One of the most beautiful prayers passed on through holy tradition is the service of Paraklesis. Any time you have a need, you can bring it in humility to the feet of the Theotokos or the saint you are asking for intercession. The nine canons are like roses of prayer that are offered to our intercessors. This service became really dear to my heart after praying it at OCF retreats and with my OCF chapter. It made me feel closer to them and closer to the Theotokos.
Just like we can ask our friends and family to pray for us, we can ask the saints and the Theotokos to pray for us in our daily struggle towards the kingdom. Throughout this post, I will include some lines from the poetry of the service that help illustrate the love of the Theotokos, and encourage you to respond in love to her.
Paraklesis translated from Greek literally mean “a pleading.” Bring all you worries and fears, and place them in the hands of God, and know that He will take care of them in the way that is best for you:
I entreat you, O Virgin, disperse the storm of my grief, and the soul’s most inward confusion, scatter it far from me; you are the Bride of God, for you have brought forth the Christ, the Prince of Peace; O all-blameless one.
The Paraklesis is a service where you can bring down the walls you put around you, bring all your stresses, wishes, hopes, failures and anguishes for you and for whomever you want to pray and offer a supplication to God through an intercession. No person is closer to Him than His mother, the Virgin Theotokos. She looks after us as our spiritual mother.
Deliver us, all of your servants, from danger, O Theotokos; after God, we all flee to you, for shelter and covering, as an unshakable wall and our protection.
Throughout the service, descriptions of the holy life of the Theotokos and the help she has given to the people who have loved her throughout the ages. She will protect you, no matter where you are in life she is there, praying and talking to Christ on our behalf.
No one is turned away from you, ashamed and empty, who flee to you, O pure Virgin Theotokos; but one asks for the favor, and the gift is received from you, to the advantage of their own request.
The Theotokos loves us and prays for us as if she were our own mother. She knows what its like to be a human being, and she endured one of the most painful experiences known to humanity–witnessing the death of her Son. She gets it. To me, the Paraklesis service is special because I feel like I am not alone in my worries and stresses and I can share them with the Mother of God. I also really love that when I know someone is going through hardship I can actually do something to help them. Not only can I offer my struggles, but I can offer the struggles of others through my prayer.
Oppressed I am, O Virgin; in a place of sickness, I have been humbled; I ask you: bring remedy, transform my illness, my sickness, into a wholesomeness.
The walk towards the kingdom is not a lonely one. We walk together as Christ’s Church. We can come together to pray, to support, and to love one another and help make this life more like the kingdom through our conscious effort. We can come together to pray for each other and strengthen each other. We are a community of Orthodox Christians, and we stand together in fighting each of our good fights. Don’t be ashamed to be a “mama’s boy” or a “mama’s girl” because we can all use the help and shelter that she provides.
My numerous hopes are placed before you, most-holy one; Mother of our God, guard me with care, within your sheltered arms.
Just like a child clings to its mother, crying for the even the smallest boo-boo, we have our Holy Mother that will comfort us in our times of need. Each time you pray a Paraklesis service, let God and the Theotokos speak to you through the service, and become closer to them.
As an Orthodox Christian I have learned many difficult lessons in my life, the first and foremost being that, in the words of John Green, “The Universe” or God “is not a wish granting factory”. I have struggled my entire life with severe mental illnesses namely: depression, anxiety, and anorexia nervosa. I have spent my fair share of nights praying with honest tears streaming down my cheeks to be healed but have never woken up to be so. I have had uncomfortable occasions where various Christians have insisted upon laying hands on me and trying to heal me with the power of Christ. As you may have guessed, this is not a story about how I prayed and God took away my mental illness. This is a story of how I am living, as a person of faith, with mental illness.
Last spring, I was in a rough spot. I became antisocial and depressed, I never wanted to get out of my bed, and the eating disorder I had developed in high school reared its ugly head. During this period I decided to start saying the Paraklesis every night before bed. I was inspired by the miracle-working icon I had seen at College Conference that year and I wanted more than anything to have this burden of depression taken away. I planned on doing the prayer service for forty days straight, and I expected to watch my life slowly improve until everything became “normal”. Instead, I watched everything fall apart. Plans fell through, fellow classmates in college died, and I was drowning in an ocean of sadness that I no longer wanted to swim in. It was dark, and by God’s grace I am still here.
If you had asked me then why I was bothering to pray the Paraklesis when clearly the Theotokos wasn’t helping me out, I couldn’t have given you an answer. Now, after months of looking back at this period with anger in my heart towards God and the Theotokos I realized how much the Paraklesis saved me. Every night I prayed. Despite what had happened during the day and despite how much I wanted to disappear, I still prayed. I wanted the Theotokos to save me from the things going wrong in my life, ignoring that she was already saving me from myself. I didn’t see that the church was helping me, and in the following months I distanced myself from God and stopped praying all together. Unsurprisingly, these past few months of my life have been marked by some of the worst depressive episodes I have ever had. Things were dark, but what made this period far worse than last spring was my separation from the church and community.
