By Fr. Cleopa
Therefore, our duty is to pray as we can, however we can, starting with the opening prayers: “Heavenly King…”, “Holy God…”, “All-holy Trinity…”, “Our Father…”, “The Creed” and all the other ones. We should pray as we can, but we should do it often.
Because – listen to what the Holy Fathers say! St. Theophane the Recluse is a most-legitimate witness, who says: To the one who prays often, the prayer itself will turn into his greatest praying teacher. Prayer itself can teach him to climb all the way up from the lowest steps of prayer to the highest ones – to ecstasy and spiritual prayer”. So, prayer itself was teaching the Saints how to pray, because they were always praying.
That is why the Apostle says: Pray incessantly! That is, any time. You’re at home, you’re on the road, you’re in your monastery cell, you’re at work – anywhere – lift your mind to God. And say it as you can, but do, always! Any prayer is good, if you say it with fear of God and focus.
Let us not search higher prayer steps out of our own initiative, because that is pride! What we should do is pray as best we can, and when He sees that our soul is trying hard to learn how to pray – once it has found out His gift – God will grant upon him moments of pure prayer.
And then, that person will look for solitude, for time in which he will be with God only. Just as St. John of the Ladder says: Whoever has found sweetness of prayer, will always want solitude. And St. Isaac the Syrian says: Whoever has found sweetness of prayer, will flee from crowds as a wild donkey! He will want to stay in that sweetness and in his dialogue with God, always. And vain chatter and business and other things will draw him away from prayer, but he will always be sorry and long for it whenever that happens.
It is very difficult for man to get to pray in such a way that the noise and sight and hearing of many will not pull him back. Few people acquire perfect prayer.
There is solitude within oneself, inside one’s heart, and outer solitude. The outer solitude is this: I go to the forest and live in a hut somewhere, or in a cave, and pray. Now, that would help praying, a lot. However, if one doesn’t have inner solitude, it’s no use. You can stay there and still picture all the cities, and Bucharest, and all the towns, in your mind. It would be to no avail if you left for the wilderness only with your body; as your mind wouldn’t be there with you. Now – what does it mean, exactly, being a monk? St. John of the Ladder says: He who sits with his mind outside of the world and prays to God always. That is a monk!
God doesn’t ask us to only take our body out of the world and run into the woods; but it is with our minds that we should leave the world. I could sit in the midst of the noisy world, as St. Theodosius would do – the initiator of monastic communities – yet they would see him pray as a pillar of fire, in the middle of the world. He would receive three thousand poor in his dining hall every day and would tend to them at table. And you would see him in the middle of the world just as he would have been in the farthest desert, because he had acquired perfection in that. He would no longer hear or watch anything of this world, but only the things Above. But such a life belongs only to the ones who have perfected that [practice].
As for ourselves, who need to teach ourselves how to pray, what we need first is solitude within ourselves. You lock yourself among the four walls of your house and you can be alone that way. You have locked the door and entered the chamber of your heart. It is only there that you can finally hide away to pray to God in secret.
St. Symeon the New Theologian says: Our mind cannot hide anywhere among mere walls! You could go as far as the wilderness or among rocks or anywhere else, you can’t hide it within any enclosure whatsoever. The deepest place where you can hide your mind away from the world is its natural chamber: the heart! It is only inside your heart that you can hide your mind, as that is where it sits and talks with Jesus, with the Logos Bridegroom, that you have been carrying within you since christening.
Once you hide it in there, your mind must enter your heart in a mute, deaf, and blind state. Let it not speak any more, let it not hear or see anything from this world, any more. Let it only see Jesus and attach to Him and unite in the Holy Spirit. There, in your heart – the Bridegroom with the Bride! Our souls are Christ’s brides, as Holy Apostle Paul says: For I have espoused you to an immortal Bridegroom but I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your hearts* [*Romanian] should be corrupted […]. He didn’t say minds, but hearts, as he knew that the true union of our soul, with Christ, is done in one’s heart, nowhere else.
And if we pray as we can, let us pray often, as the Grace is the mother of all good things to each of us. Have you observed a good mother’s behavior towards her baby? If she sees that it cannot walk on its own, she will let it walk a little – but it’ll immediately fall and start crying, as his little legs are still frail and he cannot walk by himself. And the mother will pick him up right away: “Wait, let me teach you.” And she takes him by the hand, and she’ll guide him a little bit, and leave him by himself, again. So that he learns how to walk. That is what the Grace does during our prayer, when we don’t know how to pray.
When Grace comes to you, you feel pure prayer; you feel prayer of the mind and of the heart. And then when the Holy Spirit leaves you by yourself as a result of pride and laziness, you fall down again and your mind veers off to the world and its troubles. Then it will lift you up again, until you learn how to walk on that road, on your own legs. And that is how, when God sees that your soul wants to pray, will introduce it into praying little by little and lead it from one step to another. And when it has learnt how to pray, it doesn’t need anybody to hold it by the hand, any more. It knows that true prayer is to be found in the heart, when it unites with Jesus Christ.
So, it is right for us to pray as we can. Sometimes with our mouths, other times with our mind, other times yet, with our heart, and other times, above the prayer of the heart. Whoever will be worthy of the other steps of prayer, as I told you (the prayer that moves by itself, the “seeing” prayer, the prayer in ecstasy/awe, and the spiritual prayer) – will have a great gift from God; but I don’t know if there is anyone among our people of today, who will. Only God will know someone like that. Maybe s/he is somewhere in a hidden cave, in the mountains or – who knows! Only God knows. But if such a person exists, s/he is surely a pillar of fire! When that person prays, s/he will turn into a pillar of fire, like the Elder in the Patericon!