Dear Parish Faithful,
Yesterday evening, we had a Service of Intercessory Prayer during which we prayed for hundreds of persons by name, and for many we included their particular need - from a terrible illness to asking God for their health and wellness. These were all of the names that those present handed in for prayer in the service. All things considered we had a good group here in the church.
The service itself was very moving, because we have to acknowledge that our prayer lists are often long chronicles of human suffering and need. We prayed for some parents and grandparents who just lost a child - as one very poignant example. This is the world as we know it, and this is a world in which God does not act as a "cosmic magician" waving away our problems upon our request, but as our Savior and Redeemer. The suffering of Christ somehow anoints our all too-human sufferings, and makes them at least potentially redemptive. For this reason, we hold up all persons before the throne of the Most Holy Trinity in our humble intercession on their behalf.
At the end of the service, I added that new and comprehensive prayer by St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain that Bp. Paul blessed for use in church. If, for some reason, you did not receive this prayer from me last week, I am attaching it again. I would highly recommend incorporating into your personal Prayer Rules as often as you would like. Following the service everyone present was anointed for the "healing of soul and body."
Prayer of St Paisios the Athonite
It was deeply encouraging this morning to bring up my early emails and find the following letter from one of our parishioners and participants in the service yesterday evening. With this person's permission I am sharing this letter with all of you:
Thank you so much for holding last night's service and for the anointing, Fr. Steven. This was the first intercessory prayer service I attended. It was a moving experience. I get so used to praying my intercessory prayers alone and sometimes it can be unintentionally mundane. When we prayed these prayers as a community, it was encouraging and comforting to know that I'm not alone and to keep walking (striving) in these prayers. Also, hearing what other people are praying for teaches me how to pray better. Someone listed prayers for our parish children to continue in the faith and for certain people to be given the gift of faith - I don't usually pray for that and I should. That person's prayer really struck a chord in me.
On a side note, I wrote a prayer for your spiritual renewal and I just wanted to share that it's part of a longer prayer that I pray for all priests and monastics (but especially for you & Mother Paula) for protection against burnout (specifically "zeal for the salvation of all, courage in leadership, and humility in service"). I just thought I should briefly explain my intent just in case. My favorite prayer for clergy is still the prayer given by St. Gregory Palamas. It's good to change it up every now and then.
Sending my sincere appreciation,
On a related note, during the Liturgy we have not been praying all the names of those persons on our prayer lists openly. Dn. Paul is willing to, of course, but I notice that we will have between 40-60 names on a given Sunday on more that one prayer list (and with some repetition of names from list to list), and I have thought perhaps this is now impractical. But I will re-examine that. Nevertheless, I am praying for all of those persons silently as I stand at the holy altar while the petitions in the Litany are being read. I also pray for those same persons when I am here in the church during the week. What I will do for the future is prepare a list of those persons from the parish together with others that I am aware of and have that ready for Dn. Paul at the beginning of the Liturgy. I also pray for those persons in the Liturgy of Preparation (Proskomedia). No one is never not prayed for!
— Fr. Steven
PS — Another parishioner sent in this reflection following our Service of Intercessory Prayer:
My own reflection on the Intercessory Service comes from a passage I had read in the biography of Fr Seraphim Rose. This is from the chapter relating the growth of Alexey Young’s little chapel in Etna California (in the ealy 1970s), and the small group of converts which grew around him and his wife Susan. Fr Seraphim finally was able to visit them and lead a Moleben service:
Excerpt from “Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works” by Hieromonk Damascene
"All the adults in the community,” he [Fr Seraphim] wrote in his Chronicle, “have suffered much.... This is a good sign for their remaining firm in Orthodoxy.” With this in mind, he once gave a talk in Etna on the Patristic teaching of pain of heart, on learning to accept trials and sorrows as precisely the path to salvation. Their suffering, he told them, was God’s visitation to them.
This reminds me of Elder Joseph the Hesychast’s Letters, in which he frequently mentions the grace acquired through “painful endurance in suffering,” which in turn reminds me of St Paisios the Athonite, who spoke and wrote so warmly of struggling with what he called “philotimo”, which is hard to precisely translate into English, but seems to be conveyed as a warm and responsive gratefulness of heart towards God and others manifested and expressed in eager practice of the virtues.
We have and have had some “blessed sufferers” in the parish, and I thought of them with some emotion as I (re)read Fr Seraphim’s remarks about suffering, and again during the prayers yesterday evening.
Glory to God for all things!