It can be quite daunting coming from an Evangelical/Protestant background into the Eastern Orthodox Church. Coming from an environment where one’s spirituality was completely individualized, and based upon one’s own whims, it can be difficult adjusting to the highly developed spiritual direction given in the Orthodox Church.
As an Orthodox Christian I begin my day by (1) approaching my icon corner (2) I making the sign of the cross (whilst saying the “Jesus Prayer”) (3) bow or prostrate myself before the icons (4) kiss the icons while asking for the intercession from the respective person being presented on the icon; Christ, Mary, St. John the Forerunner, etc.. (5) then I proceed to start my “prayer rule” which begins with a structured morning prayer that comes out of an Orthodox prayer book. Throughout the day at work I (6) strive to continually repeat the “Jesus Prayer” (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy On Me, A Sinner) (7) offer up intercessory prayers for people (8) meditate on the prayer of St. Philaret of Moscow and (9) strive to be thankful in all situations. After work I (10) approach my icon corner again (11) open my Orthodox Study Bible and read a chapter of Scripture (12) read a chapter from one of the commentaries of the Gospels by Blessed Theopylact followed by (13) the daily Scripture reading from the lectionary. Afterwords I (14) read either from a contemporary Orthodox author (such as Anthony Bloom, Vladimir Lossky, John Behr, etc..) or I’ll read something from the Fathers. As the evening draws near to it’s end I (15) read the daily passage from the “Prologue” from St. Nikolaj Velimirovic (16) pick up my prayer rope and say the “Jesus Prayer” some more, then (17) I finish my day with the evening prayer from the prayer book. On top of this if it’s a Wednesday or Friday I fast along with the Church (or if it’s a major fasting season, ie: Nativity, Lent, Apostles Fast, Dormition Fast), Saturdays I attend the Vespers service, and Sunday morning is the “Divine Liturgy” (The Sunday morning service).
This is a fairly typical example of an Orthodox Christian’s daily/weekly devotions. Everyone has a prayer rule. We are all encouraged to spend time in prayer in front of their icon corner, to say the Jesus prayer, to fast when the Church designates fasts, to read the Scriptural passages from the lectionary, and to attend the services of the Church (this is not an exhaustive list). The reason the Church prescribes all the devotional practices that she does is to help the faithful establish consistent spiritual disciplines, but are these practices meant to be practiced for the sake of themselves? Is the point of Orthodox spirituality simply about doing things in an Orthodox manner?
If one approaches the Orthodox spiritual disciplines with the mindset that these disciplines are to be practiced in and of themselves then they completely miss the purpose of what these practices are given to us for; I speak from experience. If you read your morning prayer as fast as you can, trying to hurry through to get to the end, while your mind is everywhere but on the words of the prayer then you completely miss the point of prayer. You can fast to the t, go through a 200 knot prayer rope, and spend all your free time reading the Fathers, but if these things are done in and of themselves then they won’t get you anywhere.
Let’s take the image of someone knocking on a door. Why does someone knock on someone’s door (other than if someone is playing a prank)? Can you imagine someone knocking on a door for the sake of knocking on a door? What would the purpose of that be? We knock on doors so that the door will be opened to us that we might be able to enter the house. In a similar way the spiritual disciplines are given to us as means to knock on the door of the Kingdom of Heaven. They’re given to us to help bring us into the presence of God, who is “everywhere present, filling all things” (as the Trisagion prayer declares). Most of the time we don’t recognize the presence of God due to our own sinfulness, distracted thoughts, and selfish ambitions (among countless other reasons). The disciplines of the Church help to reorient ourselves towards God, stripping us of our vanity, and helping us to obey the commandments of Christ. But if we approach the disciplines with the mindset of simply doing them for the sake of doing them is the equivalent of knocking on the doors to the Kingdom of Heaven for the sake of knocking on the door. But our goal isn’t only to knock, our goal is to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.