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“Thoughts and prayers” have become a frequent refrain during community crises, with people attempting to offer comfort and empathy during very traumatic events. Usually, the conversation about “thoughts and prayers” centers around three variations on a theme:
- This is a tough event for anyone to handle, and we offer our thoughts and prayers to the community dealing with this recent event;
- Never mind “thoughts and prayers”; how about actually doing something – changing policy, making donations, or taking positive action; and
- Don’t knock anyone for offering “thoughts and prayers”, because meditation and prayer are often the only things that people can offer.
On many levels, I can speak to this, since this past year has been particularly eventful in how I allow people to comfort me. Even despite some potential burnout and “compassion fatigue”, I think I can provide some perspective that might clarify things…if only for my friends and colleagues.
As I’ve stated before in this blog, my mother had been hospitalized in late February due to a foot infection. During the health crisis (and resulting rehabilitation), many of my friends offered to keep me in their “thoughts and prayers.” I found it extremely comforting…after all, knowing people were pulling for me to succeed. Yet, “thoughts and prayers” were often used in a wide variety of situations. So since I’ve been looking for freelance work while caregiving, people would keep me in their “thoughts and prayers”…
…but many of those people were in positions to offer me potential leads. Some offered unsolicited, inappropriate feedback and advice (like telling me not to send my mother to a skilled nursing facility to rehab because of the odor), others provided what sounded like assistance but felt defeatist (like telling me to consider receiving training to become a paid caregiver for Mom; I’ve investigated and it’s not workable). Worse, many of my colleagues offer “thoughts and prayers” as a casual afterthought like saying “bless you” after someone sneezes. Rather than find comfort, it sounds like an excuse…and becomes increasingly annoying.
In light of recent events such as storms in Houston and Puerto Rico, the riots in Charlottesville, and the latest shooting…” thoughts and prayers” have been an easy excuse to avoid action and drive social change. And that’s the problem.
We live in very challenging times, and many people find comfort in pursuits like meditation and contemplation. (And yes, I am including atheists as well as more religious people). For many of us, the importance of being kind to each other has diminished in recent months, and that lack of kindness takes its toll psychologically and spiritually. When I take inventory of my actions over recent months, some of my behavior embarrasses me…but I also know that my own “thoughts and prayers” towards others won’t matter unless I change my behavior. Otherwise, I am only making an empty promise and never have to make positive changes. (Although I must admit that I have to laugh at myself in order to stay grounded.)
We all can’t donate to causes, but we can support. We can contact our legislators when key bills are being considered on the state and federal. We can provide support to our colleagues at marches and events. Because no matter what your particular political stance, positive action always take precedence over “thoughts and prayers.”
Please share your thoughts via our Facebook page or in the comments section below. If you want to contact me privately, you can find that information via this blog’s About page.
And as always, thanks for reading!
PRAYERS BEFORE COMMUNION
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee.
O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere and fillest all things, Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.
- Psalm 23
The Lord is my Shepherd, and will deny me nothing.
He has settled me in a green pasture, and nourished me beside refreshing water.
He has converted my soul, and led me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.
For even though I walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff they guide me.
Thou hast prepared a table before me in the face of those who trouble me.
Thou hast anointed my head with oil; and Thy chalice comfort me!
Thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord throughout the length of my days.
