Monday, October 10, 2011

My Struggle in Prayer

Effective prayer can be a struggle. So often when I approach my prayer time I find my mind distracted so that I simply go though a routine without any feelings. Usually, I memorize many of the prayers I say daily in addition to my intercessory prayers.  Memorization etches the prayer in my mind making it available to me at any time.

What happens frequently, though, is that my mind takes control and begins to pray automatically  This is not a good sign. Why? Because our prayers need to come from the heart with feeling and an awareness that we are engaged in a dialogue with God. We need to have the awe of His presence as we pray. An automatic prayer is not really a prayer. A prayer must come from the heart with feeling and understanding.  I find I must continually remind myself of this. Too often I fall into the trap of just putting in my time to fulfill my prayer rule. It is not about the time we spend in prayer, but the sincerity with which we pray that is of the most importance. 

Saint Theophan says,
When you are at prayer, recite your prayer or psalm from memory, and embrace each word, not just with thought, but with feeling.  If during this your own prayerful cries arise from some word of the psalm or prayer, do not cut them off, but let them come.
We are taught to have a prayer rule and to stick with each day. We are told to memorize our routine prayers. But the danger is that our prayer time becomes too routine and we do not "embrace each word, not just with thought but with feeling." We can easily fly through our prayer rule, like we are on automatic pilot,  and never allow for those precious moments of spontaneous prayer where our heart is fully open realizing God's mercy and help.

We do not need to have a complex set of prayers for effective prayer. We can have an effective prayer time with only one simple prayer such as the Jesus Prayer or the Lord's Prayer. But, we must be attentive to each word as we repeat the prayer over and over for our allotted prayer time. The words must drop into our heart and penetrate it deeply with feeling. With such attention, our hearts are opened and God's grace reaches out to embrace us with His mercy.

Saint Theophan says,
Labor, for nothing will come from you otherwise. If you are not successful in prayer, do not expect success in anything else. It is the root off everything.
Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 289-290

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What Does It Mean To Be Spiritual?

A basic condition for the spiritual life is that we should understand that, on our own, we can do absolutely nothing. No matter how hard we try, the spiritual life is something that someone else gives to us. And the “someone else” is the Spirit of God, the Comforter, the “treasury of good things and the giver of life”, the treasury from which all the riches of spirituality come forth, the source from which the spiritual life emerges and overflows.
 Of course, sometimes we get confused, and think that to be spiritual means to be a “good person”: not to steal, not to kill, not to go to bad places or with bad friends, to go to Church on Sunday, to read spiritual books, and so on. But no, this is not the spiritual life.
 A spiritual person, a true Christian, is someone whose entire life is sworn to God. Initially by means of his baptism, and later, in his heart, such a person swears an oath to God, to live for God, and to remain with God forever.
 A spiritual person is an athlete who has burst into life, who stands out from the crowds of human beings, and runs with all the speed of his soul to heaven.
A spiritual person is one who with shining eyes and chest thrust forward, has set his course and races to heaven. He is not a “good man”. 
A spiritual person knows that, in order to succeed, he needs strong wings: the wings of the Holy Spirit.  
A spiritual person must therefore do everything possible to attract, to win over, the Spirit of God, because only the Holy Spirit, God himself, has the gifts of the spiritual life. 
According to St Gregory of Nyssa, the “distribution of the royal gifts” of the Holy Spirit takes place in the Church through the Sacraments. 
Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra


Monday, October 3, 2011

Aids in Practice of Jesus Prayer - Fr. Nikodim (1)

In the recent issue of The Orthodox Word there is an excellent article on the Jesus Prayer that is filled with practical advice.  It is "A Conversation with Elder Nikodim on the Jesus Prayer" by Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany.  In this article I found 20 useful pieces of advice that surely can help those who practice the Jesus Prayer.  I will in a series of posts share them.

Elder Nikodim was a Russian monk on Mount Athos in the Kellia of Karoulia.  He was a student of the Philokalia which he read regularly.  In his early life he was a noncommissioned officer in the Tsar's Army during World War I.  When the Tsar was overthrown, inspired by The Way of a Pilgrim, he decided to leave the army and take up a life serving, not an earthly king, but a heavenly king.  He went to Mount Athos and lived in the St. Panteleimon Monastery, as well as in its skeets, Chromitsa and New Thebaid.  He took on Fr. Theodosius as his spiritual father who was known to be very strict.  He taught him the essential virtue of humility.  "Obedience and humility are the essential preparatory conditions for the work of mental prayer" he copied from the work of Saint Theophan the Recluse.  This he learned does not come from the outward order of monastic life but from one's inner state.  He asked his spiritual father how he should engage in mental prayer after he died and he replied, "engage in mental prayer in a repentant spirit, and don't seek sweet feelings of the heart or visions of th emend....Well, now by your obedience you deserve outward stillness; for inward stillness, take care to acquire zealous repentance."

Fr. Nikodim was known as a good ascetic who was kind, merciful, always helped the poor and showed hospitality to everyone.  He conducted extensive correspondence with various Russian people out side of Russia and instructed them in prayer.

During World War II he was joined by Hiershemamonk Seraphim and they would keep vigil all night.  One would take the first half of the night and the other the other half. They were strict in their fasting.
In the late 50's he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to venerate the holy places there.
He had a stoke which kept him from writing. He died on February 15, 1984.

The article that contains his advice was written by Archbishop Mark who was a convert to Orthodoxy, tonsured into monasticism in 1975 and made several visits to Mount Athos where he became acquainted with Elder Nikodim. The interview he recorded was made in 1982 which was near the end of Fr. Nikodim's life.

Here are the beginning instructions as taught to Elder Nikodim by His spiritual Father Fr. Theodosius

1. Do you pull the rope quickly?
They would say the Jesus Prayer in stead of reading the daily services.  Elder Theodosius instructed him on the use of the prayer rope.  He said, "No, not quickly.  With the breath.  So that it fits with one's inhalations and exhalations––"Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me."

2. You do the prayer sitting down?
Elder Theodosius responded, "Sitting down.... At the beginning we stand when we say, "O Heavenly King Comforter..."Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal..., Have mercy on me, O God [Psalm 50]...". and the Creed.  Then you sit down––or pray with bows.