The Holy Fathers on Prayer

admin | 26 February 2013

Scripture, Divine Tradition and the Holy Fathers have given us great volumes of works devoted to prayer. Whether we are in Church, at home, at work, traveling, or at leisure, prayer constitutes our most intimate union with God. It is inconceivable even to imagine oneself as being an Orthodox Christian with out prayer; in fact, the more one “lives and breathes” Orthodoxy, the more one’s soul and body strive toward prayer, and the more one strives to develop perpetual, heartfelt communion with God every moment of one’s life. To walk with God’s presence felt continually in one’s heart is to walk with un ceasing prayer. Christ Himself is our ex ample Who not only prayed corporally (Matt. 14:23; 26:36; Luke 6:12; John 17), but perpetually “beheld” within, God the Father (John 10:38).

There are many Christian virtues which we should follow, e.g., giving alms, showing mercy, being gentle, not arguing, etc., but these often require and depend upon circum stance-prayer, however, we can a 1 w a y 5 practice; there is no circumstance which can prevent us in our conscious existence from conversing with God. Prayer should be our first, middle and final endeavor as Orthodox. From the moment of waking, to the time of sleeping, we should strive not to let prayer leave our hearts. Even while we sleep, God in His mercy is able to grant us prayer during such hours of “unconsciousness”-for, although we sleep, the heart is awake (Song 5:2). If we have prayer in our hearts continuously, then we stand always before God and all other. Christian virtues are then easy to fulfill. As St. Tikhon of Zadonsk wrote:

As a bird without wings, as a soldier without arms, so is a Christian without prayer.

We are like birds ever striving to fly to God and dwell in His unutterably joyful Kingdom. and we are like soldiers perpetually battling those dark, evil forces which tempt us and often cause us to fall; with the wings of prayer we can soar to God and with the arms of prayer we can scatter the temptations of the dark ones, gaining for ourselves peace, crowns, and the Kingdom of Heaven.

The following are but a few of the teachings that we have been given about prayer and the reading of Divinely inspired books as ex pounded by Scriptures and the Holy Fathers- in particular, the emphasis is on personal prayer. We should strive to read and re read these words, implant them in our hearts, and put them into practice.

What is Prayer and Why It Is Needed

God is spirit; and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)

What then, is prayer? Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God in praise and thanksgiving to Him and in supplication for the good things that we need, both spiritual and physical. Prayers are spiritual because they are originally born in the (human) spirit and ripen there by the Grace of the Holy Spirit. In their origin they (i.e. prayers, psalms, hymns, etc.) were purely spiritual and only afterwards came to be clothed in words and so assumed an oral form (Bp. Theophan the Recluse)

When you praise the Lord, exalt Him as much as you can; for He will surpass even that.

Every man when praying converses with God. Each of us understands how great a thing it is, being man, to converse with God; but I doubt if anyone can express this honor in words, for it is higher even than the station of angels. A man who strives all his life to practice praying and serving God, speedily becomes akin to angels in life, honor, estate, wisdom and understanding.

If you deprive yourself of prayer, it is like taking a fish out of water; for as water means life to a fish, so prayer means life to the soul. .. Prayer is the cause of salvation, the source of immortality, the indestructible wall of the Church, the unassailable fortress, which terrifies the demons and protects us in the work of righteousness.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (II Tim. 3:16)

When you read the Gospels, Christ speaks to you; when you pray, you are speaking to Him…. The Bible should be read not just for analysis, but as an immediate dialogue with the living Word Himself-to feed our love for Christ, to kindle our hearts with prayer and to provide us with guidance in our personal life. (St. Tikhon of Zodonsk)

When one reads the Holy Scriptures, one should apply everything to oneself and not to someone else. As a Book uniquely inspired by God and addressed to each of the faithful personally, the Bible possesses sacramental power, transmitting Grace to the reader, bringing him to a point of meeting and decisive encounter with God. (St. Mark the Monk)

Keep on studying the Gospels until the end of your life. Never stop. Do not think you know it enough, even if you know it all by heart. (Bp. Ignatius Brianchaninov)

How to Pray and Types of Prayer

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door; pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. (Matt. 6:6)

The room of the soul is the body; its doors are the five bodily senses. The soul enters its room when the mind does not wander here and there, roaming among the things and affairs of the world, but stays within, in our hearts. Our senses become closed and re main closed when we do not let them be passionately attached to external sensory things and in this way our mind remains free from every worldly attachment, and by secret mental prayer unites with God our Father.

