intercessory prayer

June 17, 2013

Spiritual Fathers and Spiritual Children

This prayer was performed in a convent in the Vyatka region of Russia during the winter of 2012. Every day in the evening a group of novices, lay workers, and pilgrims circled the convent in a procession. They bore icons and sang prayers to the Mother of God. The purpose of this prayer was to protect the convent from enemiesboth visible and invisible. After that, the group asked the angels and the saints to come to their aid and in the end one person read aloud the prayer for the spiritual father, the priest who serves as confessor for the convent. A fragment of this prayer is heard here: the faithful ask to strengthen their spiritual father physically and spiritually, to reveal to him the sins of his followers and to save them by his prayers.

This prayer shows the complex social relationship implied in intercession: the believers ask God to strengthen the prayers of their spiritual father, but also acknowledge that God hears them only thanks to his prayerful support.

This community of pilgrims and monastics is built around the belief that some people are marked by special gifts from God. Such a person can see other people’s sins, and the weak in faith are saved by his prayers. These spiritual gifts are freely given by God, not caused by merits of the person. The main objective of ordinary people is to find their spiritual father and to live close to him under his spiritual intercession. Regarded as a living saint, the spiritual father becomes responsible for the souls his charges and would be responsible for their sins before God. The quote from the prayer says: “My Lord, you have joined us on earth, do not separate us in Thy Heavenly Kingdom.” The connection between the spiritual father and his children continues after death.

English translation of the recorded prayer:

Save, O Lord, and have mercy on our spiritual father and forgive him all our sins, do not condemn him because of our sinful life, increase in him spiritual gifts, reveal to him all our sins, and grant him wisdom, prayer and love, and for the sake of his holy prayers forgive our sins, increase our virtues, and send down on us abundant grace. O Lord, preserve him by day and by night, overcome his corporal and incorporeal enemies, and deliver him from visible and invisible enemies, save him from flatterers and unrighteous men. Keep also his flock from sin, grant that in repentance we may come to a quiet and peaceful life and by repentance enter paradise.

O Lord, visit and encourage him, heal him from disease and grant him many years, for the sake of us sinners. O Sweetest Jesus […], sanctify our spiritual father by Thy holiness, justify him by Thy truth, protect him by Thy mercy. My Lord, you have joined us on earth, do not separate us in Thy Heavenly Kingdom. And for the sake of his holy prayers forgive us great sinners and all his spiritual children.

For Thou art good and the Lover of mankind. Amen.

March 3, 2013

Special Forum on Prayer in JSSR

In her introduction to the March 2013 issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion—which features a special forum on prayer—editor Laura R. Olson highlights the SSRC’s New Directions in the Study of Prayer project as an important stimulant of new interdisciplinary research on this topic:

JSSR March 2013Our special forum on prayer marks the first in what we hope will be a recurring series of in-depth analyses of emerging issues, theories, and methods in the scientific study of religion. The study of prayer is a growth industry in our field at the present moment. Some scholars are asking how, where, and why prayer is offered; others wonder how it affects those who pray and are prayed for. The Social Science Research Council has undertaken a broad-based project on prayer that promises to stimulate new research crossing disciplinary boundaries and drawing upon a wide range of methods. I might assert that nothing about religion could simultaneously be more personal and more collective than the practice of prayer. Shane Sharp opens the forum by exploring the question of how we react when our prayers go unanswered, basing his analysis on in-depth interviews with people who have experienced intimate partner violence. R. David Hayward and Neal Krause ask how our prayer practices change in older adulthood; they show that we do pray more, and differently, as older adults. To close the forum, Markus Schafer adapts social network theory to determine whether we become more optimistic when close friends and family members pray for us.

Access this special forum on prayer here [Note: Subscriber access is required].


February 28, 2013

Intercessory Prayer as Powerful, or Pointless?

Substituting “good thoughts” for intercessory prayer has become a common practice among friends looking for a way to comfort the sick and bereaved. I recently published a short meditation on the how and why of this new practice, and some thoughts on whether it measures up to the more old-fashioned ways of consolation:

 “To my mind, the most wince-worthy consolation our new prayer-shy world offers up is “I’ll be sending you good energy.” Pleez. If you’re a Buddhist, go for it. Otherwise, just say sorry and move on.

My usual choice isn’t a lot better. “I’ll keep you in my thoughts,” is not only wonky and weak-kneed but it makes entirely too much of me. Each time I write it, I grimace at an image of my recipients, puff-eyed with grief or chill with fear, being so startled by that little sparkler of egotism that their only honest response would: “Big whup.”

Read the rest of my post at Religion Dispatches.