But you will ask me: “What about us, Father, what should we do, most of us who live in the world, who don’t know this technique and philosophy of high prayer? Will our souls be lost for that matter?” No, they won’t! But since the issue of prayer was brought up, I have just shown you what true prayer is. If I don’t pray, it doesn’t mean that I should not tell others, either. I have never prayed like that myself, in my life! But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t know about it. Ignorance is the soul’s blindness.
But you know what the devil does to pride and insensitiveness? If we shed a tear during prayer, do you know what he says? “Wow, now you prayed really well!” Eehhh!… And how much more do we really have left, to reach true, pure prayer! How far the sky really is from earth! I told you – prayer grows without limits – because it is uniting with God. It has no boundaries.
That is true prayer – as a Father said in the Patericon: “I have commanded my mind to rise to the skies for three days! And never come back down – for three whole days”. That is prayer! Or how an Elder in the desert prayed. When a brother came to visit him, he asked him:
– Son, what is new in Alexandria? How are the people?
– Father, there is great drought, the brother answered.
– But why don’t you pray? asked the old man.
– We do, Father! They even took out the holy relics and the icons; Priests have come over, they have performed the Holy Oil service, with the Archierarchs, out in the fields, followed by a big procession. They keep praying and it’s still not raining!
But the old man said:
– Clearly, you don’t pray! The old man knew what true prayer was.
– But we do, Father! the brother insisted.
– Son, if that is true, let’s pray together for a little while! – to show him what true prayer was like. The Elder lifted his hands and his fingers suddenly looked like ten small torches and his face was like sunlight. He didn’t put them down for a whole hour. And during that time, the clear sky and dry weather changed, clouds formed and got bigger and bigger, thunders and lightning struck and it rained so heavily, pouring down all around them and throughout Egypt, that the brother cried out: – Father, Father, please get your hands down, or else I will drown! Then the minute the Father put his hands down, his face turned back to its previous appearance.
See what true prayer is? This is how we should pray, too! Thousands of people prayed; Priests and Archierarchs and common people – and it still hadn’t rained. And when one man prayed – just one man, but he prayed right – within an hour, there was down-pouring rain, and clouds, and the lot. It’s with that kind of prayer that Elijah unlocked the sky, which had been locked for three years and six months. That is ecstatic prayer – or prayer in awe.
So when we pray, we should know that we are far from prayer as long as our mind sits at the lower levels and is unclean. But we must not despair, as God knows our powerlessness. Many a times, some poor person prays, overwhelmed by some trouble, and there is no time for him to read a prayer from the Breviary or from the Psalm Book. He will only say something like: “God, have mercy on me! God, please forgive me!” – but he says it with all his heart.
Now, when the mind enters his heart, the person will no longer be able to pray with too many words. The most he will be able to say is: “God, have mercy on me!” or “Mercy me!” or “My God!” So when his mind has gone down into his heart or has entered the chamber of his heart, he will just say: “My Jesus! My Jesus!” Because at that point, the heart will close up and open up fast. The heart will swallow Jesus and Jesus will swallow the heart!
There is no time for many words, for he will sit in front of the Savior and will be afraid to say long words, for fear he should lose his focus. As focus is the power of prayer in front of the Savior. At that point, he will only say short words: “My Jesus!” – but while saying those two words, “My Jesus!”, he will shed so many tears and so much Divine love will come upon him, that man will become like fire during prayer.
That is why, when we pray, we should pray to the best of our abilities. St. Macarius knew that we don’t know how to pray, but he gave us a piece of advice; he said: “Man, I know that you don’t know how to pray! (he knew what prayer was, as he was a great pillar of Orthodoxy) but I give you a piece of advice: Pray as you can! But pray often!” As it is by praying frequently that man starts to learn what true prayer is.
And Holy John of the Ladder says: “What are we to do, then? Will we give up quantitative prayer?” – since quantitative prayer is the prayer that is important in quantity terms, but we do it without having our mind in our hearts and without gazing at God through our mind. “No, we will not give it up!” As the former type of prayer causes the latter. It is quantity that will bring forth quality.
There is a popular saying: “Practice makes perfect!” Pray all the time! The Apostle says: “Pray without ceasing”! If we pray just as we can, powerlessly and “spread-out” in our minds, just as we can, God, seeing that our soul does want to pray for as little as it does, will give it a few minutes of true prayer. At that point it will start praying with tears, with much ardor. Yet that prayer, even if it lasts for a few minutes (those few minutes of prayer while one’s mind is in one’s heart) will be more powerful than if you sat praying for a whole month, reading from the Psalm Book or the Breviary. That’s how powerful it is. At that point, once he had tasted the sweetness of true prayer, the Christian will say: “Well!… Now that’s prayer!” But this taste that one gets from pure prayer – from graceful prayer – doesn’t come to us when we want it to. It comes when God wishes to bestow His mercy upon our souls.
Heard what St. Isaac the Syrian says? Tears during prayer are a sign of God’s mercy. When we see that God has looked inside ourselves by giving us a lot of tears during our prayer, that is a sign that His mercy has touched upon our eyes and that He wants, through those tears of repentance and great love, to clean us, to enlighten us, to wash off our sins and show us what true prayer really is.