Daily Prayers: The Battle with Extraneous Thoughts

Daily Prayers: The Battle with Extraneous Thoughts 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...]

The Lord’s Prayer: Everything Man Needs for Life and Salvation

Christ Praying The Lord's Prayer by Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) -
The “Our Father” prayer is of special significance, because Jesus Christ Himself gave it to us. It begins with the words: “Our Father, Who art in the heavens.” This prayer is comprehensive in character: in it is concentrated, as it were, everything that man needs both for earthly life and for the salvation of his soul. The Lord gave it to us so that we would know what we should pray for and what to ask of God.

The first words of this prayer, “Our Father, Who art in the heavens,” reveal to us that God is not some distant or abstract being, not some notional good foundation, but our Father. Today very many people, in response to the question of whether they believe in God, reply in the affirmative; but if you ask them how they imagine God and what they think of Him, they respond something like this: “Well, God is good, it is something luminous, some kind of positive energy.” That is, they treat God like some kind of abstraction, as something impersonal.

When we begin our prayer with the words “Our Father,” then we are immediately appealing to the personal, living God, to God as Father – to the Father about Whom Christ spoke in the parable of the prodigal son. [Read more...]

Prayer is the Gauge of Our Spiritual Life

Prayer is the Gauge of Our Spiritual Life by Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) -
If our life is not a preparation for prayer, then it can be very difficult for us to pray. Prayer is the gauge of our spiritual life, a kind of litmus test. We need to construct our life in such a way that it conforms to prayer.

Prayer involves not only joy and attainments, which take place because of it, but also painstaking daily labor. Sometimes prayer brings enormous joy, refreshing man and giving him new strength and opportunities. But it very often happens that one is not disposed towards prayer, that one does not want to pray. Thus, prayer should not depend upon our mood. Prayer is labor. St. Silouan the Athonite said: “To pray is to shed blood.” As in every labor, this requires great effort, sometimes enormous effort, in order to force oneself to pray even when one does not want to. And such an effort [podvig] will be repaid one hundredfold. [Read more...]

Don’t Despair, Cling to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Don't Despair, Cling to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by St. John of Kronstadt -
When the darkness of the accursed one [the devil] covers you — doubt, despondency, despair, disturbance — then only call with your whole heart upon the sweetest name of Jesus Christ, and in Him you shall find all — light, strengthening, trust, comfort, and peace; in Him you shall find the greatest mercy, goodness and bountifulness; all these mercies you will find contained in His name alone, as though in a rich treasury.

Never despair in God’s mercy by whatever sins you may have been bound by the temptation of the Devil, but pray with your whole heart, with the hope of forgiveness; knock at the door of God’s mercy and it shall be opened unto you. I, a simple priest, am an example for you: however I may sometimes sin by the action of the Devil, for instance, by enmity towards a brother, whatever the cause may be, even though it may be a right cause, and I myself become thoroughly disturbed and set my brother against me, and unworthily celebrate the Holy Sacrament, not from wilful neglect, but by being myself unprepared, and by the action of the Devil; yet, after repentance, the Lord forgives all, and everything, especially after the worthy communion of the Holy Sacrament: [Read more...]

Contemplative Prayer and Silence Needed in a Noisy World

Contemplative Prayer and Silenceby Fr. James Farfaglia -
“Where shall the word be found, where shall the word Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.” – T.S. Elliot

In our last reflection we considered how essential it is for us to be open to God in order to receive the gift of contemplative prayer. Another essential ingredient is silence.

Blessed Mother Theresa once said, “In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.” [Read more...]

Prayer Must Be Our First Priority

Prayer First Priority Christianity by Fr. James Farfaglia -
Many times we turn to God only we have fallen flat on our face.

We all know that prayer is essential, but for many, prayer is the last thing that we do. At times, prayer is seen as a last resort when all of our own efforts have failed.

This pervasive attitude, so rooted in our can-do American view of self-reliance, reminds me of a charming story about a little boy who began to ride his bicycle for the first time.

As he rode around the neighborhood, his mom watched proudly from the front porch of their house. As the little boy rode past his house he yelled out, “Hey, mom, look no hands!” As he rode by the second time, he yelled out, “Hey, mom, look no hands!” Finally, as he rode by a third time, he yelled out, “Hey mom, look no teeth!” [Read more...]

Why Did the Lord Single Out Mary of Egypt?

St Mary of Egypt icon by Fr. Alexander Men -
On the fifth Sunday of Great Lent the Church celebrates the memory of St. Mary of Egypt, the holy ascetic struggler, who is an image of the deep and sincere repentance that brings forth great fruit.

All of you will remember her life. You will recall that her youth was spent in wantonness; that she was a harlot, a courtesan, a fallen woman in a large and depraved city in Egypt; and that she went from being a great sinner to a saint. Yet, regardless of such a manner of life, there was likely some Godly spark in Mary’s heart attracting her to God. She did not understand that she was not living as the Lord’s law or conscience demand. She thought that she was not hurting anyone.

Once a large ship with pilgrims and believers was leaving for the Holy Land, and Mary decided to leave with them. At first it did not even occur to her that this would be a pilgrimage to the holy places. She simply wanted to enjoy herself with the people who were leaving for a journey by ship. [Read more...]

The Meaning of the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian

Archpriest Alexander Men

Archpriest Alexander Men

by Fr. Alexander Men -
Every day of Great Lent, with the exception of Saturdays and Sundays, the prayer “O Lord and Master of my life” is read. According to tradition, this prayer was written in Syria in the fourth century by the ascetic Mar Afrem or, as we have grown accustomed to calling him, Ephraim the Syrian. He was a monk, poet, and theologian, one of the most eminent sons of the Syrian Church, who entered world literature as a remarkable writer.

The words of the prayer, which were quite accurately transmitted by Pushkin [1], sound as follows when translated from the Syrian: “O Lord and Master of my life,” that is: Ruler of my life, Who gave me life, Who is the center and focal point of my life. “Give me not a spirit of idleness,” that is, laziness, which is, according to the old adage, the mother of all vices. Laziness seems like an innocent thing, but it engenders much that is dark and black.

Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem (St. Ephraim the Syrian)
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.

Despondency (Despair).” Christianity is a joyful doctrine; joyful, too, is he who is despondent – for it will leave him. [Read more...]

This Christmas, Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There

Christmas Nativity of Christ by John Jalsevac -
Christmas isn’t quite what it used to be, is it? And I’m not referring the usual laundry list of grievances that makes us religious fundamentalist extremists (i.e. Christians) seriously ponder setting up a utopian commune on a deserted Mediterranean island: the war on Christmas, the kitschy music, the consumerist madness, the widespread ignorance about even the most basic facts behind the feast.

Forget about all that for now. All I mean is, if you’re old enough to be reading this, somehow Christmas has lost much of the effortless magic with which it was surrounded years ago…in your childhood.

You know what I mean. As a child, it seemed so easy to get swept up into the rich mystery of Christmas: the presents, the smells, the music, the lights glistening on the snow, the tinsel on the tree, the strange guests, the parties, the good food. All these things spoke to you, and without thinking about it you gave yourself into the power of their enchantment. [Read more...]

When the Wood Is Dry

Cross Christ healing prayer by Daniel Boerman -
The gospel is all about healing and salvation and deliverance. It promises deliverance from sin and the judgment of God. It releases us from guilt and futility and frees us to live a meaningful life in the service of God. And it holds out the promise of a new life in the presence of God after this present life of struggle is over.

But what happens when this Good News seems to pass us by and leave us unchanged? For a period of several years, the gospel seemed to leave me out in the cold as surely as a marooned traveler stranded in a North Dakota blizzard. I struggled with confusion and depression and doubt.

During this period, I constantly prayed for some healing or deliverance. But nothing happened. I had the impression that God was sitting on the sidelines watching my struggle with some interest but also detachment. I questioned my faith and my status with God. It seemed that God wanted me to work out this problem on my own. The healing and grace of the gospel seemed to pass me by. [Read more...]

When Words Don’t Come – A Reflection on Prayer

Prayer Orthodox Christian Christ Icon Fr John Breck -
There are other times, when a crisis or ongoing stress creates a stumbling block in the way of prayer, to such an extent that we feel we can’t pray at all. Again, the words are just not there. We don’t know how to formulate what we need; we can’t even discern an appropriate way to express what we feel. “Ask and you shall receive,” the Scriptures tell us. But how do we ask for some gift of grace, or solution to a problem, or relief from the suffering of acute loss, when we can’t step back and away from the tension and chaos we may feel, in order to put that request into coherent words? …

An elderly woman recently broke down during Confession and began sobbing. She had attempted to offer to God what she felt was her sinful neglect in raising her son. Throughout his childhood and adolescence, she had taken him to church services on Sundays and feast days, and each day she had prayed with him and for him. Apparently, she had done all she could, gently and supportively, to lead him into life in Christ, with a serious and deep reverence for the Orthodox Christian faith. [Read more...]

Ten Steps to a Better Prayer Life

OrthodoxyToday | by Fr. Hans Jacobse | Jan. 11, 2010

If you want to improve your prayer life, the time to take action is now. These ideas may seem of little significance, but can help you make leaps and bounds in the intensity and consistency of your prayer.

1. Designate A Prayer Space
Whether it is in the corner of your desk or a little stand in your room, it is important to have a place where you can put your Bible, Icons, etc. Dedicate the use of that space for God alone.

2. Acquire A Time
Incorporate prayer in your routine and set time aside to center your thoughts to God. [Read more...]

Prayer is a Conversation of Man with God

Prayer is a conversation of man with God. He who prays with a broken and humbled spirit is filled with divine gifts and blessings — that is, with joy, peace, comfort, illumination and consolation — and he, too, becomes blessed. Prayer is the double-edged sword that slays despair, saves from danger, assuages grief, and so on. Prayer is a preventive medicine for all diseases of soul and body. – Elder Ephraim of Mt. Athos

Prayer and Silence

OrthodoxyToday.org | Bp. Hilarion (Alfeyev) | Mar. 3, 2009

When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father Who is in secret; and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you. And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask them.”1 These words of Christ may provoke the following question: What is the sense of praying if God knows beforehand what we actually need?

In answering this question, one should remember that prayer is not just a request for something; it is first of all an encounter with Someone, a dialogue with the living God. “Prayer is communion of the intellect with God,” according to a classic definition by Evagrius the Solitary. [Read more...]