Far too often man seeks God in prayer merely to improve his future standing with the kingdom of heaven or in the present kingdom of man. Recognizing his own sins, man seeks forgiveness from God in order to regain God’s favor. Continually afflicted as he is by the wretchedness in others, man seeks God’s help in their conversion. Forever hoping to ease his burdens in this world, man seeks God’s intervention to improve his fortune in times of need.
While is not unexpected that man would pray in this fashion since he tends to pray from a position of self-interest and immediacy, the prayers of a true believer arise from a different place altogether. Since the true believer knows that he was created out of pure love, is sustained by pure mercy, and continually called to return to union with God, he understands that his prayer must spirate from the linguistic depth of silence and the full sight of blindness.
In other words, the true believer knows that prayer itself is derived from having been made in the image and likeness of God. He also knows that the act of praying intimately increases the union between his own body, soul and spirit with the Uncreated Creator that is the all-Holy Trinity.
When, therefore, the true believer seeks that dark, cool place of solitude – away from the madness of the desert of the kingdom of man – he is, in the first place, not only rejecting the notion that he is merely the sum total of his physical creation, but also confirming and renewing his belief that he was made in the image and likeness of God.
A person who asserts himself as an individual, and shuts himself up in the limits of his particular nature, far from realizing himself fully, becomes impoverished. It is only in renouncing its own possession and giving itself freely, in ceasing to exist for itself that the person finds full expression in the one nature common to all. In giving up its own special good, it expands infinitely, and is enriched by everything which belongs to all. The person becomes the perfect image of God by acquiring that likeness which is the perfection of the nature common to all men. The distinction between persons and nature reproduces the order of the divine life expressed by the doctrine of the Trinity, in mankind (Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 123).
While it is always acceptable – and fairly common – to describe the image of God in man as creative because man cooperates in creation through procreation; monarchical because man rules the earth under the sovereignty of Christ; and free because man has self-determination; the fact is that the image of God in man is not merely known in these characteristics. Man is made in the image of God in so far as his likeness resembles the union of humanity and divinity in Christ. In personal prayer, he discovers on his own that divinity is the inheritance of human existence.
In the second place, when the true believer prays he is confirming and renewing his desire for union with God both externally and internally.
[F]or man God is not an external ‘principle’…on which man depends, but truly and in reality his ontological origin…and consummation. Having been made in the image of God, man has a theological structure. And to be a true man he must at every moment exist and live theocentrically. When he denies God he denies himself and destroys himself. When he lives theocentically he realizes himself by reaching out into infinity; he attains his true fulfillment by extending into eternity” (Panayiotis Nellas, Deification in Christ: The Nature of the Human Person, p. 42).
Believing full well that God is woven into the very fabric of his being — and finding the proof of such in the union of humanity and divinity in Christ — the true believer becomes all-the-more grounded in this kingdom of man while continually experiencing the pull toward his home in the kingdom of heaven.
Therefore, prayer is not only a proof that we were made in the image of God, but also is the means by which our humanity grows in likeness to His divinity. In prayer we do not merely see and hear what is possible, we experience it. And as we grow beyond the pettiness of the words of our immediate needs, we begin to truly open ourselves into the eternity of God.
For those among us who cannot conceive of such great things, it would be easy to say all they have to do is to have faith that, at the very least, a loving God wishes to impart upon them the hope of the time to come. It would be easy to tell these lost sheep that their lives — which are either tedious and boring or sweeping and dramatic — were made for God and that they, as His creation, are so spectacularly loveable that He desires their return to Him. But we know this is the most difficult of things.
So when we pray — when we truly seek to communicate with God as a means of building union with Him — we are not only opening ourselves to the Divine implantation of God’s words and actions in us, but also we are giving our minds and hearts back to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who uses us to that others may come to know Him. And why shouldn’t this be? Since Christ came to give us a share in the divine life, we too must follow His path as priests, prophets and kings in our day; walking with the Holy Spirit like the apostles walked with Jesus 2,000 years ago.
So, pray. But remember that it is far more than a time to recount the sins God already knows you committed. It is far more than a chance to tell God your side of the story. And it is certainly far more than a list of requests. Personal prayer is a divine gift of communication that reminds us we are made in the image and likeness of God. It is a divine gift that allows us to participate in the divine Being. It is a divine gift that allows us to commune with God in the kingdom of man as we await the coming of the kingdom of heaven.