(St.Gregory Palamos)

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.   (Eph. 5:19)

What is meant by those who sing with their “heart to the Lord?” It means: undertake this work with attention, for those who are in attentive sing in vain, pronouncing only words, while their heart wanders elsewhere. (St. John Chrysostom)

When you pray, try to let the prayer reach your heart; in other words, it is necessary that your heart should feel what you are talking about in your prayer, that it should wish for the blessing for which you are asking…. Observe, during prayer, whether your heart is in accord with that which you are saying. (St. John of Kronstadt)

Our prayer reflects our attitude towards God. He who is careless of salvation has a different attitude toward God from him who has abandoned sin and is zealous for virtue but has not yet entered within himself and works for the Lord only outwardly. Finally, he who has entered within and carries the Lord within himself, standing before Him, has yet another attitude. The first man is negligent in prayer, just as he is negligent in life, and he prays in church and at home merely according to the established custom, without attention or feeling. The second man reads many prayers and goes often to church, trying at the same time to keep his attention from wandering and to experience feelings in accordance with the prayers which are read, al though he is seldom successful. The third man, wholly concentrated within, stands with his mind before God, and prays to Him in his heart without distraction, without long verbal prayers, even when standing for a long time at prayer in his home or in church…. Every prayer must come from the heart and any other prayer is no prayer at all. Prayer-book prayers, your own prayers and very short prayers, all must issue forth from the heart to God, seen before you. (Bp. Theophun the Recluse)

And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. (Matt. 21:22)

Remember that while you pray, God expects from you a positive answer to His question: “Do you believe that I can fulfill your prayer?” You must be able to answer from the bottom of your heart: “Yes, I believe, O God,” and then you will be answered according to your faith. (St. John of Kponstodt)

How many times have I prayed for what seemed a good thing for me and not leaving it to God to do as He knows best But having obtained what I begged for, I found myself in distress because I had not asked for it to be, rather, according to God’s will. (St. Nilus of Sinai)

I had rather speak five words with my understanding… than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. (I Cor. 14:19)

Pray Simply. Do not expect to find in your heart any remarkable gift of prayer Consider yourself unworthy of it-then you will find peace. Use the empty, cold dryness of your prayer as food for your humility. Repeat constantly: “I am not worthy, Lord, I am not worthy!” But say it calmly, without agitation. This humble prayer will be acceptable to God. (Elder Macarius of Optina)

You should not make long prayer, for it is better to pray little but often. Superfluous words are idle talk. (St. Theophylact)

Strive to render your mind deaf and dumb during prayer. Blessed is the mind which during prayer keeps itself wholly without image or fantasy. (St. Nilus of Sinai)

Do not rush one prayer after another but say them with orderly deliberation, as one addressing a great person for a favor. Do not just pay attention to the words, but rather let the mind be in the heart, standing before the Lord in full awareness of His presence, in full consciousness of His greatness and grace and justice. (Theophun the Recluse)

The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.  (Matt. 11:12)

In order to pray a man must struggle to has last breath. If we do not find prayer difficult, perhaps it is because we have not really started to pray. (Abba Agathon)

I advise you to convince yourself a n d force yourself to prayer and every good action, even if you do not feel the desire for it. God seeing such labor and application will give you goodwill and zeal. Such good will and a certain attraction to prayer is often a result of habit. Get into this habit and it will draw you to prayer and good actions. (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk)

If you strive after prayer, prepare yourself for diabolical suggestions and bear patiently their onslaughts; for they will attack you like wild beasts…. Try as much as possible to be humble and courageous. He who endures will be granted great joy. (St. Nilus of Sinai)

Do not spare yourself from heartfelt prayer even when you have spent the whole day in hard work. Do not indulge in laziness when you pray; tell God everything that is in your heart. If you allow yourself time to pray with diligence, you will not fall asleep before you have wept over your sins. Believe that, if for the sake of bodily rest you pray hurriedly, you will lose the tranquility of both body and soul. By what labor, sweat and tears is our closeness to God achieved! (St. John of Kronstadt)

Pray without ceasing. (I Thess. 5:17)

Make sure that you do not limit your prayer merely to a particular part of the day. Turn to prayer at anytime. (St. John Chrysostom)

In everything they (the Apostles) did, they thought of God and lived in constant devotion to Him. This spiritual state was their unceasing prayer. (St. Basil the Great)

Rising in the morning stand as firmly as possible before God in your heart, as you offer your morning prayers and then go to the work apportioned to you by God, without withdrawing from Him in your feelings and consciousness….When there is no inner activity occupying a person, one must develop a habit of a continual repetition of a short prayer. This will eventually repeat itself and will bring one to constant remembrance of God, thus rejecting other thoughts of no profit. However, habit of the tongue is one thing, establishment in the heart is another. (Bp. Theophan the Recluse)

Those who have truly decided to serve the Lord God should practice the remembrance of God and uninterrupted prayer to Jesus Christ, mentally saying: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” (St. Seraphim of Sarov)

Let not one think, my fellow Christian, that only priests and monks need to pray with out ceasing and not laymen No, no; every Christian without exception ought to dwell always in prayer. (St. Gregory Polomas)

St. Xenia Press

Melbourne. Australia

Source: Orthodox America, Feb 1983

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