Forming a Prayer Rule

Carlos Overstreet's picture

The Necessity of Having a Prayer Rule

Like all relationships, the one which we share with Christ has both a public and personal dimension. One cannot truly exist without the other. By listening, by conversing, and by living, we deepen our relationship with him. The problem is many of us focus on our exterior or public relationship to the detriment of our personal relationship. Liturgy, community, and charity are all essential to our life in Christ, but we can be so focused on these, that Christ becomes a thing, an abstract concept, where all the ritual of public worship, all the good deeds and all the kinships we form, no longer transmit His love, or convey His presence in our lives to others. Without Him present, truly present, we might as well be, as Pope Francis said, a Charitable NGO.

One of the many exhortations, infact our primary exhortation according to Saint Paul, is to Pray (Eph 6:18). Jesus tells us that in addition to public prayer (Matt 18:20), we are to pray in private (Matt 6:6). This is where personal prayer comes in. Jesus even directs us on how we should pray, saying we should be direct and not haphazardly say this or that, for God already knows what we need (Matt 6:7). This is why everyone should have a prayer rule--to ground ourselves in constancy, which is the mark of God. For he is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

If you are unfamiliar with the term prayer rule, its fairly self explanatory. It is a set of prayers that you set forth to pray consistently. That’s it. Easy right? Well, that’s what most people say. But constancy has remained elusive to humanity for most of its history (think the fall). How many times have you failed at something, and then have had to ask pardon from someone else for neglecting to follow through with what you said. Luckily for us, Jesus is all-merciful! In seriousness though, a prayer rule is there to make sure you always pray; none of this “I don’t have time to” business or “I’m too tired” nonsense. Saint Ambrose of Optina says we must force ourselves to pray, even if we don’t feel like it because it is the right thing to do:

"If you do not feel like praying, you have to force yourself. The Holy Fathers say that prayer with force is higher than prayer unforced. I know you do not want to, but force yourself. The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force."

So many Christians simply resort to praying when they feel like it, but what kind of a relationship is that? Think of what kind of a person you’d be if you said to your boss “I’m only coming to work when I feel like it." Don’t expect to get a warm reception from management. What about the objection “I pray to God in my own way!” Well, a prayer rule is personal, though it uses established prayers to ground your conservation with God. Saint Theophan the Recluse explains this a little better:

“It is good to have a prayer rule on account of our weakness so that on the one hand we do not give in to laziness, and on the other hand we restrain our enthusiasm to its proper measure. The greatest practitioners of prayer kept a prayer rule. They would always beginwith established prayers, and if during the course of these a prayer started on its own, they would put aside the others and pray that prayer. If this is what the great practitioners of prayer did, all the more reason for us to do so. Without established prayers, we would not know how to pray at all. Without them, we would be left entirely without prayer.”

Forming a Prayer Rule

All pious Christians are called to form a personal prayer rule. The sooner you form one, the better. It will work in concert with Liturgy and the Divine Services and it will provide your heart food to get you through the day. I am by no means a master, or even good at prayer, but I hope to pass along to you what I've been told about prayer rules. Without practice, we cannot become perfect! Or even be half-perfect.

“An Instantaneous prayer life is impossible. Prayer does not come about as you expect—by just wishing for it, and, suddenly, there it is. This does not happen.” - St. Theophan the Recluse

Keep it Short

“Let your prayer be simplicity. For both the publican and the prodigal son were reconciled to God by a single phrase,” says Saint John of the Ladder.

The saints frequently use the image of an athlete in training to describe how we should view our spiritual life. Begin humbly and simply. If you start out fast or hard, you will pull a muscle… well, in this instance you will probably get burnt out and neglect your duty. Let your prayer rule be no more than ten minutes. The objective is to get used to praying at a set time everyday with set prayers, just as conditioning regimens help people train for marathons and competitions. Some people find prayer books helpful, but be careful, their “Morning” or “Evening” prayers can be a bit lengthy for most folks.

“Set a definite length of time for not concern yourself with the number of prayers read, but only lift your heart and mind to the Lord in prayer, and continue in a worthy manner for the time set aside.” - St. Theophan the Recluse

Set a Time of Day

Most people prefer to bookend their day with prayer, and your prayer rule can do this if you’d like. Some people like a set period during the afternoon or because they work at odd hours, may have a break or lunch during the middle of the night. Whatever time you choose, keep it. That doesn’t mean it always has to be at 5:15 everyday, but it should not be unduly put off or delayed beyond that general time of day you set, unless some grave unforeseen event occurs.

