You wrote, "My praying by the book
degraded." — This is not a loss: even if you never pick up the prayer book
again. A prayer book is something like a phrase book of French for instance.
You memorize dialogues until you can fluently express yourself, and after
learning to speak you forget those phrases. In the same manner we need a prayer
book until the time when the soul itself begins to pray, after which we can lay
the prayer book aside. Although when your own prayer is not going out freely,
it would be good to stir it up with praying by the book.
You should be afraid of fascination. It happens to
those who gets proud thinking that since they feel the warmth in their hearts,
it means they achieved the utmost perfection. But this is just the beginning
and an unstable beginning it is, as the warmth and the appeasement of the heart
can also be of natural origin as the result of the heartfelt mindfulness. But
one must work and work, wait and wait until the natural is replaced with the
granted through God’s grace. One should never consider oneself to have achieved
something, but we must see ourselves as poor, naked blind and good for nothing.
You complain of your prayer being meager. — But
you can pray not only standing in front of icons, since any ascension of your
mind and heart to God is a true prayer. And if you do that while doing
something else, it means you are praying. Holy Basil the Great treats the issue
of the Apostles’ being in their unceasing prayer the following way: no matter
what they were doing, they were thinking about God and living in permanent
devotion to Him. That state of their spirituality was in fact their unceasing
prayer. Here is an example. As I have earlier written to you, different demands
are put forward to working people and to those who stay idly at home. The main
concern of busy people is not to allow wrong feelings while they are doing
their job and to try to devote all their feelings to God. This devotion will
then turn into a prayer. We read that Abel’s blood cries out to God. In the
same way everything we, in devotion to God, cries out to Him. When somebody
sent a dish of food to an elder, he said, "It smells so bad!." The
food though was very good and fresh. They asked him, "How come?." He
explained that it was not sent by a good person and was not sent with good
feelings. The people whose feelings are refined feel it. So it appears that
like a good smell comes forth from good flowers, so do good things done with a
good disposition issue aroma, which rises like incense during church services.
You are writing about a spiritual dullness of
senses in prayer. — That is a great loss! Give yourself the trouble of waking
your feelings up. Our chores excuse only shorter time allocated for the prayer,
not impoverishment of the internal prayer — the latter is unpardonable. You can
please God with little, but that little should come from your heart. Lift up
your mind to Him and say with repentance, "O Lord, have mercy on me! O
Lord, bless me! O Lord, help me!" — this is a prayerful cry. And if the
feeling to God is revived and established in your heart, then that will be an
unceasing prayer without words and without standing and reading prayers in
front of the icons.
Is your conscience worried because of saying
prayers in haste? — That is fair! Why do you listen to the Enemy? It is him who
spurs you up: "Make haste, hurry up..." That is why you do not feel
any fruitfulness of your prayer. Make it rule for yourself to take your time
and to say every word of the prayer with understanding and if possible, with
feeling. Assume this task as resolutely as a commander-in-chief who would not
stand any objection. The Enemy would suggest: you need to do this and that, and
you should just say to yourself, "I know it without your enticing, off
with you...." And then you will see how successful your praying will be.
Otherwise you have only the prayer rule, but not the prayer itself. It is only
a prayer, which nourishes your soul.
You should check by the clock the length of time
devoted to the prayer said slowly and you will see that you spent only several
minutes. While a hasty prayer brings a lot of harm.
When suddenly a bad thought occurs to you — it is
an arrow shot by the Enemy. He shoots it trying to distract you from the prayer
and to occupy your mind with some worldly things. If you start concentrating on
that thought, the Enemy will begin contriving various stories in your mind so
that to smear your soul and to incite in a person some bad passionate feelings.
That is why there one ruling guide here: cast that thought away quickly and
return your attention to the prayer.
Do all our prayers reach God? — A prayer is never wasted regardless of whether the Lord
grants us what we are asking or not. Because of our ignorance we are often
asking for something that would bring us harm, not benefit. Not fulfilling that
plea the Lord would grant us something else for our work of prayer, and He
would do it inconspicuously. That is why there is no sense in a phrase like,
"You are praying to God, but what did you get for it?." A praying
person is asking God for a certain thing. If God knows that the fulfillment of
the supplication would eventually be to the detriment of the person, He does
not grant the wish and thus does us good; for if He had fulfilled that
supplication, it would have done much harm to that person. Beware of snares
among which you are walking in this deceitful world!
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