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Let us Learn to pray
Advices given by Holy Theofan the Recluse.
Material gathered and organized by Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
Translated from Russian by Irina Nabatova-Barrett

How one can enter the praying state of mind.

Being a soulís breath, a prayer is most important in the life of a Christian. The presence of prayer in someoneís life means that the person is spiritually alive, without a prayer a person is dead.

Standing in front of icons and bowing is not yet a prayer itself, those are just attributes of a prayer. The same can be said about reading a prayer, whether recited by memory it or read from a book, it would be not a prayer itself, but merely a means to start it. The main thing in praying is invocation of feelings of reverence to God: devotedness to the Father, gratitude, submission to the will of God, an aspiration to glorify Him and similar feelings. That is why while praying we should make those feelings permeate ourselves so that our hearts would not be dry. It is only when our hearts appeal to God that our reading prayers (evening or morning praying) becomes a true prayer, otherwise it is not yet a prayer.

A prayer, which is an appeal of our heart to God, should be invoked and strengthened; a spirit of intercession should be brought up within us.

The first way to do it is to pray through reading or listening to prayers written in prayer-books. Read the prayer-book or listen to it very attentively and you will certainly incite and strengthen your heart in its ascension to God, which means you would enter the prayerful spirit. In the prayers of holy fathers (printed in prayer books and other church books), a great prayer power is in motion. Who is diligently attending them will through the force of interaction enjoy that power, as the state of mind of a praying person comes closer to the essence of those prayers. In order to turn your intercessions into an effective way of nourishing a prayer, one must do it so that both your mind and heart would perceive the content of the prayers being read.

Here are the three simplest ways to achieve it:

  • Do not start a prayer without preparing yourself to it properly.
  • Say prayers with feeling and attention, but not casually.
  • After completing your prayer do not hasten to go back to your everyday cares.

Preparation to praying: Before you start a prayer, no matter where it is taking place, stand or sit for a short time and try to sober your mind relieving it of all irrelevant work and cares. Then give thought to Who is the One you are turning to in prayer, and who you are in praying to Him; invoke the appropriate attitude of humility and reverential awe to God. That is the beginning of a prayer, and a good beginning is half the success.

The praying itself: Having prepared yourself, stand in front of the icons, make a sign of cross, bow and begin the usual praying. Say the prayer without haste discerning every word and taking it close to your heart. In other word you should understand what you are reading and feel what you understood. Make signs of cross and bows while praying. This is the essence of reading prayers that are fruitful and God pleasing. For example, reading "Cleanse me from every impurity" you should feel how impure you are, desire the cleansing and hopefully ask the Lord for it. Saying "Thy will be done" commend your destiny to the Lord completely and wholeheartedly, with readiness to accept gladly whatever He sends you. While reading "And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors," your soul should forgive everyone who offended you.

Doing that with every phrase of the prayer makes it the right prayer indeed. Also take care of the following

  • First, set a certain praying rule for yourself, it should not be too lengthy, so you could fulfill it without haste amongst all your daily routine.
  • Second, in your spare time read through the prayers of your set of prayers (prayer rule) attentively, understanding and perceiving every word so that you can prepare yourself beforehand and learn what feeling and thoughts you need to evoke in your soul to understand and perceive everything easily during your prayers.
  • Third, if your volatile thought would get distracted by other things during your prayer, exert yourself to focus your attention keeping you mind concentrated on the subject of your prayer. Bring your mind back to it every time it wanders away. Read the prayer again and again until every word of the prayer is said with awareness and feeling. That will rule out your absent-mindedness during prayers.
  • Fourth, if some word in the prayer touches your soul in a special way, do not proceed with the prayer, but focus on that word or phrase, nourishing your soul with the attention, feeling and thoughts evoked by the word, stick to that state of mind until it fades away. This is a sign of the prayerful spirit beginning to enter you. That state of mind and soul is the most reliable way to cherish and strengthen the prayerful spirit in a person.

What to do after the prayer. After finishing your prayer do not hasten to take up your usual chores, but slow down and think at least for a little while about what you felt and to what it obliges you. Try to keep in your mind what impressed you most of all. The nature of the prayer itself is such that after a really good prayer one would not want to switch over to oneís usual things, as those who relished in something sweet do not want anything bitter. Enjoying the sweetness of the praying is in fact the goal of saying prayers, which brings up the prayerful spirit.

Following those simple rules will soon bring results. Any prayerful invocation makes a good impact on the soul, if you stick to those rules, and it deepens the impact, and patience in praying will generate the prayerful mood.

Those are the first steps in bringing up a prayerful spirit in oneself! It is for this purpose that the praying practice is set. Yet, it is not the aim in itself, but just the beginning of gaining mastery in prayer. We have to go on.

Published with the kind permission of Bishop Alexander Mileant

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