Make it Consistent

The liturgical cycle changes everyday, and while it might be tempting to incorporate elements of this into your prayer rule, unless you have a ton of experience under your belt, I wouldn’t recommend this. It will hinder your attempts to memorize your rule and confuse you as you try to pray. Select a set of prayers and stick to them. With time, they will become memorized and with that accomplished, you can take your prayer rule with you anywhere. That’s the beauty of YOUR prayer rule. It is YOUR set of prayers, that speak to YOUR heart, that YOU can pray anywhere you are.

“Commit your prayers to memory, recite them from memory and at the time of prayer, you will not need a prayer book in hand. How wonderful this is, that having begun to pray, you recite a memorized prayer or psalm and ponder every word, not only in your mind, but in your heart.” - St. Theophan the Recluse

Be Accountable

Use the Buddy System! Well, in this case your buddy isn’t your housemate across the hall from you, or your spouse (though they both may help keeping you honest), but your Spiritual Father. Yes, everyone should try and find a Spiritual Father or Mother (Director is another term). If you don’t have one, your Pastor will do just fine. Set up a time to speak with them, over the phone, after Liturgy, or even shooting them an email will work. Just let them know what’s going on. If you want help forming a rule, by all means, ask them for help. I’m sure they would love to help you put a prayer rule together. Or, if you have something put together, run it by them. Tell them the prayers you selected, the time of day you plan on praying, and for how long you approximate you will regularly pray for.

GET THEIR BLESSING! If you don’t have their blessing, I won’t say it’s worthless, but you arn't reaping the benefits of accountability. Their blessing means you now have real impetus to fulfill your duty. Realize you will fail. But you need to press on, and this is where the accountability comes in. Your Pastor or Spiritual Father will help you reassess, and find ways to keep you faithful to your prayer rule. They may also recommend an addition or subtraction to your rule that they may feel is best for you. Don’t get offended if they whittle your edifice of prayer down to a humble five minute psalmody with the Our Father. Pray it, and in time, once you’ve begun to pray with that rule, you can come to them and discuss whether adding or changing any prayers would be wise at that point in time. Take heart, for many of the saints started off with only the Lord’s Prayer to their memory, but by the end of their lives spent hours in prayer reciting the psalms from memory. But remember, someone has to hold you accountable, because you probably won’t.

Good Luck! And I hope this proves helpful!

An Example

I thought it would be helpful to provide an example of an evening prayer rule that should run about 10 minutes.

Sample Evening Prayer Rule


In the the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit +

Pater Noster

Our Father, Who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Psalm 50 

O God, have mercy on me in the greatness of your love; in the abundance of your tender mercies wipe out my offense. Wash me thoroughly from malice and cleanse me from sin, for I am well aware of my malice and my sins are before me always. It is You alone I have offended, I have done what is evil in your sight; Wherefore You are just in your deeds and triumphant in your judgment. Behold, I was born in iniquities and in sins my mother conceived me, But You are the Lover of Truth: You have shown me the depths and secrets of your wisdom. Wash me with hyssop and I shall be pure, cleanse me and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear sounds of joy and feasting: the bones that were afflicted shall rejoice. Turn your face away from my offenses and wipe off all my sins. A spotless heart create in me, 0 God; renew a steadfast spirit in my breast. Cast me not afar from your face, take not your blessed Spirit out of me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and let your guiding Spirit dwell within me. I will teach your ways to the sinners and the wicked shall return to You. Deliver me from blood-guilt, 0 God, my saving God, and my tongue will joyfully sing your justice. O Lord, You shall open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise. Had You desired sacrifice, I would have offered it, but You will not be satisfied, with whole-burnt offerings. Sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit: a crushed and humbled heart God will not spurn. In your kindness, 0 Lord, be bountiful to Sion; may the walls of Jerusalem be restored. Then will You delight in just oblation, in sacrifice and whole-burnt offerings. Then shall they offer calves upon your altar.

Ave Maria

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death. Amen.

Litany of Humility 

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

Saint Michael the Archangel Prayer

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen..

Daily Needs and Personal Supplications (Pope Francis Five Finger Prayer is useful here)

- Family & Friends

- Government Officials 

- Church Hierarchs

- The Poor, The Sick, The Dead...

Gloria Patri +

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.


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