Prayer is a participation in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus

Christ is Risen! Cristo ha Resucitado!
Si Cristo ay nabuhay! Xristos Kuxwoo-digoot!

I’ve been thinking about prayer and the resurrection during these Easter days when we enter into the Lord’s death and resurrection. During the Easter Vigil, I suddenly remembered a poem by the Russian dissident poet Irina Ratushinskaya. I couldn’t recall the entire poem but just these lines:

Someone is thinking of me now, petitioning the Lord for me.

A devout Orthodox Christian, she had written this poem to thank all those who had sustained her and her companions during their years of imprisonment as political prisoners. She wrote:

Believe me, it was often thus;
In solitary cells, on winter nights
A sudden sense of joy and warmth
And a resounding note of love,
And then, unsleeping, I would know
A-huddle by an icy wall:
Someone is thinking of me now,
Petitioning the Lord for me.
My dear ones, thank you all
Who did not falter, who believed in us!
In the most fearful prison hour
We probably would not have passed
Through everything—from end to end,
Our heads held high, unbowed-
Without your valiant hearts
To light our path.

Her poem, which she published as a sort of open letter of thanks to all those who had prayed for her and worked for her release, made a profound impression on me when I first read it. I had been one of those who wrote letters to the Soviet authorities appealing for her release and humane treatment while in prison and wrote letters intended to let her know that she was not forgotten and alone. I prayed for her too. I knew that I should pray for her, so I did. But I remember that I regarded the letter-writing (which itself seemed quixotic enough) as the more efficacious action on my part. Compared to the heft in my hand of a two or three page letter, carefully sealed inside its stamped and addressed envelope, a prayer seemed, well, not exactly pointless or futile but insubstantial.

Of course, none of my letters, overflowing with earnest solidarity and heartfelt good wishes ever made it into her hands. But somehow prayers, invisible and weightless, made it over the barbed wire, past the guards and through the locked and barred doors of the cell where she was kept for so many months in solitary confinement.

And as I remembered that poem, I thought of how prayer is somehow not separate from the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, but intimately and powerfully bound up in it. Crushed and powerless in the tomb, the love of God, which is Life itself overcame and defeated death. Risen from the dead, neither the tomb nor the guards could confine him, nor could He be kept out by locked and barred doors.

Because our prayer as Christians is a participation in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus, I should never be surprised at its power to sustain those in need and to illumine the darkest places in our lives and experience.

Significantly, immediately after the baptism and confirmation of the neophytes during the Easter Vigil at the Cathedral, we prayed the Universal Prayer, (also known as the Prayer of the Faithful) on behalf of everyone and everything. Embedded within the mystery of putting on Christ is our call to intercede and support each other in prayer.

From outside the perspective of faith, it is easy to regard prayer as an optional extra. But our prayer for others, in Christ, should be the beginning and the end of all our efforts in charity and solidarity. Our other necessary and laudable activities on behalf of others incarnate the prayer that is (or should be) at the heart of our charity.

The sustaining warmth and joy that Irina Ratushinskaya felt in her prison cell was the presence of Christ himself, mediated through those praying for her. Christ acting in us, we pray in and through the power of His death and resurrection into which we were plunged in our baptism and of the Holy Spirit, poured out on us in confirmation.
Christ is Risen! Cristo ha resucitado! Si Cristo ay nabuhay! Xristos Kuxwoo-digoot!

Deacon Charles Rohrbacher is the Office of Ministries Director for the Diocese of Juneau. Phone: 907-586-2227 ext. 23 Email: charlesr@gci.net