How does an Orthodox Christian properly pray for someone else?

An answer to a email correspondent.

Dear N.:

I pray for you and everyone else in the parish, and some others, many times at lunch. It's a lot of people, and I am not that smart about what they need, so I follow some simple guidelines.

1. I rarely say "Help this person with this problem". I cannot be their judge. There are exceptions, if I have intimate knowledge of a problem, but I would not recommend this for non-clergy. It is part of my ministry to deal with problems, and sins, and this requires "judging". However, I try to do this with care, as the line between being aware of a person's sin, and judging him, is very narrow. I have feet of clay too, so I almost never mention a person's particular "problems" as I see them. Instead, I ask God to have mercy on them (see below). I may say "If it be according to Thy will, heal Name", or something like that - a need a person has that is not directly because of a sin I may perceive. For an example closer to home, I have prayed in the past: "Prepare N. for her baptism, and enlighten her in all things".

2. For the *vast* majority, I merely say a simple prayer like the following (which is from the Old Believer prayer book):

Save, O Lord, and have mercy on Thy servant(s)________
Deliver him (her, them)
from every tribulation, wrath and need,
From every sickness of soul and body,
Forgive him (her, them) every transgression, voluntary and involuntary,
And do whatever is profitable for our souls

You may want to copy this prayer to a not card, or print it out.

3. For some names, I may just say "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on Name". Sometimes, if I am very concerned, I may do a prostration(s), also as I say this prayer.

4. My Proskomedia list is long (people I pray for before the liturgy), but my daily list is much shorter. It is unlikely that I can pray for 500 people every day with attention.

5. I have an actual list, which I use (when I walk the railroad tracks at work, I read it from my PalmPilot, at home, it is printed out). I advise you to have one too. Put it in your prayer book (you should have your OWN prayer book). Keep the list reasonable, and include your family, and anyone else you desire.

6. When I ask for specific things, I almost always say: "If it be according to Thy will...". We should be bold in our prayer, but not presumptuous. We may not be praying for the right thing, or God may have a better way. We should consciously acknowledge this. Now, if we ask for God's mercy, we need not include this "disclaimer", as God gives mercy freely to those who ask, and to those for whom it is asked. It is another matter whether a person appropriates God's mercy and saves his soul. We have no control over that.

7. We always say "If it be according to Thy will..." when we pray for reposed non orthodox.

I hope this helps you.

God bless you.

Redeeming the Time

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St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas