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On the power of prayer.


Addressing his listeners, St. John continued his speech.

"I will tell all of you, beloved fathers, that prayer must be our constant companion. And I always keep up within me a constant prayerful frame of mind: I thank, praise and glorify God the Benefactor in all places of His dominion. Prayer ó it is the life of my soul; without prayer I cannot exist. To keep up within myself a constant prayerful frame of mind and intercourse with Godís grace, I try to serve as often as possible, daily if possible, and to partake of Christís Holy Body and Blood, each time drawing from this most holy source rich and powerful strength for the different pastoral labors. During my prayerful appeals to God I use the prayers laid down in the service book. This book represents such wealth, from which a man can draw everything required for his multifarious needs and prayerful sighs to God. Here the Holy Church, like a loving mother, has painstakingly gathered all that is essential for us in different occasions in life. At times which are free from church services and pastoral activities, I read the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, especially the holy Gospels ó these most precious and good tidings for us about our salvation. When reading, I try to delve into each verse, into each phrase, even into separate words and expressions. And then, with such an attentive regard to the Holy Book, such a wealth of ideas arises, as it were, a wealth of basic material for sermons, that no preacher could ever exhaust this depth of God. And when I have to deliver a sermon, for example, on the daily reading of Holy Writ, then at times I do not know which thought to choose, which one to prefer, so edifying are they. And how marvelously is the soul of man revealed in the Scriptures; it seems there isnít a single state of the soul which would not find itself an answer here. But if reading of the Holy Scriptures is cursory and insufficiently thoughtful, their boundless wealth slips away.

"So as not to fall behind current events, I read contemporary periodicals by choice during my spare minutes."

One of those present addressed St. John with this question:

"You, Batiushka, with your constant travels all over Russia and at home, have to almost constantly serve with new people; when mistakes are often made, and confusion occurs among your co-servers, it appears as if you do not notice them; see, within a minute you are again in deep and concentrated prayer. Tell us, please, how you came to achieve this."

"Only by habit," replied St. John, "by the habit of always praying. Whenever any state of mind in a man becomes a habit with him, he is very quick to pass into that state. And the same way I, having formed the habit of being in a constant prayerful frame of mind, am able very quickly to concentrate on prayer."

His interlocutor continued:

"Tell us, Batiushka, what set of prayers do you say before celebrating the Liturgy during your multifarious labors, demanding from you both time and great effort?"

"In this case I perform the usual rule of prayers laid down by the Church for those preparing to partake of Holy Communion; but in case it is totally impossible to perform this rule, either as a result of insufficient time or for other reasons, I reduce the number of prayers, but the prayers before Holy Communion I always read without fail. In this I am guided by the consideration that God needs from us and finds pleasing, not numerous prayers, but attentive supplication, offered from the whole heart. For this reason it is better to read a small number of prayers with complete attention and heartfelt, deep emotion, than many hurriedly and absent-mindedly. But I am especially strongly elevated and put into a prayerful frame of mind before celebrating Divine Liturgy by the reading of the canons at Matins. I always read the canons at Matins myself. What wealth is contained here, what deep meaning, what marvelous examples of burning faith in God, patience in afflictions, and faithfulness to duty amid the most savage tortures is here offered to us daily by the Church. Through the reading of canons the soul is little by little imbued with the high feelings and emotions of these saints which are glorified by the Church; it lives among Church recollections and through that becomes accustomed to Church life. And I, one might say, was brought up in Church life upon this reading, which is why I advise others also, who sincerely wish to obtain spiritual wealth, to pay serious attention to the reading of the canons out of the Octoechos, Menaion, or Triodion... So, dear fathers and brothers, I have bared my soul before you; I have, so to speak, revealed the countenance of my soul, so that you would see by which method I attained what you see in me. My life ó is a lengthy, stubborn and constant battle with myself, a battle which I am waging at present being constantly fortified by Godís grace. And each one of you can achieve the same results, if he will keep a constant vigil over himself with the aim of battling with his Ďold maní and the spirits of wickedness, so as to be, with the aid of Godís grace, a candle, burning not under a bushel, but on a candlestick..."

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