- First Prayer of St. Basil the Great
O Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ our God, source of life and immortality, Who art the Author of all creation, visible and invisible, the equally everlasting and co-eternal Son of the eternal Father, Who through the excess of Thy goodness didst in the last days assume our flesh and wast crucified for us, ungrateful and ignorant as we were, and didst cause through Thy own Blood the restoration of our nature which had been marred by sin: O immortal King, accept the repentance even of me a sinner, and incline Thine ear to me and hear my words. For I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee, and I am not worthy to gaze on the height of Thy glory; for I have provoked Thy goodness by transgressing Thy commandments and not obeying Thy orders. But thou, O Lord, in Thy forbearance, patience, and great mercy, hast not given me up to be destroyed with my sins, but Thou awaitest my complete conversion. For Thou, O Lover of men, hast said through Thy Prophet that Thou desirest not the death of the sinner, but that he should return to Thee and live. For Thou dost not will, O Lord, that the work of Thy hands should be destroyed, neither dost Thou delight in the destruction of men, but Thou desirest that all should be saved and come to a knowledge of the Truth. Therefore, though I am unworthy both of heaven and earth, and even of this transient life, since I have completely succumbed to sin and am a slave to pleasure and have defaced Thy image, yet being Thy work and creation, wretch that I am, even I do not despair of my salvation and dare to draw near to Thy boundless compassion. So receive even me, O Christ Lover of men, as the harlot, as the thief, as the publican, and as the prodigal; and take from me the heavy burden of my sins, Thou Who takest away the sin of the world, Who healest men’s sicknesses, Who callest the weary and heavy laden to Thyself and givest them rest; for Thou camest not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. And purify me from all defilement of flesh and spirit. Teach me to achieve perfect holiness in the fear of Thee, that with the clear witness of my conscience I may receive the portion of Thy holy Things and be united with Thy holy Body and Blood, and have Thee dwelling and remaining in me with the Father and Thy Holy Spirit. And, O Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not the communion of Thy immaculate and life-giving Mysteries be to me for condemnation nor let it make me sick in body or soul through my partaking of them unworthily; but grant me till my last breath to receive without condemnation the portion of Thy holy Things, for communion with the Holy Spirit, as a provision for eternal life, and as an acceptable defense at Thy dread tribunal, so that I too with all Thy elect may become a partaker of Thy pure joys which Thou hast prepared for those who love Thee, O Lord, in whom Thou art glorified throughout the ages. Amen.
- First Prayer of St. John Chrysostom
O Lord my God, I know that I am not worthy or sufficient that Thou shouldest come under the roof of the house of my soul, for all is desolate and fallen, and Thou hast not with me a place fit to lay Thy head. But as from the highest heaven Thou didst humble Thyself for our sake, so now conform Thyself to my humility. And as Thou didst consent to lie in a cave and in a manger of dumb beasts, so also consent to lie in the manger of my unspiritual soul and to enter my defiled body. And as Thou didst not disdain to enter and dine with sinners in the house of Simon the Leper, so consent also to enter the house of my humble soul which is leprous and sinful. And as Thou didst not reject the woman, who was a harlot and a sinner like me, when she approached and touched Thee, so also be compassionate with me, a sinner, as I approach and touch Thee, and let the live coal of Thy most holy Body and precious Blood be for the sanctification and enlightenment and strengthening of my humble soul and body, for a relief from the burden of my many sins, for a protection from all diabolical practices, for a restraint and a check on my evil and wicked way of life, for the mortification of passions, for the keeping of Thy commandments, for an increase of Thy divine grace, and for the advancement of Thy Kingdom. For it is not insolently that I draw near to Thee, O Christ my God, but as taking courage from Thy unspeakable goodness, and that I may not by long abstaining from Thy communion become a prey to the spiritual wolf. Therefore, I pray Thee, O Lord, Who alone art holy, sanctify my soul and body, my mind and heart, my emotions and affections, and wholly renew me. Root the fear of Thee in my members, and make Thy sanctification indelible in me. Be also my helper and defender, guide my life in peace, and make me worthy to stand on Thy right hand with Thy Saints: through the prayers and intercessions of Thy immaculate Mother, of Thy ministering Angels, of the immaculate Powers and of all the Saints who have ever been pleasing to Thee. Amen.
