Our Need of Prayer
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
In today’s Gospel story we hear about how Jesus performs the miracle of feeding the 5000 with only five loaves and two fish. Following that miracle, Scripture says “Jesus dismissed the crowds and then went up into the hills by himself to pray” It’s a phrase that can easily be lost in the midst of the major events of the Gospel. Think about this. Jesus performs an incredible miracle by feeding 5000 people with five loaves and two fish. Then he sends his disciples into their boat and tells them to cross Lake Galilee where we will hear another amazing miracle - Jesus walking on the water. Something totally unbelievable. Of course, I could focus my sermon on either of these two stories and highlight how they reveal the divine essence of Christ. Jesus feeds 5000 with five loaves and then shows his control over nature, over a storm, over the waves and the wind, walking on water! Jesus is God Almighty.
Yet I want to focus on the little verse between Jesus dismissing the crowd of 5000 and him walking on water. Scripture says, “Jesus goes up into the hills by Himself to pray.” Why does Jesus need to pray? Maybe His human nature needs to replenish Himself from all the demands of the crowds, for all the temptations He faces, and He needs to renew Himself and remind Himself of His Divine Mission. Do you remember when Jesus was in the desert for 40 days right after His baptism and right before He began His public ministry, He spent 40 days fasting and praying. And during that time He was tempted by the devil – tempted to give the masses what they wanted so that they would adore Him, tempted to become a miracle worker and amaze the crowds so that they would believe, tempted to worship Satan and in that way attain ultimate worldly power. After those 40 days, Scripture says, “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from Jesus until an opportune time.” He would keep tempting Jesus.
So, our Lord was tempted throughout His ministry. Maybe this is the reason why He would go up a mountain and spend a night in prayer. We see this again and again throughout His life. For example, yesterday we celebrated one of the great feasts in the life of Christ – the Transfiguration of our Lord. In that instance, we see how Jesus again climbed a mountain to pray all night. In this case, he took with him Peter, James and John and they spent a night in prayer. In the middle of the night, however, in the midst of His prayers Jesus radiates the Divine Light. The uncreated Light shines from Jesus. Peter and the other disciples can’t even look at Him because His appearance is brighter than the sun. Christ reveals His Divine Identity to His followers. Remember how we say every week, in the Nicene Creed of Faith, “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is… “Light of Light, and true God of true God.” Well here, Christ reveals this Divine, uncreated Light at His Transfiguration.
So we have three different and astounding miracles over the next two weeks - the Transfiguration, the Feeding of the 5000, and Jesus walking on water - all three miracles reveal how Jesus of Nazareth is not simply a prophet, he is not simply a wise teacher, He is not simply a special rabbi, He is not simply one of the greatest human beings who has ever lived. Jesus Christ is nothing less than God Himself, God who became a human being and lived among us to show everyone what true humanity is all about, as well as to reveal to us in the most clear manner who God is – a God of sacrificial love, of compassionate mercy, of kindness and goodness, a God who shows loves to every sinner and desires all people to be saved.
So, I could focus today solely on this aspect of Christ’s divinity and affirm who He is for all of us. But instead, I want to focus on the simple and unassuming verse we heard in today’s Gospel, as well as at our Lord’s Transfiguration. Jesus went up a mountain to spend a night in prayer.
How many of us have ever spent a night in prayer? If any of you have every slept at a monastery, there’s a good chance you woke up at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning to join the monastic prayers. I remember my visits to monasteries on Mount Athos, as well as when I visited St. Anthony’s monastery in Arizona or St Nektarios in Roscoe NY or other monasteries. The monks wake up at 2:00am to begin their prayers until sunrise. Well, the monastics are simply imitating what Christ did in His life – spending nights in prayer.
Think about that. How many of us take prayer this seriously in our lives? I know we all pray. Maybe we say a prayer before meals. Hopefully we say a prayer when we wake up, or before we go to sleep. But how many of us take prayer as seriously as Christ did? As seriously as the monks and nuns do?
We must remember that PRAYER is the primary ways we CONNECT with God. It’s not simply fulfilling some religious duty by saying words in a mechanical way. Prayer is a deep connection with God, communicating with Him in our most intimate relationship.
This is why St. Gregory the Theologian says, “Remember God in prayer more often than you breath.”
The great theologian George Florovsky says, “The goal of prayer is precisely to be with God always.”
The greatest purpose of prayer is to dwell in the presence of God and abide in His love. Through prayer we talk with God and we listen to Him. We converse with the One who loves us more than we can ever imagine, for He is the Source of Love. Few experiences can equal prayer in the way it fills us with strength, peace, and joy. Through prayer we can rise above any challenge and every problem we face.
As human beings created in God’s image and likeness, we are created for prayer just as we are created to think and to speak. We humans are not best defined as logical or tool-making mammals; we are best defined as people who can connect with our Creator through prayer, people who can turn to the Almighty God in worship, praise, thanksgiving, confession, petition and intercession. These are the many forms of prayer we offer the Lord.
This is why Saint Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing.” Metropolitan Kallistos Ware goes on to challenge us by saying, “learn to be with God always in prayer, to make our prayer not just an occasional activity but a continual undertaking; not to pray from time to time but to make prayer a part of who we are all the time. For this is what the world around us needs – not people who pray occasionally, but people who are at each moment a living flame of prayer.”
It’s easy to call out to God in prayer, but it’s not so easy to be disciplined and serious about prayer. We get so easily distracted. We get sidetracked by our cares and worries, as well as by all the superficial things of life. Why do we get distracted so easily? Because the last thing the devil wants is for us to connect with God. As soon as we try to pray, as soon as we stand before an icon and make our cross, a hundred things will cross our mind to pull our attention away. That’s not by chance. That’s the attack of the evil one trying to divert our attention away from God.
So try to make a serious commitment to pray. Come and see me and we can help you develop a prayer rule, a discipline you commit to doing every day. Remember, Just as a child learns to walk by walking, one can best learn to pray by praying more and more.
Let’s all be careful and vigilant in our prayers. Be sober and serious. Be disciplined and deliberate. And let’s remember how Jesus went up into the hills and prayed all night. He set an example for us to imitate. May we daily try to imitate Him and intimately connect with our Lord through our prayers!