Monday, December 31, 2012

Elder Sergei of Vanves on Prayer


The Elder Sergei taught that prayer is most important for an Orthodox Way of LIfe. Prayer is of two types. One is asking for God’s help. The other is giving thanks, always remembering that everything comes from God with His help. This attitude is essential to avoid pride. Prayer should focus on the spiritual and not the material. With spiritual help God will grant what is necessary in material things. In everything we must give thanks to God.

Prayer should not be based on our desires or our personal inspiration.  We pray because it is necessary. Lack of prayer or the feeling of not wanting to pray is a sin according to the Elder.
“It is absolutely scandalous to says “I don’t feel like praying.” Such a thing is an offense to God, a true blasphemy. That we pray must be absolute, unchanging rule inour lives. We must pray no matter what the cost because it really is a matter of life and death. We don’t decide to breath because of our good will, we don’t think about whether it’s  really necessary to breath, we never ask why. We know that is we stop breathing we will die. We must treat prayer with the same attitude, that it is absolutely essential to even staying alive and that there is no question that we need to do it at all times. We should say to ourselves “That’s how it is, period!” We must stick to a rule of prayer and keep it at all costs.”
Prayer is difficult. We must never assume that external circumstances are to blame for these difficulties. All difficulties are due to our own condition.  They can be overcome by: (1) repentance; (2) effort of the will; (3) patience; (4) rigorous discipline.

We should have a prayer rule which at a minimum involves setting aside at least two times every day for prayer, in the morning and the evening.  We should set aside specific times for this activity. Establishing a rule that we know we can perform day after day, allows us to develop habits which will lead us to continual prayer.

The idea of intense times of prayer in the morning and evening is to make it easier for us to pray the rest of the time. Our aim is to develop a life which is based on prayer. Prayer should become continual keeping God in our mind and hearts all the time in everything we do.
“The morning and evening prayers are not, on their own, sufficient. They are like stretches in gymnastics, warm-ups, which help to develop our capacity to breath more deeply and stretch our mussels, but they do not give u breath for the rest of the day.”
The Elder tells us that prayer allows us to become more present to God as well as others and ourselves. Through prayer we unite ourselves evermore closely with God. We gain greater insight about others and deepen our interpersonal relationships. With prayer we are better able to live each moment watchfully and live according ot God’s will. We become more present in the world and at the same time are more detached from it. The heavenly kingdom become our greatest reality. Through prayer we learn the language of the life to come.
“ One of the dangers in prayer is to make it totally drebreal activity. Our motivation must be love of God Himself, not love of knowledge of Him or love of understanding Him. Prayer must be a spiritual act, not a mental one. Concentration is not solely a mental act; all of our faculties must work together.”
Before beginning prayer we must ask God to forgive all our sins for the way we have been unfaithful to Him. We acknowledge our weaknesses and seek His help with humility. All our requests in prayer must be done with humility.
Our life should be lived in the spirit of prayer. The Elder says, “Prayer is our very breath.”
“Prayer should be like a vigil lamp in our hearts: permanent. We must always make sure that it has oil to continue burning. In the moments when we find it most difficult to pray, we should pray at least a little so that the light in our hearts won’t go out. We must be like the wise virgins, not like the foolish maidens, so that we will not be taken by surprise when death comes.”

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