Strength in Numbers
By Marc Bastawrous
“If God seems far away, find someone to pray with and for you. You will experience His Presence and that will become your reassurance. He never, ever, leaves His children orphaned.” – Fr. Johannes Jacobse
Only a short while ago while I was driving home, I noticed a large sign, possibly a part of some sort of campaign connected with the most recent election, I couldn’t be sure. The sign read: “If we want to be heard, we must all stand up as one and be counted,” or something along those cliché lines. I must have chuckled to myself at the lack of creativity in the slogan multiple times as I drove home and yet, it got me thinking. What if the slogan actually bore some substance when placed in the context of our own spiritual lives? Maybe this campaign was onto something.
My mind was immediately reverted back to a promise that Christ Himself made to the disciples saying, “where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them,” (Matt 18:20). Beautiful and cliché as it is, how often do we truly come to the Lord and claim this promise? Christ here literally offers us the simplest and most easily accessible way of entering into His divine Presence – invite a friend with a similar goal. When thought of in this regards, it then makes perfect sense that almost every single liturgical prayer in our church is in the plural – “Our Father,” “Let us give thanks,” “Truly we believe,” why? Fr. Daniel Fanous puts it simply, “because we are a community. When I pray, when I worship, I do that on behalf of my community.” In order to make manifest this communal spirit, we must invite Christ who is the “bond of perfection” spoken of by St Paul in Colossians 3, into our assemblies.
Of course, that’s not to say that God does not hear our own silent prayers uttered in the quietness of our rooms, but there is a fire that rushes to the Heavens and penetrates the ears of our Lord when two or more cry out to Him. St. Therese of Liseieux writes, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; a simple look turned to Heaven, it’s a cry of recognition and love, embracing trial and joy.” Imagine then the flame that a multitude of hearts joined together in prayer could muster.
There is a very relevant story about a monk who once learned of this power in united prayer in a very harsh way. If you’ve ever spent time in a monastery you would have noticed that at sunset (roughly 5pm every evening) all the monks, brothers and residents at the monastery gather in the church to pray the Sunset Prayers together. This particular monk began to get agitated with this tradition complaining that it didn’t feel like prayer and that his mind was becoming scattered all too often by the distraction caused by those around him. Thus he made the decision to stop attending these sunset prayers and instead pray in isolation. Until one night he was awoken in a vision by an angel of God. This angel took this monk and led him to a pillar of fire where joyful shouts and praising could be heard to the monk’s delight. Then the angel led him away and took him to a candle flickering on its own, one gust of wind away from being blown out. The monk begged the angel to take him back to the pillar of fire to which the angel responded saying, “You decided to leave this pillar in the first place in order to be a candle out in the cold alone. Go back to your brothers the monks.” It is a beautiful image. A pillar of fire constructed for God. How could He ever reject this monument set up in His name?
The youth of our church were taught a beautiful lesson in this fire of cohesive prayer on a trip to Kenya, Africa a couple years back. One morning a week into the trip, Bishop Paul, who leads the service in Kenya, called an emergency meeting with all of us in the chapel. After leading a short bible study he then told us that all service would be cancelled that week, as we were not taking things seriously enough. He began bombarding us with condemning questions like, “do you not care about the Kingdom of God? Is service to Christ not important enough for you?” stating that we had only come for an experience rather than service. He concluded with a line that stuck with all the youth that day, “You are not a blessed group, a blessed group brings rain to a country like this which is in need.” Harsh words right?
Needless to say, the moment he left that chapel many tears were shed, but he was right. We were skipping our quiet time, we were coming late to bible study and we weren’t praying for the service. So that is precisely what we did. A group of 60 youth from St. Marks Church spent the entire day in the Monastery at Maseno, Kenya, in prayer – as one voice. That night we each split up into groups of 8 and had prayer meetings. I distinctly remember being in a group with Fr. Bishoy, a Kenyan Priest, and 7 other men who were encouraged by him to take shifts throughout that whole night in prayer. So one would pray from midnight – 1am, then the next from 1am-2am and so on until the sun rose the next day. The next morning, at the break of dawn, we awoke to the most joyful curtain of rain beating down from the heavens – our prayer had been answered. Not prayers, but prayer – one prayer, a multitude of voices.
So I guess, the electoral campaign was on the right track. To be heard we must unite. We are a church, each a part of a Kingdom set firmly on the earth in honor of the King Himself; united by His ordinances and law.
If there was one thing I would change in the slogan however, it would be this: “If we want to be heard, we must all kneel down as one and be counted.”
Glory Be to God Forevermore. Amen.