repeat: say the prayer, even if only with your lips, and the Lord will never abandon you.” Elder Barsanuphius of Optina

Peaceful, night-time prayer is of great assistance with its calmness and is also more efficacious for our spiritual development, just as the silent, night-time rain is of great benefit to growing plants.”  Saint (Elder) Paisios of the Holy Mountain Athos

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What is the best way for us to pray?

“Prayer consisting of words alone does not help if the heart does not participate in prayer. God hears only a fervent prayer. Abba Zoilus of Thebaid was once returning from Mt. Sinai and met a monk who complained to him, that they are suffering much from drought in the monastery. Zoilus said to him: ‘Why don’t you pray and implore God?’ The monk replied: ‘We have prayed and have implored, but there is no rain.’ To this, Zoilus replied: ‘It is evident that you are not praying fervently. Do you want to be convinced that it is so?’ Having said this, the elder raised his hands to heaven and prayed. Abundant rain fell to the earth. Seeing this, the astonished monk fell to the ground and bowed before the elder, but the elder, fearing the glory of men, quickly fled. The Lord Himself said: ‘Ask and it will be given you’ (St. Luke 11:9). In vain are mouths full of prayer if the heart is empty. God does not stand and listen to the mouth but to the heart. Let the heart be filled with prayer even though the mouth might be silent. God will hear and will receive the prayer. For God only listens to a fervent prayer.” – Saint Nikolai Velimirovich

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“Prayer should not depend upon our mood or good will.  If we are in a bad state, it’s because we are filled with sin.  Thus, we need to repent.  Every day, examine your conscience and repent.  Force yourself to pray regularly every day.  If you don’t want to do that, then you need to repent of that.  You must understand how necessary this is.   Know that the devil lurks and waits to destroy your soul, and that you are always in danger.  Prayer alone will give your soul the strength to resist.  In order to acquire spiritual muscles, you have to go to the spiritual gym.”  – Elder Sergei of Vanves

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“If we want to ask a favor of any person of power, we presume not to approach but with humility and respect.  How much more ought we to address ourselves to the Lord and God of all things with a humble and entire devotion?  We are not to imagine that our prayers shall be heard because we use many words, but because the heart is pure and the spirit penitent.” – St. Benedict of Nursia

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“If you wish to learn how to pray, keep your gaze fixed on the end of …prayer.  The end is adoration, contrition of the heart, love of neighbor.  It is self-evident that lustful thoughts, whisperings of slander, hatred of one’s neighbor, and similar things are opposed to it.  All this is incompatible with the work of prayer.” – The Blessed Callistus, Patriarch

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“Purity of prayer is silence from the converse of bodily thoughts, and the uninterrupted movement of the things which give delight to the soul.” – Saint Isaac of Nineveh

What should we pray for when we pray?

“Do not pray for the fulfillment of your wishes, for they may not accord with the will of God.  But pray as you have been taught, saying: ‘Thy will be done in me’ (cf. Lk 22: 42).  Always entreat Him in this way  –  that His will be done.  For He desires what is good and profitable for you, whereas you do not always ask for this.” – Evagrios the Solitary (Ponticus)

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“Let us be mutually mindful of one another, of one heart and one mind.  Let us ever pray for one another, and by mutual love lighten our burdens and difficulties.  And if one of us should, by the swiftness of divine action, depart from here first, let our love continue in the presence of the Lord.  Let not prayer for our brothers and sisters cease in the presence of the mercy of the Father.”  – St. Cyprian of Carthage

Why is prayer so important?

The first condition for the attainment of true prayer is a fervent desire to be saved and be pleasing to God, a readiness to sacrifice all for the sake of God and the salvation of one’s soul. As Bishop Theophan the Recluse states: Consider prayer to be the first and foremost duty in your life and as such keep it in your heart. Go about your prayers as to the fulfillment of your primary duty, and not as to something to be done between tasks.” http://www.antiochianarch.org.au/OrthodoxPrayer.aspx

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“Amidst the racket and ridicule of people my prayer rises toward You, O my King and my Kingdom.  
Prayer is incense that ceaselessly censes my soul and raises it toward You, and draws You toward her.  Stoop down, my King, so that I may whisper to You my most precious secret, my most secret prayer, my most prayerful desire.  You are the object of all my prayers, all my searching, I seek nothing except You, truly only You.” – Saint Nikolai (Velimirovich)

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“Oh, what great happiness and bliss, what exaltation it is to address oneself to the Eternal Father. Always, without fail, value this joy which has been accorded to you by God’s infinite grace and do not forget it during your prayers; God, the angels and God’s holy men listen to you.”  – St. John of Kronstadt