- Prayer of St. Symeon the Translator
O only pure and sinless Lord, Who through the ineffable compassion of Thy love for men didst assume our whole nature through the pure and virgin blood of her who supernaturally conceived Thee by the coming of the Divine Spirit and by the will of the Eternal Father; O Christ Jesus, Wisdom and Peace and Power of God, Who in Thy assumption of our nature didst suffer Thy life-giving and saving Passion – the Cross, the Nails, the Spear, and Death – mortify all the deadly passions of my body. Thou Who in Thy burial didst spoil the dominions of hell, bury with good thoughts my evil schemes and scatter the spirits of wickedness. Thou Who by Thy life-giving Resurrection on the third day didst raise up our fallen first Parent, raise me up who am sunk in sin and suggest to me ways of repentance. Thou Who by Thy glorious Ascension didst deify our nature which Thou hadst assumed and didst honor it by Thy session at the right hand of the Father, make me worthy by partaking of Thy holy Mysteries of a place at Thy right hand among those who are saved. Thou Who by the descent of the Spirit, the Paraclete, didst make Thy holy Disciples worthy vessels, make me also a recipient of His coming. Thou Who art to come again to judge the World with justice, grant me also to meet Thee on the clouds, my Maker and Creator, with all Thy Saints, that I may unendingly glorify and praise Thee with Thy Eternal Father and Thy all-holy and good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
- First Prayer of St. John Damascene
O Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ our God, Who alone hast authority to forgive men their sins, overlook in Thy goodness and love for men all my offences whether committed with knowledge or in ignorance, and make me worthy to receive without condemnation Thy divine, glorious, spotless, and life-giving Mysteries, not for punishment, nor for an increase of sins, but for purification and sanctification and as a pledge of the life and kingdom to come, as a protection and help, and for the destruction of enemies, and for the blotting out of my many transgressions. For Thou art a God of mercy and compassion and love for men, and to Thee we send up the glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
- Second Prayer of St. Basil the Great
I know, O Lord, that I partake of Thy immaculate Body and precious Blood unworthily, and that I am guilty, and eat and drink judgment to myself by not discerning the Body and Blood of Thee my Christ and God. But taking courage from Thy compassion I approach Thee, for Thou hast said: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My Blood abides in Me and I in him.” Therefore have compassion, O Lord, and do not make an example of me, a sinner, but deal with me according to Thy mercy; and let these Holy Things be for my healing and purification and enlightenment and protection and salvation and sanctification of body and soul, for the turning away of every phantasy and all evil practice and diabolical activity working subconsciously in my members, for confidence and love towards Thee, for reformation of life and security, for an increase of virtue and perfection, for fulfillment of the commandments, for communion with the Holy Spirit, as a provision for eternal life, and as an acceptable defense at Thy dread Tribunal, not for judgment or for condemnation.
- Second Prayer of St. John Chrysostom
I am not worthy, O Lord and Master, that Thou shouldest enter under the roof of my soul; but since Thou in Thy love for men dost will to dwell in me, I take courage and approach. Thou commandest: I will open wide the doors which Thou alone didst create, that Thou mayest enter with love as is Thy nature, enter and enlighten my darkened thought. I believe that Thou wilt do this, for Thou didst not banish the Harlot who approached Thee with tears, nor didst Thou reject the Publican who repented, nor didst Thou drive away the Thief who acknowledged Thy Kingdom, nor didst Thou leave the repentant persecutor (Paul) to himself; but all who had been brought to Thee by repentance Thou didst set in the company of Thy friends, O Thou Who alone art blessed always, now and to endless ages. Amen.
- Third Prayer of St. John Chrysostom
Lord Jesus Christ my God, remit, forgive, absolve and pardon the sins, offences and transgressions which I, Thy sinful, useless and unworthy servant have committed from my youth, up to the present day and hour, whether with knowledge or in ignorance, whether by words or deeds or intentions or thoughts, and whether by habit or through any of my senses. And through the intercession of her who conceived Thee without seed, the immaculate and ever-Virgin Mary Thy Mother, my only sure hope and protection and salvation, make me worthy without condemnation to receive Thy pure, immortal, life-giving and dread Mysteries, for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life, for sanctification and enlightenment and strength and healing and health of soul and body, and for the blotting out and complete destruction of my evil reasonings and intentions and prejudices and nocturnal fantasies of dark evil spirits. For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory and the honour and the worship, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
- Second Prayer of St. John Damascene
I stand before the doors of Thy sanctuary, yet I do not put away my terrible thoughts. But O Christ our God, Who didst justify the Publican, and have mercy on the Canaanite woman, and didst open the gates of Paradise to the Thief, open to me the depths of Thy love for men, and as I approach and touch Thee, receive me like the Harlot and the woman with an issue of blood. For the one received healing easily by touching the hem of Thy garment, and the other by clasping Thy sacred feet obtained release from her sins. And I, in my pitiableness, dare to receive Thy whole Body. Let me not be burnt, but receive me even as these; enlighten the senses of my soul, and burn the stains of my sins: through the intercessions of her who bore Thee without seed, and of the Heavenly Powers, for Thou art blessed to the ages of ages. Amen.
- Fourth Prayer of St. John Chrysostom
I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief. And I believe that this is Thy pure Body and Thy own precious Blood. Therefore, I pray Thee, have mercy on me and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And grant that I may partake of Thy Holy Mysteries without condemnation, for the remission of sins and for life eternal. Amen.
PRAYERS AFTER COMMUNION
I thank Thee, O Lord my God, for that Thou hast not rejected me, a sinner, but hast suffered me to be a partaker of Thy holy things. I thank Thee that, unworthy as I am, Thou hast enabled me to receive of Thy most pure and heavenly gifts. And yet moreover I beseech Thee, O Lord and Lover of mankind, who for our sakes didst die and rise again, and hast provided us these dread and life-giving mysteries unto the benefit and hallowing of soul and body, and the driving out of every adversary; for the enlightening of the eyes of my understanding, and peace for the powers of my soul; for faith unashamed, and love without dissimulation; for the fullness of wisdom, and the keeping of Thy commandments; for the increase of Thy divine grace, and an inheritance in Thy Kingdom, that preserved by them in Thy holiness I may be ever mindful of Thy grace, and not henceforth live unto myself but unto Thee, our bountiful Lord.
And when I have departed this life in the hope of life everlasting, vouchsafe that I may enter into eternal rest, where the voice of them that flourish is unceasing, and the delight of them that behold the unsearchable beauty of Thy countenance knoweth no bounds. For Thou art the true desire and the ineffable joy of them that love Thee, O Christ our God, all creation doth sing Thy praise, for ever and ever. Amen.
- Prayer of St. Basil the Great
Lord Christ our God, King of the ages and Creator of all, I thank Thee for all the blessings Thou hast granted me and for the communion of Thy pure and life-giving Mysteries. I pray Thee, therefore, gracious Lord and Lover of mankind, guard me under Thy protection and within the shadow of Thy wings; and grant me with a clear conscience till my last breath worthily to partake of Thy sacred Gifts for forgiveness of sins and for life eternal. For Thou art the Bread of Life, the Source of Holiness, the Giver of all that is good, and to Thee we send up glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
- Prayer of St. Symeon the Translator
O Thou Who givest me willingly Thy Flesh for food, Thou Who art fire, and burnest the unworthy, scorch me not, O my Maker, but rather pass through me for the integration of my members, into all my joints, my affections, and my heart. Burn up the thorns of all my sins. Purify my soul, sanctify my mind; strengthen my knees and bones; Enlighten the simplicity of my five senses. Nail down the whole of me with Thy fear. Ever protect, guard, and keep me from every soul destroying word and act. Sanctify, purify, attune, and rule me. Adorn me, give me understanding, and enlighten me. Make me the temple of Thy Spirit alone, and no longer a habitation of sin: that having become Thy house by receiving Holy Communion, every evil spirit and passion may flee from me like fire. I bring to Thee as intercessors all the saints, the ranks of the Heavenly Hosts, Thy Forerunner, the wise Apostles, and Thy pure and immaculate Mother. Receive their prayers, my compassionate Christ. And make Thy slave a child of light. For Thou alone art our salvation, O Good One, and the radiance of our souls, and to Thee as our Lord and God as is right we all give glory day and night.
