Our souls yearn for You in the night, O our God, for Your judgments are light on earth (Isaiah 26:9). Give us the wisdom to work justice and holiness in fear of You. For it is You we glorify, our true God. Incline Your ear and heed us. And remember, Lord, by name, those who are here with us, praying with us, and safeguard them in Your might. Save Your people and bless Your inheritance. Grant peace to Your world, to Your Church, to the clergy, to our civic leaders, to the armed forces and to all Your people. For blessed and glorified is Your most honorable and majestic Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

(Adapted from the Translation by Narthex Press of the 12 Orthros Prayers)

There are twelve prayers that a priest offers during the Orthros (Matins) service which are never heard aloud. Each has a theme that sets the tone for the day. I don’t think there is anything wrong with me sharing these prayers or for anyone to pray them. I enjoy sharing thoughts about faith and about Christ each day, as well as giving you occasional insights into the priesthood. I hope the reflections on these prayers will give all of us something to think and add to our spiritual journeys. I’m changing the format of the Prayer Team for these reflections—both the scripture verse and the prayer will precede the reflection for this unit.

The first thought of every day should be a thankful thought. This is reflected in the first of these twelve prayers. The second prayer immediately turns our thoughts away from a personal sense of thanksgiving to thoughts of other people. The prayer mentions specifically the Church, the clergy, civic leaders and our armed forces, as it supplicates God for peace in the world and for peace for all people.

After a few thankful thoughts each morning as I awake from sleep, the next thing I do is to make the sign of the cross before getting out of bed. Many times I pray while in bed, but on the days when I have to fly out of bed, at a very minimum I make the sign of the cross. This isn’t for good karma or good luck. The cross is several things. It is a blessing over ourselves in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Each time we make the sign of the cross, we are asking God to bless us. The cross reminds us of the two great commandments—to love God and to love our neighbor. The vertical bar of the cross reminds us of our personal relationship with Christ. The horizontal bar reminds us of our relationship with one another. On the cross, these bars are inseparable. And in our lives, they are as well. We can’t say we love God if we hate our neighbor. And loving our neighbor makes us a moralist, it’s loving God and neighbor that makes us Christians.

The other thing that making the sign of the cross does is it reminds us that our senses are used in our Christian walk. We touch our forehead when we make the sign of the cross. This should remind us that we need to control what our mind is thinking, and not give room for bad, evil or sinful thoughts to ruminate in our minds. Our mind is where we make our decisions, so we want our mind to be filled with wisdom and discernment.

We touch beneath our hearts. Our hearts beat many times per minute. We have more heartbeats than thoughts and actions. Thus, we need a heart that beats for God. We read in the Psalms, and hear in the Orthros, that every breath should praise the Lord.

We touch our shoulders, the top of each arm. This is a reminder that we are to use our hands to serve others. One of my earliest memories in my life was our preschool teacher saying “hands are for helping, not for hurting.” This is not just something cute to say to a four-year-old. It is actually a reminder of a sacred commandment of God, to help others, something that needs to be done at all ages.

Imagine if, as we made our cross, we took a moment to internalize exactly what we are doing—consecrating our minds, our hearts, and our hands to God—what an amazing prayer that would be in itself. We could cross ourselves four times, saying the first time, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.” Then the second time, “Lord, thank You that I am alive.” The third time, “Help me to love You and serve others today. And then the fourth time, “Consecrate my mind, my heart and my hands, so that I have wisdom to make good decisions, that my heart beats for You, and that my hands are helpful to those around me.” If we said these four lines of prayer and sat with each for even 15-30 seconds, that’s two minutes of prayer that will get us centered on God, thankful, and mindful of our minds, hearts and hands and how they can serve God and others.

Encouragement for today: Make the sign of the cross, while taking a few moments to reflect on its meaning, the two great commandments, and consecrating your mind, heart and hands so that what we do with them will reflect love for God and for neighbor.