In the same way that Eucharist is the conjoining of the past, present and future, personal prayer is a present participation in the time to come. It is a glimpse of the Eschaton and an entry into the kingdom which has been inaugurated but not yet consummated.
Prayer unfolds in time, but essentially it transcends time. That saintly people ‘lose a sense of time’ while praying is not merely the psychological result of an intense concentration: what really happens is a transfer into eternity. Prayer is made ‘through Christ’. Yet the time of Jesus is not simply one of earthly duration; he guides time to its fulfillment and entirely governs it. The time of prayer is in itself sacred by the mere fact that it belongs to ‘the age to come’. It tends no less towards the fullness to come and is directed toward the Day of the Lord (Tomáš Špidlík, SJ, PRAYER: The Spirituality of the Christian East, Volume 2, p. 109).
The fact that prayer transcends time and belongs to the age to come or directs us toward the day of the Lord and transfers us into eternity is not something that we cause or have to work at creating. This is what prayer is because this is what God does to prayer. In general, God created all things to participate in Him, in His divinity, in His holiness and prayer is certainly no exception. But more than that, prayer holds a special place among the Divine things precisely because God gave it to us as the means of communicating with Him, or rather, as the process by which we attain a vision of the kingdom of God during our earthly existence.
The exalted place of prayer as a human foretaste of the kingdom of heaven was precisely what happened during Pentecost.
[T]hey were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them (Acts of the Apostles 2:1-3).
In fact, this comingled reality of the divine and the human that the Apostles experienced is what is offered to us when we either gather together in liturgical prayer or when we seek God in personal prayer.
Our joy, therefore, ought to be the preservation and the promotion of communal and personal prayer. We do this by desiring to pray and seeking to better understand prayer; by practicing prayer with greater care, consistency and depth; and by allowing prayer — which is the encounter with God — to lead us away from an obsession with the things of man.
Our job, then, is to reorient our lives by engaging in kind of human kenosis (a transliterated Greek word that essentially means ‘self-emptying’). In other words, in Philippians 2:5-8 it is said that Jesus, as God, “emptied Himself” in order to become man. In the reverse of what He did, we humans can do more to shed the unnecessary aspects of the human will — which are so drastically conditioned by the modern kingdom of man — in order to become increasingly receptive to the will of God.
We can do this by relying on the penitential eschatology natural to prayer.
The expected Bridegroom is also Judge. Thus, to the exalted remembrance of the Lord is added a reminder of ourselves, of our past, which is merged with that of the world. A highly vivid awareness of sin is deeply embedded in liturgical piety. This untiringly reminds each one of us of our unworthiness and insists on the need for repentance (Tomáš Špidlík, SJ, PRAYER: The Spirituality of the Christian East, Volume 2, p. 109).
As we continue to cycle through this journey of repentance, we will find ourselves choosing to live differently in the world we occupy now.
More than the philosophers, the Christian is separated from the world because he cannot accept its ways of thinking. ‘Accomplishments for seculars are faults for monks; accomplishments for monks are faults for seculars,’ wrote Maximus the Confessor. Flight (from the world) is metanoia, the conversion to faith”(Tomáš Špidlík, SJ, The Spirituality of the Christian East: A Systematic Handbook, p. 207).
Sadly, the unbeliever doesn’t see a need for any of this. To him prayer seems to be nothing more than the mental musings of a people simply speaking to themselves. To the unchurched, prayer seems to be a burden rarely worth carrying. To the uninterested observer, prayer seems to bounce between the extremes of charlatans and the self-professed believers who rarely engage in it. To the tepid participant, prayer seems to be an intimidation and certainly nothing that transports them to the altar of the Lord in heaven. The problem with all of these types is that they are ultimately guilty of focusing solely on the observable world.
But the true believer is different. He understands that prayer is the desire of the heart and the reasoned choice of the mind to open up to a growing measure of union with God now and into eternity. He understands that prayer is a participation in God. He understands that prayer is a corresponding act of love for the God who loved us so much that He created us, gave us His Son so that we might have everlasting life, and left us with His Spirit so that we might have an advocate during our journey through the desert we call the kingdom of man.
Those who have crossed this divide into the comingled reality of divine and human — which, incidentally, is everyone who has participated in a valid Mass or Liturgy (namely Catholics and Orthodox) — know and testify to the truth that the All-Holy Trinity is constantly reaching out toward us. Together with the Blessed Virgin Mary — the Theotokos –and all the angels and saints, we seek to pray not only because it enlightens our minds and enlivens our hearts, but because we seek to come ever closer to the God whom we love and worship with our entire being.