- Another Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ our God, may Thy sacred body be for me unto life everlasting, and Thy precious blood unto remission of sins. May this Eucharist be for me unto joy, health and gladness. And at Thy dread second coming, account me, a sinner, worthy to stand on the right hand of Thy glory: By the prayers of Thy most holy Mother, and of all the saints.
- A Prayer to the Virgin Mary
Most holy Mother of God, who are the light of my darkened soul; my hope, my refuge and shelter; my comfort and my joy: I give Thee thanks for that Thou hast suffered me, unworthy as I am, to be a partaker of the pure Body and precious Blood of Thy Son. Do Thou who didst bring forth the true light, enlighten the eyes of my understanding. Thou that gavest birth to the fountain of immortality, quicken me who am slain by sin. Thou who art all compassionate, O Mother of the merciful God, have mercy upon me, and bestow on me the spirit of remorse and a contrite heart. Give me lowliness of mind. Loose my captive thoughts. And vouchsafe that even unto my last breath I may without condemnation receive the hallowing of the most pure Sacrament unto the healing of soul and body. And grant me the grace of repentance and confession that I may praise and glorify Thee all the days of my life. For blessed art Thou and all glorious for ever and ever. Amen.
- The Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist
To pray for someone else means that, because of the good disposition of our heart towards him, we help him to resist the negative thoughts that he may have, and not without cause, about us. On the contrary, not to pray for someone else means that we justify by our lack of love the negative thoughts he may have against us. Let us preserve unity in prayer around Christ’s chalice, and we will see that it is easy to love.
The Elder Sophrony
Generally speaking, our minds experience a torrent of thoughts. Finding the means to quiet the mind, to allow the mind to be united to the heart, is quite difficult. The Fathers have much to say on that matter – far more than I can begin to offer in such a setting as this. But the torrent of thoughts that flow within us are of little to no use in the spiritual life. They are a distraction and frequently have the character of sin.
On Wednesday morning of this week I took part in a Synodal Liturgy – a celebration of the Eucharist in which the entire Holy Synod of Bishops was present. There were people gathered from many places. The Cathedral in Dallas was crowded. The Cathedral was not only crowded, but the very altar and appended sacristies were overflowing with Bishops and priests. A full Hierarchical Liturgy, particularly with so many Bishops present, is a long, complicated service (even by Orthodox standards). The distractions which attend such a gathering are beyond number.
There are priests to look at and judge, bishops to look at and judge, people in various distracted states to be looked at and judged, and all of that is only if you have managed to keep the torrent of thoughts within the confines of the Church’s walls. Of course, what I have described would be sin. We are to judge no one. But the temptation is ever present.
I found myself reaching for my prayer rope and struggling to bring my mind back to the Jesus Prayer – to offer up the prayer for others. As a priest, I also followed the service in my prayer book (something priests are always to do) and sought to bring my heart to the words and keep them there.
I saw a man in the service whose heart was visibly present to the words of the service and to God. I felt an inward rebuke – a recognition of how scattered and disordered is my own interior life – and I prayed that God would keep him ever in such prayer for the rest of us.
Elder Sophrony’s words a very simple – we should pray and seek to avoid negative thoughts about others. Of course, there is much more to be said about our corporate prayer life. But the elder offers a simple beginning. Seek to pray and do not judge others. I share my experience from this week only to say this is not an easy thing. But I take the holy elder at his word. Strive to preserve unity in prayer around the chalice of Christ and we will see that it is easy to love.
It is good to remember, that in the chalice is not only the Body and Blood of Christ, but also the body of Christ, the Church. The one whom I have judged earlier is presented to me for communion. The approach to the Holy Cup is never an invitation to a “me and Jesus” event. It is a true participation in the fullness of the Body of Christ – a participation in Christ which is always a participation of all who are in Him.
O wondrous cup! O treacherous heart of mine! May God have mercy on us and bring us to know His perfect love.