“Without me, ye can do nothing” – John 15:5
It is not a rare thing for zealous Christians to experience what the Church father call “dryness” in prayer. A daily rule of prayer requires effort and will, and these can be weakened by tiredness, and distracted by activity. Yet familiarity with prayers can often make them a mere set of words or – even worse – sounds. Much like students singing the national anthem each morning the heart of prayer, the life of prayer, can soon become deadness.
One Church Father (perhaps Saint Dorotheos of Gaza) reminds us that even in cases where are prayers are said by wrote, with little attention and little feeling, we should still persevere: even if it benefits us little, it still bothers the devil. Yet this is not the ideal for which we should strive. The Lord looks upon our efforts in prayer – particularly the times when we truly struggle – as our sacrifice of prayer to Him. These struggles are blessed. Yet between these times of struggle, the practice of holy people down through the centuries offers us something more, which enriches, strengthens, and enlivens us, that we should not fall away to become “prey to the wolf of souls” (as we read in the prayers before Communion).
In the practice of the Church, both in monasteries and in the world, the saying of the Jesus Prayer may be used if daily services must be missed. In this we must use great care, lest the practice become a routine one, simply to allow us to skip the trip to Church. The use of the Jesus Prayer, before or after our regular rule of prayer, can help to warm and to humble our hearts, and to prepare it to receive the holy words of other prayers. The Jesus Prayer is also ideal for the numerous “in between” times of contemporary life, in waiting rooms or on busses, in class or while on the telephone. With the help of a spiritual guide, the prayer rope may also be used to pray for the pressing needs of the day, such as the repeated Lord, have mercy for our spouse, our children, our colleague whose mother is chronically ill, or our boss who is disagreeable.
Similarly, we might put to use more fully the inherited short hymns of the Church, particularly the Akathist Hymns (literally, the hymns that are sung or read without sitting). Since the composing of the first Akathist by Saint Romanos the Melodist, with prayer and praise to the Mother of God, a wide variety of other Akathists have been composed and blessed for use in the Church. It is most appropriate to read these prayers in time of real, everyday needs, including Akathists to St Xenia (for those seeking a spouse, a job, or a home), St Nectarios (for those with cancer), St John Maximovitch (for travellers, those in storms, and those far from home), and numerous other saints. Many of these are available online, and are worth printing out and using. The prayers of these saints make a real difference, granting us strength as well as help from God.
It is good to endure periods of spiritual dryness in prayer: from these spring forth great stability of faith. But in our weakness, we also require spiritual tools we may use in the midst of those periods of spiritual dryness which might otherwise be a danger to our soul. It is these tools which help to return our prayers to a strong, lively state, and to connect the needs we feel in our hearts, with the words and purpose of our prayers.