Father John had the greatest gift of prayer. This was his distinctive characteristic. He profoundly believed with all his heart in the grace, given to him as a priest by God, to pray for God’s people, and that the Lord is as close to the believing Christian as his own body and heart, for our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit Who lives within us, Whom we have from God (I Corinthians 6:19). He believed in prayer, that as the shadow follows the body, the deed also follows the word, inasmuch as with the Lord, word and deed are not separated, and, not allowing the smallest doubt in the fulfilling of his petitions by God, he asked completely simply, sincerely, as a child, with living, clear-sighted faith in the Lord, representing Him not only standing before him, but as though being himself in Him, in such closeness. He regarded doubt as blasphemy against God, as an impertinent lie of the heart and said:
“Is it not enough for us to see impotence in men, that we want to see impotence in God Himself as well, and we secretly think that God will not fulfill our petition?!”
When Father John prayed, he tried in general to pray more for all the faithful than for himself alone, not separating himself from the believers and being in spiritual unity with them. If he saw shortcomings in a man or any passions, he always prayed secretly for him, no matter where: while serving the Liturgy, whether en route somewhere or in conversation. When driving along the street and seeing wanton people, he would at once raise up his heartfelt prayer to the Lord and cry: “O Lord, enlighten the mind and heart of this Thy servant; cleanse him from defilement!” – or with other words from the psalms more appropriate to the given person. He would not let an occasion pass to pray for a man at someone’s request; he rejoiced at such a request, considering that prayer for others is good also for him himself, because it cleanses the heart, confirms faith and hope in God, kindles love for Christ and one’s neighbor. Father John prayed according to the faith of the petitioners in his prayer and never ascribed anything to himself. If he had to instruct the erring or comfort those that had fallen into despair, at the end of the conversation he unfailingly invited those present to pray together for that man, sincerely realizing that one cannot correct the shortcomings of others by words alone, but one must obtain God’s help and power by prayer.
A characteristic of Father John’s prayer feat lay as well in the fact that he, with unusual attentiveness, watched the heartiness of his prayer and would at once stop it for a time if he realized that the prayer was becoming only external, mechanical, so to say. He would exercise himself in the movements of his heart at prayer and thereby confirm that characteristic of his spirit of which I spoke at the beginning. Considering prayer that is only mental or superficial to be an affront to God, Who calls mankind to Himself by the words: “My son, give me thine heart” (Proverbs 23:26), Father John taught that it is good to render obedience in all things to Mother Church, to read the long prayers appointed by the Typicon and akathists; but one should do this with good sense, and whoever can accommodate lengthy prayer – let him accommodate it; but if this lengthiness is incompatible with fervor of spirit, then it is better to make a short prayer, for as the Holy Apostle says: “The Kingdom of God is not in word, but in power” (I Corinthians 4:20).
“While praying, we ought without fail to take possession of the heart and turn it to the Lord, but never allow even one exclamation to God which does not proceed from the depth of the heart. When we shall learn during prayer to speak from the heart only the truth – that which we actually realize and feel then sincere or true prayer will cleanse our heart from falsehood and we shall not permit ourselves to lie in life either” (…)
Dear Batiushka Father John struck and sometimes shook everyone by the profundity of his prayer. On the basis of my conversations with him, I can only thus depict his prayerful state. He stood before the Lord, as before the sun, and, feeling the inexpressible brilliance of the divine light, closed his eyes and manifestly perceived his being in the rays of this light, and from them – warmth, joy and closeness to Christ the Saviour. During prayer after communion of the Holy Mysteries, Batiushka sometimes felt how He, after the Resurrection, passed through the walls of the house to the Apostles, and then he received the consciousness that his invisible soul is at rest in the invisible God.
But in order to understand the faith and spirit of Batiushka Father John, it was necessary to pray with him in the altar during the Liturgy. At the beginning, he diligently commemorated all of the living and the dead at the Table of Oblation, prayed with tears for everyone, boldly begged the Lord for the afflicted and the suffering, at times went away, then returned again and prayed anew, knelt, embraced the discos and visibly suffered together with the people for whom he prayed. When the Liturgy began, he still continued to commemorate at the Table of Oblation from the numerous notes that were read to him, but for the reading of the Holy Gospel he always returned to his place and listened with complete attention to the word of God, carefully considering every word, nodding his head as a sign of the immutability and truthful-ness of the Good Tidings. At the transferral of the Holy Gifts to the Altar Table, the great man of prayer began, as it were, to prepare for a joyful meeting with the Lord and already thought more about those present in church, about their participation in the common prayer and in the common joy with him, and he sometimes prayed for them thus: “O Lord! Many of those standing in Thy church are standing idle in their souls, as idle vessels, and they know not for what it is fitting to pray; fill their hearts now on this day of salvation with the grace of Thine All-Holy Spirit and grant them to me, to my prayer, to my love, filled with the knowledge of Thy goodness and contrition and heartfelt compunction; grant them Thy Holy Spirit, Who makes intercession for them with groanings that cannot be uttered!” (Romans 8:26). (…)
In performing the Liturgy, the unforgettable Batiushka found for himself the greatest enjoyment and blessedness. “I am extinguished, I die spiritually,” he said,
“when I do not serve in church for several days, and I am enkindled, I am enlivened in soul and heart, when I serve, forcing myself to prayer – not formal, but real, spiritual, sincere, flaming prayer. I love to pray in God’s church, in the holy altar, at the Altar Table and the Table of Oblation, for I am miraculously changed in church by God’s grace; during prayer of repentance and compunction, the bonds of the passions fall away from my soul, and it becomes so easy for me. I die, as it were, to the world, and the world, with all its good things, dies to me; I live in God and for God, for the One God, and I am wholly penetrated by Him and abide one with Him. I become like a child, comforted on the knees of its mother; my heart is full of super-celestial, sweet peace, my soul is enlightened by heavenly light. You see everything radiantly, you look at everything correctly; concord and love are felt toward all, toward enemies themselves, and you readily excuse and forgive them! O, how blessed is the soul with God!”
“The Church is truly an earthly paradise! What boldness you have toward the Lord and the Theotokos! What meekness, humility and benignity! What impartiality toward the earthly! What a burning desire for heavenly, most pure, eternal delights! The tongue cannot speak of that blessedness whereof you taste, having God in your heart! With Him everything earthly is dust and decay.”
Reproduced from the website of
St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington