By Father Cleopa
So let me tell you that when we pray with our mouth, we do a good thing – as this is how one starts learning how to pray. It is with our mouth that we first learn the opening prayers: “Heavenly King… ”, “Holy God…”, “All Holy Trinity…”, “Our Father…”, “The Creed”, “Psalm 50”…; and we should learn them by heart, from prayer books, from the Book of Hours, and from the Psalm book.
We read prayers with our mouth – and this is how one learns prayers -, as if we were in our first grade. Man starts from this kind of prayer and climbs further in it, higher and higher, until prayer is no longer prayer, and s/he reaches heavenly vision. Now, speaking of prayer, we shall talk about its steps, just as the Holy Fathers teach us.
When we pray with our tongue, mouth, and lips, we stand on the lowest step of prayer. We must move our praying efforts from our tongue and mouth to our mind, because our soul has two ruling parts, as St. John Damascene shows us in his “Dogmatics”: our mind and our heart.
Our mind spins off thoughts permanently. The brain is the tool of reason and the heart is the tool of feelings, including spiritual ones. As where else do you feel joy, pain, and fear, first — other than your heart? See how our soul’s feelings dwell in our heart?
Therefore — let me tell you this. When we pray with our mouths, we stand at the beginning of prayer. However, if I say a prayer with my mouth, such as: Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner or Our Father, or Holy Theotokos…! or any other prayer and I also understand it in my mind, that’s no longer the prayer of the mouth, but it’s moved up another step – to the prayer of the mind.
And if I take that prayer (the one that I utter with my mouth and understand with my mind) further still, to where it is felt by my heart — then it’s become the prayer of the heart – a higher step. Listen to what Apostle Paul says: Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, […] than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. See how much higher is the prayer of the mind than that of the tongue? – the Apostle would rather say five words while his mind is in the Church, rather than ten thousand words only by his tongue; as praying with one’s mind is much higher prayer than that of the tongue.
Yet – is prayer of the mind complete prayer? No, it isn’t! The prayer of the mind isn’t complete, either. This prayer is only what the Holy Fathers call half-prayer, or one-winged bird or one-legged prayer, because the prayer of the mind isn’t perfect, either. It still lacks something. We must take this prayer from the understanding of our minds to the feeling of our hearts.
When we say a prayer with our tongue and we understand it with our mind and feel it in our heart, it becomes spherical, round, incorporated into the movement of our soul. That prayer is much more accomplished and it’s called the prayer of the heart.
You will ask me: is prayer of the heart the highest kind of all? No, it isn’t! There is praying that is even higher than that. However, as St. Isaac the Syrian says, only one in ten thousand can barely reach the prayer of the heart. As to the prayer that’s higher than the heart prayer, only one person in a whole country and [in a single generation] can barely reach it; that’s how much higher than heart prayer this prayer is.
And what are the higher prayer levels, above the heart prayer?
The first one is the so-called self-moving prayer. Why is it called like that? When prayer has grown firm inside one’s heart (Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!), at some point, the heart starts praying without receiving any words from the tongue. It is what they say in the “Song of Songs”, in the Bible: I sleep, but my heart waketh. You know how our prayer is like, at that point? It’s like winding a clock and then it works by itself.
At this level, one reaches what great Paul the Apostle says: Pray without ceasing. (1 Tessalonians 5:17). We might think that Apostle Paul says something here that is beyond our abilities. “How could I pray without ceasing? – you might ask. But I am eating! Can I pray while I’m eating? But I am talking to people! Can I pray while doing that?” You can, if you want to!
For the man who has reached self-moving prayer, wherever he might be, his heart will pray permanently. Wherever he may be – on a plain, on a train, in the factory, at the railway station, on the road, asleep – his heart will pray ceaselessly. Once it has reached the “self-moving” stage, this prayer will turn that man’s whole life into prayer. Whatever he will be working on earth, he will be praying at all times.
The Apostles taught us nothing that exceeds our power. When Apostle Paul said: Pray without ceasing — the man who has reached “self-moving prayer” is actually implementing his advice. If he eats, his heart will be praying; when he talks to others, he is the owner of a “secret mouth”: the ardent mouth of the Holy Spirit within his heart. It is the mouth through which God speaks. It is the “mouth of the Spirit”, as St. Basil the Great calls it. Such a man, who has acquired “self-moving” prayer, whatever he may be doing, his heart would be praying at all times. This is the fourth step of prayer.
Yes there is an even higher step than that: the seeing prayer. What kind of prayer is this? Well – remember St. Anthony the Great? From there, from the mountain he was living on, in Thebaid, Egypt, he would travel with his mind to St. Amonius – another big hermit. The latter had just exited his earthly life and his soul was being taken to Heaven by the angels. And St. Anthony started crossing himself. And the monks around him asked him: “Father, why do you cross yourself?” And he answered: “Our brother, Amonius, the great pillar of heaven and earth, is going to Heaven and I have crossed myself before his soul”.
And there was a great distance between St. Anthony’s abode and the mountain where Amonius lived; but Anthony could see Amonius’ soul as it was being lifted by the angels to the heavens, upon leaving his body. That is what being a foreseer person is – or having a God-foreseeing mind!
What man possesses when he becomes a God-foreseer is the prayer called “seeing” prayer. So – he will be able to raise his mind so much, that he will see – like here, for example, where we’re sitting now – how many demons there are (as there are a lot of them) and how many angels there are. He will see all of them. He will see the persons who have cleaned their hearts, he will see their thoughts, too; he will see what every person is thinking. His mind would get so clean, that he will tell you what you are thinking, or what the other one is thinking. He will know everyone’s thoughts. Remember what the Savior said – Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Whether is it easier to say […], Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? He would look and see their thoughts.
So these are the kinds of things that the person who reaches seeing prayer will be able to do. He would know the thoughts of everyone present here. He would see the evil spirits, the angels, as well as who among us here takes care of his/her salvation.
There is yet another level of prayer, which is even higher – the sixth kind: the prayer in ecstasy or in awe. During this kind of prayer, the person’s mind would be raptured to heaven; his face will resemble fire, his hands and fingers will look like torches, and his mind would no longer be on earth, but only in heaven.
And the last kind of prayer, which is higher than the ecstatic one is spiritual prayer. This is the seventh type. Spiritual prayer isn’t even called prayer, any more. According to all Holy Fathers, it is called spiritual sight and Kingdom of heaven. Holy Father Isaac the Syrian states the same thing.
So spiritual prayer goes beyond the boundaries of prayer. It becomes one with God’s nature. This is what Apostle Paul saw: I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell; God knoweth); such an one caught up to the third heaven […] and heard unspeakable words, which is not lawful for a man to utter.
He did not know how it happened, exactly – because during that kind of prayer, man’s mind no longer works on its own, but is taken by the power of the Holy Spirit and risen to heavenly heights – and can no longer think what it wishes. Thus the man’s mind is led to great revelations – in hell, or in heaven, wherever the Holy Spirit wants to take it. Thus such a man will find himself in the midst of major revelations and when he reverts to his usual state, he will no longer know whether he was taken in his body or outside of his body – just like the Apostle Paul.
That is the highest kind of prayer – about which Holy Father Isaac the Syrian says that “only one person in a generation might be worthy of such revelation”. So, barely one person in a whole generation.