by Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) –
Short prayers help in overcoming distractions and extraneous thoughts: “Lord, have mercy,” “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” and others, which do not require a special focus on the words, but incline one to the birth of feelings and the movement of the heart. With the help of such prayers, one can learn to pray attentively and to focus on prayer.
One of the main obstacles to attentive prayer is the appearance of extraneous thoughts. St. John of Kronstadt, the great ascetic of the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, describes in his diaries how, during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, at the most crucial and sacred moments, before his mind’s eye would appear an apple pie or some other reward that he might be given. And with bitter regret he suggests how such extraneous images and thoughts can destroy a prayerful state. If such happened with the saints, then there is nothing surprising if it happens to us, too. To protect ourselves from extraneous thoughts and images, we have to learn, as did the ancient Fathers of the Church, “to guard our minds.” [Read more…]