I can’t tell you I’m a perfect person now, nor can I tell you that my struggles with mental illness have turned me into a pious individual. But I can tell you that my darkest days were spent away from the church. The easiest way to hurt yourself is to separate yourself from God. If you are not running towards God, then you are running towards death. Please, run with me into the light. Do not let the Devil convince you that solitude will bring you anything but misery. Let us learn to praise God in the darkness as we wait for the sunrise.
From the morning watch until night, from the morning watch, let Israel hope in the Lord
Secondhand faith doesn’t get you anywhere. –Fr. Apostolos Hill, College Conference West 2015
If there was one thing Fr. Apostolos drove home in his keynote addresses at this year’s College Conference West, it was that to witness to Christ, we have to have experienced His presence through the Holy Spirit in our own lives. We can’t merely be witnesses to something we’ve heard about but, like Thomas, must see for ourselves and believe of our own accord. There are no substitutes for knowing Christ ourselves. We will remain mute or, worse, be false witnesses without first encountering the Word to Whom we witness.
CCWest15 participants with the beloved Abbot Tryphon
But this is what amazes me and inspires me about College Conference West every year. While yes, the students come to learn more about the Orthodox Church, to visit the monastery, and to make new friends while reconnecting with old friends, it seems to me the real reason young people come to College Conference West is to meet Christ. In spite of the challenges the world presents–the denunciations of Christ, the pressure to conform, the temptations of the flesh–every year, a beautiful group of young men and women leave behind this empty and dissatisfying existence to encounter firsthand the One Who Is, the one who is Life Himself.
You can see this in the way the student leaders plan and lead the conference and attend with love and care to the needs of each participant–they are seeking Christ who washes the feet of His disciples.
You can see it in the way students eagerly line up for confession and counsel–they are seeking Christ the Healer of our infirmities.
You can see it in the way they pour out their souls in song in the Nativity Hymn at every meal, the Akathist Glory to God for All Things, and Paraklesis–they are seeking Christ who alone is worthy of our praise.
CCWest15 Paraklesis Service in the new chapel at St. Nicholas Ranch
You can see it in the way they get to know each other, building friendships upon a common foundation, the Church–they are seeking Christ who calls us into His fellowship.
You can see it as they listen attentively to the speakers and ask brilliant questions–they are seeking Christ who is the Wisdom of God.
You can see it as they spontaneously decide to hold a service of forgiveness amongst the whole conference–they are seeking Christ who forgives us all our iniquities.
And most of all, you can see it in the way they strive to love one another even as we reveal our brokenness to one another–they are seeking Christ who is found in our neighbor, the wounded Samaritan.
And they may not know it, but as they seek to encounter Christ in all these beautiful ways, they witness to Him as well. The striving achieves the goal. I thank God every year, and this year perhaps more than others, that I am blessed to be a part of College Conference West. The witness to Christ’s love borne by the students there deeply inspires and humbles me, and for that, I proclaim,
Glory to Thee for the unforgettable moments of life…Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age. -Akathist “Glory to God for All Things”
At College Conference, several of the speakers mentioned how in Orthodoxy we continue celebrating Christmas past December 25 until Theophany on January 6 and that’s where we get the Twelve Days of Christmas. I thought that was pretty neat and just meant we got to keep up our tree and lights longer. However, I realized that from the Wednesday before Christmas to yesterday, Sunday, January 3, I had gone to church for twelve straight days. And in those twelve days, I had gone to Vigil, Royal Hours, Compline, Orthros, two kinds of Liturgy, Vespers, Paraklesis, and a supplication to St. Raphael.
Upon this realization, two things struck me. The first is that we are so blessed to have such a variety of services for every occasion. They’re already there, waiting for us. My mom used to teach at a Lutheran preschool and once a semester she had to go to their services to sing songs with her students. She always marveled at how they simply made up their worship. The beauty of our services is they are unchanging, eternal. It’s not for us to choose. And as we practice them, we get to know them. At College Conference, 300+ voices joined together in chanting the Paraklesis or reciting the Creed because all 300+ of those people knew the words and songs. We can pray together.
Compline at College Conference East
The second thing that struck me was the sheer blessing and opportunity I had to go to so much church. I don’t live in a monastic community, I live on a college campus. Church every day isn’t feasible. But thanks to the cycle of services for Christmas and the timing of College Conference, I could go to church every day for those 12 days. And I love church. It brings me peace and joy; it comforts me. It’s also exhausting, but in the most rejuvenating sense of the word. Our church gives us the tools we need – orthros in the morning, compline at night, liturgies and supplications and paraklesis for the in between. All you really have to do is show up.
I don’t think that’s how most college students spent their break. But it certainly is a good way to recharge for the new semester and the New Year.