Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

The Agpeya

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We must begin by saying that probably the only people who will benefit anything from this short message are those who are, like the present writer, weak in prayer. But it will benefit them only if, despite poorness in prayer, they nevertheless strive daily to meet God in prayer. If a person prays with the Agpeya on a regular basis, he might one day discover an important characteristic of this valuable little book: its wonderful function of sustaining our prayer life. We will refrain for the present from referring to it as a "prayer manual" or "spiritual guidebook;" for although it is all these things, we desire not to focus now on the ability of the Agpeya to teach prayer but rather to preserve it-it is our "anchor" in prayer.

The first reason we need an "anchor" so earnestly is that our energy to pray naturally dissipates so quickly with time. I might return from a Divine Liturgy or sermon one Sunday strengthened and encouraged to lead a bold new prayer life. But then I start my week at work, and fatigue sets in, frustrations; I become pressed for time, threatened by deadlines, overburdened with endless "to do" lists; and thus the dizzying chase of modern life leaves me little chance for a quiet, momentary time of prayer. I become like a ship caught in a restless tide giving the busy sailors no time to sit down and enjoy a good meal.

And then I throw down my anchor-I pick up my Agpeya and suddenly find stability. My mind is exhausted but the words are already prepared for me; my spirit is weak but the prayers are already filled with the Spirit of God Himself. And I know that there would be no way I could possibly offer more than two sincere minutes of prayer to God if it were not for the Agpeya.

It is especially in days like these-the hurried, stress-ridden days-that the Agpeya becomes eminently important. For let's face it: we would likely not offer any significant prayer to God on a regular basis if we didn't have the Agpeya. We might respond, "Not true-I would pray the Psalms from my Bible." Besides the fact that the Agpeya is itself mainly a collection of Psalms, it is questionable whether we would even do this. But even on those days when I would likely forget to pray or not even have the desire to-I know there is that convenient little 4'x 6' book on my dresser that will keep me on track. I just pick it up and begin. Even if my prayer is rushed, even if I don't feel myself ascending to heaven-at least I am praying. At least I am trying. At least I have not forgotten about those needful 10-15 minutes of solitude in which I raise petitions and thanksgiving (however haltingly) to God.

There is one other point. One will also not pray regularly unless it is "assigned" to him; that is, unless some authority - a spiritual father - gives him a "rule" of prayer. It sounds a bit legalistic, but it is a fact of spiritual life-unless we are specifically told (or "commanded") to pray this or that prayer for so long, we will naturally neglect praying when our time and circumstances are compressed and eventually even during times of ease.* The Agpeya itself by virtue of its form is a type of "rule" or task given by the Fathers-"You shall pray these Psalms and these Gospels in this order during a certain hour." And the success and grace of prayer are multiplied greatly when the person is directed by his spiritual father on how to pray the Agpeya.

After the Agpeya prayer is done, then begins the spontaneous prayer that springs straight from the heart. The person now uses his own words freely to express to his Father all he personally has to say. But that is the focus of a separate article and of a writer much more able than this one. We will end with the words of St. Macarius of Egypt: "God will see your work of prayer and that you sincerely wish to succeed in prayer-and He will give you prayer. For you must know that, although prayer done and achieved by one's own efforts is pleasing to God, yet that real prayer, which comes to dwell in the heart and becomes constant, is a gift of God, and act of divine grace. Therefore, in your prayer for all other things, do not forget to pray too about prayer."

"Pray without ceasing" (I Thess 5:17).

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