Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanel said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

John 1:45-46

The most challenging aspect of my Christian journey has been unanswered prayer. Many of us struggle with this. We can go quickly from “Why does God not answer my prayer?” to “What is the point of praying?” to “Have I lost the favor of God?” to “Is there really a God?” This challenge of unanswered prayer has caused many to stop praying, stop belonging and even to stop believing.

There are things I have prayed for over the period of many years which have not been answered. These aren’t even what I would consider “big requests.” They aren’t things that are competitive, like “let me get ____ over someone else.” Most of the things are things that would affect my life and probably no one else’s. So why doesn’t He answer? Why does He seem absent?

As I have “matured” in my Christianity over the years, I have changed the way I look at prayer. To me, it has become less about asking God for something and instead just being with Him.

Today, the First Sunday of Great Lent, is called “The Sunday of Orthodoxy.” On this Sunday, we commemorate the restoration of icons to the churches after a nearly 150 year absence. The Seventh Ecumenical Council in Nicea took place in 787 A.D. It defended the use of icons, although they wouldn’t be returned to the churches until 843 A.D.

The Gospel reading on this first Sunday of Great Lent is about the call of Philip and Nathanael, from John 1:43-51. In the verses that immediately precede these, Jesus invited two of the disciples of John the Baptist to follow Him with the words “Come and see.” (John 1:39) One of the two was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, who invited Simon Peter to come and see also.

The next day, Jesus found Philip and asked him to follow. Philip invited Nathanael to follow also. Nathanael was skeptical when he heard that Jesus was from Nazareth. He questioned “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip then answered him “Come and see.” (John 1:46)

These invitations of Jesus to Andrew and Philip to Nathanael were not invitations to come and invest, come and request, come and receive, or anything else other than to come and see. The invitation to prayer is very similar to the invitation to come and see. It is an invitation to come and BE, meaning simply to come and BE with the Lord.

Think about the people you are closest to in your life. What is the thing you treasure most about them? Isn’t it just being with them, being in their presence?  Think about the people you were close to who have passed away. What do you wish you could do with them more than anything? Isn’t it just to be in their presence just one more time?

Prayer is being in the presence of God, whether the words are said out loud, whether they are said quietly, whether we think the words without saying them, or whether we say no words at all. Praying with an agenda is like making a donation to a charity and wanting your name listed on a plaque. Ideally, we donate not to receive recognition, but simply to give. And ideally we pray, not to receive a reward for our prayers, but rather to just be in the presence of God.

Archbishop Anthony Bloom, in his book “Beginning to Pray” wrote that “The day when God is absent, when He is silent—that is the beginning of prayer. Not when we have a lot to say, but when we say to God ’I can’t live without You, why are You so cruel, so silent?’ This knowledge that we must find or die—that makes us break through to the place where we are in the Presence.” (Archbishop Anthony Bloom, “Beginning to Pray”, Ramsey, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1970, p. 17)

I’ve had many talks with my Spiritual Father on the efficacy of prayer. For instance, if Michael and George are each having surgery, if 1,000 people pray for Michael and no one prays for George, does Michael get a better outcome? In response, he sent me a video on quantum physics, which was about how everything in the world is interconnected. When we pray, something good happens in the world, even if the prayer is in secret, just us and God. Just like if we curse at someone, just two people, and no one else knows, still something bad has happened in the world. Prayer is not about making requests, or even seeing how many people we can get to offer a prayer for something or someone. It is simply about being in the presence of God. And this always brings something good into the world.

Thus, when we pray for ourselves, we are coming into the presence of God. And when we pray for someone else, we are bringing that person’s name, thoughts and needs also into the presence of God.

Imagine the world is like a large house with several floors and many rooms. The floor of each room is like a giant puzzle. Millions of people have puzzle pieces that will fit into one room in the house. Their goal is to figure out which room their piece fits into, and once in the room, to figure out where their piece fits. God has given each of us a different piece to fit into the puzzle that is the world. We may not see what the other rooms look like, we may even wonder why we are in the room we are in. However, the goal of life isn’t to be frustrated or jealous or confused, but to find where our “piece” of God’s plan for salvation fits in and put our piece where it goes.

In 2020, during the COVID outbreak, it was a very depressing time for many of us. I conducted services in an empty church. For someone who is used to being around lots of people, life became pretty lonely. We prayed hard, we prayed more often, we prayed for the crisis to abate, and none of that seemed to work. One day while celebrating the Divine Liturgy, I lifted up the chalice to receive Holy Communion, and as I did, I looked up and said to the Lord, “Unto my salvation.” In other words, whatever is going to happen in this situation, let it be to my salvation. No other agenda or desire other than that. I looked at the chalice and realized that what is in it, the Body and Blood of Christ, is the only perfect thing I have, the only perfect thing that can be. Thus, prayer is not about getting things to go our way, but spending time with our perfect God.

This also doesn’t mean that we should only sit in silence and not open our mouths with words of prayer. It is important to do that. But it is also important to remember that not every prayer will be answered in the way we hope, in the timeframe we hope. Because if the ultimate prayer to God is to let it be “unto my salvation,” then maybe our prayers and our hopes will not lead there, and only God knows that. This is why simple prayers like “Lord, have mercy” and the Jesus Prayer—“Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”—are so important. Because they place us with God but without an agenda other than His mercy.   The ultimate goal in life is to find our salvation through the mercy of God. This happens when we find our piece to God’s “puzzle” of salvation and place it properly. And this happens when we become content to “come and see” without any other agenda, other than to be with God and place our hopes in His mercies.

Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” In like manner, learning to be with the Lord is the beginning of prayer. Therefore, we should not be as concerned about our prayers that go unanswered. Rather we should focus on our relationship with the Lord, cultivated being in His presence, whether He answers our prayers the way we hope or not.

Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
Reject me not, O Savior; cast me not away from Your presence. Take from me the heavy yoke of sin and in Your compassion grant me remission of sins. (Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode One, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

If God seems silent, perhaps He is. Or perhaps He isn’t and we aren’t listening. Or perhaps He is hearing but sparing us from something else, or leading us to salvation in a way we haven’t thought of. Don’t give up on prayer, even though it may seem tempting. Focus on being with God and trust in Him to sort out the rest.


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here:


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