Last week, Fr. Theodore Petrides gave us some wonderful and helpful words on Keeping a Rule of Prayer. Praying in college is really hard! I often find myself rushing out of my apartment to catch the bus for work in the morning with travel mug and granola bar in hand, hair still wet from the shower, when I realize, “Shoot! I forgot to say my morning prayers!”
College students are asked to balance so much – academics, work, extracurriculars, sleep and personal health, friends and family – and as Orthodox college students we are also maintain a healthy spiritual life. When I get home from a night of studying, I just want to put on my pajamas and pass out without a second thought. Which I do sometimes, offering up a quick Jesus Prayer before my eyes can’t hold themselves open any longer.
Prayer has a strange context on a college campus. People jokingly cross themselves before taking an exam or say “I need to go to church” after a wild weekend. I asked a girl I was working with a few weeks ago about a tattoo she had in Italian that I learned said “pray always.” She told me she also had a tattoo of a saint on her back and a cross on her ankle. I (wrongfully) assumed she was a devout Roman Catholic. Instead, she told me she didn’t believe in religion at all but that prayer and meditation were very important to her. The example she gave was that she gets lost easily so asking God to help her get somewhere new before she started driving was all she needed. The whole interaction boggled my mind.
But obviously for us as Orthodox Christians, prayer is more than that. Like Fr. Theodore said, Developing a habit of daily personal prayer is the best way to counteract the three giants (forgetfulness, laziness, and ignorance) which continuously seek to overcome us. Conversely, we can think of our prayer rule as our “tithe” each day which we offer to the Lord so that He will bless the remainder of it.
Here are some ways I’ve found helpful in developing and maintaining a prayer rule in my busy schedule:
- Have a designated spot for prayer. For me, it’s before my icon of my patron saint, St. Emilia, which I have on a shelf in my bedroom. The Church gives us these tools: icons, prayer ropes, candles, incense to help focus our minds on prayer and meditation.
- Find prayers that are relevant. Prayers like the Trisagion,”O Heavenly King,” the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creed are always useful, and the prescribed morning and evening prayers are always good, but I find that my prayer rule becomes more personal if I use prayers that apply to me and my life. For example, I like the Prayer of Peace given the many terrible events that have taken place recently, the Prayer Before Commencing Any Task, and the Prayer for Study.
- Listen to AFR podcasts or church music. I am a huge fan of Abbot Tryphon’s The Morning Offering so that after I forget to say morning prayers and am walking to the bus stop, I can still being my day with some spiritual nourishment. I also like listening to church music while I study because it relaxes me.
- Make time for silence. If you can quiet the world around you and take time to just be with Christ, it grounds you and gives you strength. I attended a workshop with Dr. Al Rossi once who said we should set aside 15 minutes for silence each day. I would say this is especially important for college students because we are overwhelmingly stimulated during the day.
- Go to church. Nothing is more reaffirming and reassuring.
As terrible as it sounds, when you’re at college prayer is sometimes the last thing you want to worry about. But even the smallest steps in strengthening your prayer life will make a world of difference in your overall well being. As St. Nikon of Optina said, “Do not forget prayer─it is the life of the soul.”