So, I helped run something called “Hunger Strike”. It’s an Orthodox youth program which lasts for 30 hours. We fast, teach them about 3rd world countries, teach them about their faith, and basically bring the kids into the reality of how good we have it here. It raises money for OCMC (the Orthodox Christian Mission Center) who then uses the money to do good (this year it was to raise money to send to do things for people in Tanzania and Kenya). I was a counselor/the disciplinarian and the right hand/note card reader of the woman who started the project. As a result, it was a busy, fun and rewarding weekend. The kids raised money for a good cause, collected food for a shelter, and generally learned a lot. I was asked to give the talk on prayer and people have been requesting it since so I told people I’d post it here. If you want to use it for something, please just talk to me.
The name of this activity is “The Fire of Prayer”. One of my favorite quotes is “Go forth and set the world aflame”. It was said by a man who was deeply inspired by the Bible and had a personal relationship with God, a Catholic saint by the name of St. Ignatius of Loyola. This quote was the inspiration for the activity that you are about to do. This entire weekend is devoted to reaching out and changing the world through your own actions and that is exactly what St. Ignatius meant. Jesus said, “I have come to cast fire upon the Earth”. This fire is the Holy Spirit, which appeared as a flame above the heads of the apostles on the day of Pentecost, empowering them to preach the Gospel and change the world. You can do the same. Go out and teach the world about God’s love through your actions. Change what needs changing. Be passionate about your faith and about helping others. Share your passion with the world.
And what better symbol for passion than fire? Moses’ encounter with God in the form of the burning bush changed the history of the world, giving him a passion to free the people of Israel from slavery and to seek the Promised Land, regardless of the daunting odds. Firefighters often speak of flame as “living fire”. By it’s very nature, fire is change. It is always moving, changing, sparking and setting other things aflame. By being here today, you are acting as the spark. You will help to ignite change. By raising money for those less fortunate than yourself, you are changing the lives of those who will receive your gift. By being here and learning about third world statistics, you will change how you see the world. You are living out the Christian ideal by giving to those in need. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about how when you give to those less fortunate than yourself, you are doing a truly Christian thing, something that helps your relationship with the people around you as well as with God. In Matthew, chapter 25, verse 40, He says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” What makes you a truly righteous person is giving to those in need. By being here, you show that you have a passion for sharing with those who are less fortunate than yourself and want to explore your relationship with the Lord.
Beyond symbolizing passion, fire is also used in our church. We light both candles and incense for multiple reasons. In the time of the Roman Empire, candles were used in the official ceremonies for its highest dignitaries. The use of candles showed that the dignitary was given authority and that the people who employed them were important. When we process with the Gospel or Holy Communion on Sundays, the candles show how important the Gospel of Christ or the Holy Gifts are, as well as that they are imbued with the power of God. Traditionally, candles are also a sign of joy and a symbol of Christ. This is why many families bring the light of the Pascha candle home on Easter. It shows that Jesus, the Risen Lord, is present in that home and in the hearts of the family members. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life”. Incense, like candles, has many different meanings and is used for a variety of reasons. As early as the book of Exodus, God commands Aaron, the brother of Moses, to burn incense on a special altar in the Temple, something that was also done with animal sacrifice. As a result, the burning incense became a symbol of God’s presence and of sacrifice. On Sundays, when the priest censes the church at the beginning of liturgy, he is making the presence of God known to all who are there. When he censes the Holy Gifts, it reminds us of the sacrifice Jesus made and of our bloodless sacrifice that we offer every Sunday. When the priest censes the clergy and the laity, those who are not ordained, it symbolizes the rising up of our prayers in the presence of God.
Prayer, incense, and candles are all things that help us connect to God. While incense and candles are physical representations of our connection, prayer is the way we spiritually connect. Prayer does not need to be done by rote, it can be personal as well, and in fact, you should have a combination of the two in your daily life. Many people start with a personal prayer and finish with one that they have been taught. This is because spontaneous prayer is as valid as the “Our Father” or the “Jesus Prayer” because it comes from your heart. The goal of prayer is to speak to God about the good, the bad and everything in-between. Ask Him for help, give Him praise, share your hopes and dreams through prayer. You can have no better friend than God.
During this activity, you need to silently focus on the presence of God in your life and in the lives of others. Use this time to become closer to God and work towards that personal relationship with Him. Think about the child on your passport. What do they need? What do you wish for them? What is your prayer for their lives? You have been given a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Go off on your own and find a place where you can really focus and pray. When you have decided on your prayer for your child, write it down in one to two sentences and continue praying until the time is done. When we gather you back again, one by one, you will go up and read your prayer for your child. When you have finished reading your prayer, place it into the fire, allowing it to rise up in the presence of God and give the next person a chance to share their prayer. Together, we will do as it says in Psalms chapter 141, verse 2, “Let my prayer be set before you like incense; the lifting up of my hands like the evening sacrifice.”