Thomas Hopko: A Prayer Primer

thomas hopko prayer primer

Someone who is investigating Orthodox Christianity will soon encounter the words of Father Thomas Hopko, a priest and theologian who left this world in 2015.

Fr. Hopko was a beloved teacher and apologist for the faith. His lectures and commentaries on scripture and church history are popular throughout Orthodoxy.

Thomas Hopko wrote a prayer primer that is a beautiful example of the Orthodoxy approach to prayer. As a former Protestant I was continually frustrated with my attempts to have a consistent prayer life. The Orthodox approach to prayer may seem overly elaborate to the uninitiated. But it is in fact refreshing in its practicality.

Suppose we cannot – or will not – be regular in prayer, not even with the shortest of rules? Is everything lost? Not at all. In this case we are told by our saints to take a small prayer or just a few words (like the Jesus Prayer, or “Lord, have mercy”, or a line from a Psalm) and to say it as often as we can, whenever or wherever we happen to be. Anyone can do this, as it requires nothing but to do it, and it can lead us to union with God. “Remembrance of God” is the purpose of prayer – to “walk in His presence”, to “stand before His Face”, to be conscious of His Spirit in us making us His children.

Prayer need not be the chore we make it out to be. Nor should it be flowery language signifying nothing. The simplicity of the three-word prayer ‘Lord have mercy’ hides the complexity of the concept it conveys.

We are not lonely, isolated creatures attempting by our prayer to call out in solitude across and unpassable abyss to a God “way out there”. We are in God. The Holy Spirit is in us, making us Children of God in Christ, enabling us to call the Transcendent, All-Holy God, “our Father”.

Are you a Christian struggling to even begin a regular prayer routine? I encourage you to start with simply intoning ‘Lord have mercy’ when you have an idle moment. Let it become a habit. Make it a moment of refuge from the day’s events. Rest in it.

If you do have a regular prayer routine, leave a comment and let us know what is working for you.

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Comments 2

  1. A prayer rule? “Pray without ceasing” according to St. Paul.
    I had long been conversing with our Father which probably had opened the pathway to Orthodoxy for me, reading The Way of the Pilgrim, etc. which I had not even recognized as other than Christian of some hue. Within a couple weeks of attending the local parish I noted that “Lord, have mercy” was intoned approximately 100x during Divine Liturgy signifying to me its worthiness for my personal mantra whenever I felt in over my head which is much more often than not.
    Thank-you for the simplicity of your blog posts.

    May it be blessed.

    1. Post

      Thank you for the kind words. The Jesus Prayer has literally changed my life. It’s simplicity is its beauty. I’m glad to hear it’s become a part of your prayer life as well.

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