Once we realize how great is the gap between our earthly being and the transcendent and all powerful God, we begin to appreciate how little we know about God. We come to terms with the limitations of our intellect and our rational powers.
Edlder Aimilians says,
We don't know God. We live in total ignorance, in what is essentially total oblivion. I neither remember God nor know Him. This is why I cry all the time, so that He can feel sorry for me and can answer me. And when God answers I can strike up a conversation. That is how prayer starts!
The beginning of prayer is a movement from the deepest part of our being. It's a humble cry for help. In the beginning prayer can be expressed in many ways. It can begin with the words we express with our mouths, reading the prayers of the psalms or the Church. This can be an outward verbal expression or one that is said silently from inside ourselves. What is important is that the prayer is sincere, based on our faith and coming from our inner depth. The key is for us to pray with this depth so that we eventually become aware that it is the spirit within us that speaks.
Elder Aimilianos says,
What matters is that there should issue forth a cry from the depths, which is like a powerful bomb, like an earthquake, should shake the heavens and make God answer, in the end, and say to us: Are you shouting to me? Why?
The beginning of prayer involves this intense longing to communicate with God. It is an urgent cry and a persistent one. Always based on a humble view of our reality in relationship with Him. It makes no difference how we try to express this, whether standing, sitting, or lying prostrate on our belly. It must be a cry that God cannot ignore.
The Elder says,
We should learn to seek Him. Because if God were to surrender to us immediately, before we did any of these things... we'd cast Him off as easily as we'd won Him, because we would not know His true value... God wants us to sense Him first from the depths of our beings which we raise up to Him.
The first thing is to experience prayer as a struggle. The second is a cry from the depths.
Reference: The Authenic Seal by Archimandrite Aimilianos, pp 203-205.
We all assume we know what prayer is, but do we really know? How do we feel in prayer? What does it mean to live prayer?
Elder Aimilianos says prayer is the vehicle of the soul. "It is the atmosphere the soul lives in." He compares it to our breathing, that it is the breath of the soul.
It is only when the Spirit prays within us that our prayer is able to ascend to heaven. Prayer is in the Spirit and the Spirit comprehends Spirit and is united with that, not with flesh.
We should ask ourselves if we are still holding on to a child's way of prayer. Prayer is much more than asking for something good in this life for others or ourselves. The Elder says "that prayer is a journey towards God." For an Orthodox Christian, prayer must become a way of life, a key part of their journey to knowing and being united with God.
The Elder reminds us of the incredible task we are engaged it when we pray. We are so different than God. He is in heaven but we live in a physical world here on earth. His essence is beyond what we can comprehend. The Elder says "God is light and we are darkness," emphasizing the difference. Because of the large difference we should expect to experience a struggle with prayer. In relation to God the soul is very small and is also clouded with all our earthly desires and passions. God is so great and perfect that our attempt at prayer only makes us aware of our smallness and weakness. The closer we come to God the more we realize our condition.
This means that prayer is naturally a struggle. The Elder says,
It follows that we experience prayer initially - when we start to pray - as a wrestling-match, as a struggle... not in the sense that it is difficult to pray, that I have to struggle to gather my thoughts or overcome my sleepiness, ... this is ascetic struggle... [but] the struggle we have with God.
This means the feeling we can have is a feeling of this great gap, so large it appears to be an insurmountable obstacle. We are reminded of the transcendence of God. Bridging this great difference between us is the nature of the struggle we should feel in prayer.
The Elder makes an important point,
When I do not have this sense of this struggle with God... I have not even begun to pray.
Reference: The Authentic Seal, by Archimandrite Aimilianos, pp 199-201.