If we are honest with ourselves, we should lament our inattention to God, our weak and inconstant prayer, our false priorities, the time we waste on things that are not effectual for our salvation. We are weak creatures, driven by habit, and many of these habits are sinful and destructive. So many of our activities are thieves – they steal time from prayer.
It is precisely because of our nature that I have counseled most of you to do “4 bows” in the morning. There is a superb article, from an old “Nicodemus” publication (which later became “Orthodox America”) which provided the seed for this instruction. In the article, a bishop was instructing a group of children. I will try to reproduce the gist of his words here.
Our hearts are like coal, which is cold, but may be lit with persistent effort. Coal lights very slowly, and much care must be taken to tend it, even when it is burning. Our prayer is like blowing on the coal, which gradually becomes warmer, and eventually a hot fire, but only after much persistence on our part. The key is persistence, and not to lose heart. Even a small effort is rewarded by God, if we are persistent.
The bishop then went on to instruct the children to do three bows in the morning, IMMEDIATELY after they got out of bed. I added one more bow to the list, and have told almost everyone in confession or another time about this rule. This rule follows, and I beg all of you to follow it with all your strength.
The Four Bows
Upon arising in the morning, before anything else , direct your heart and mind towards God, and face your icons, or face East and with compunction, and without haste, make four bows, or better, four prostrations. Do this with hope in God, and the sure belief that He will receive your prayer, as He received the widow’s two mites, and protect you during the day, even if you fall into inattention and these prayers are the last you will say for the entire day.
Making the sign of the cross, with a bow of prostration during each prayer say:
1 Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me a sinner.
2 Most Holy Theotokos, save us.
3 Holy Saint ______ (your patron saint), pray to God for me.
4 Holy Angel of God, my guardian, pray to God for me.
After these prayers, it is best to continue with your morning prayers, and then turn your attentions to the cares of the day. Even if the weakness of the flesh compels us to abandon our prayer and rush into our day, perhaps not to return to our morning prayer, at least we have begun the by giving our “first fruits” to God. Let us do these “few things”, four short prayers that take under a minute, so that in time, our heart will become aflame with the love of God, and our Lord will say to us: “”Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Mat 25:21)
Each morning must be started with your Morning Prayers and end the evening with your Evening Prayers. If you have questions regarding your prayer rule, seek out your Priest, he will be able to guide you.