The Bible calls us to pray continually. But how do we do it? A homeless Russian man found the way. His book is a celebrated masterpiece on continual prayer.
A Russian Orthodox man experienced a terrible series of disasters, and became homeless. As he wandered about, he devoted his life to reading the Bible and praying. Along the way, he uncovered the ancient secret of praying without ceasing.
This is one of the truly great Christian books of all time. We invite you to explore the riches within this great masterpiece.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The pilgrim was a homeless wanderer. He had nothing but some bread crusts in his knapsack, and a Bible.
One day he heard St. Paul’s admonition that we “pray continually.” This made a deep impression on the pilgrim. How could he do that? How could he pray continually?
He traveled to hear great preachers, hoping they would teach how to pray continually. They had wonderful messages on prayer. But they offered nothing at all on how to pray continually. Eventually the pilgrim concluded that preachers could not provide the answers he was looking for.
So he changed his search. Now he would look for some wise and experienced person of prayer. One such person he met was a nobleman who was excited about prayer but did not know how to pray continually. Another such person was the superior of a monastery, who gave him a book by St. Demetrius.
Then about a year after hearing Paul’s words to pray continually, the pilgrim met an old man. The old man told him that most preachers base their messages on what they read in books, and not on actual firsthand experience. To understand prayer, it takes more than academic knowledge. It requires mystical perception.
It had taken a year of searching before the pilgrim found a person with the answers he needed. This pilgrim had stayed with his unanswered question for at least a year.
QUESTION. When the Lord brings something to our attention, how long is it before we forget all about it? How long is it before we give up on it? The projects that the Lord brings to our attention are often of very long duration. They are rarely finished in a short time.
The old man was a monk. When they arrived at his monastery, he invited the pilgrim to his room. He taught the pilgrim that to pray continually is to ceaselessly call the Holy Name of Jesus. This can be done in all places and times, even during sleep.
To teach this idea, the elder read from a book called the Philokalia. The Philokalia is a collection of quotes from 25 great spiritual writers of the Eastern Orthodox tradition on ceaseless prayer.
The teaching of the Philokalia on ceaseless prayer is to sit in silence, to bow your head and to close your eyes. Relax your breathing. With your imagination, look into your heart. Direct your thoughts from your head into your heart. While inhaling, say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” You can say it either with your lips or in your mind
For a week, the pilgrim practiced the instructions of the elder.
Then he returned to the elder for further instructions. He shared that praying in his mind was not working very well. So the elder had him pray with his voice. The elder sent him back with the homework assignment of saying the prayer 3,000 times each day.
QUESTION. Seeing a wise person for spiritual mentoring is called Spiritual Direction. Do you have a spiritual director?
The next week, the elder expanded the assignment to 6,000 times per day. After some initial adjustment, the pilgrim found 6,000 times a day to be quite fulfilling. For him, it was a source of joy and delight.
After ten days, the elder upped the assignment to 12,000 times per day. After five days at this level, the prayer was easy and delightful. It was almost automatic.
Finally, the elder told the pilgrim he could say the prayer as often as he wished.
The pilgrim spent the rest of the summer reciting the prayer. In his dreams, he dreamed that he was praying. He felt a great kinship with everyone he met. However, at the end of the summer, the elder passed away.
QUESTION. Do you dream about praying?
Later, the pilgrim bought his own copy of the Philokalia. It was battered and used. But it was his.
The pilgrim walked all day and said the prayer. He did not get tired or feel cold or hungry or pain. Even as he walked, he was in a state of prayer. His only desire was to pray.
He was now living the words of the Apostle Paul: “Pray continually.”
The pilgrim would like to have gotten a job, so that he could rent some sort of place to reside. That way, he could study the Philokalia more deeply. However, he was not able to get a job due to his handicapped left arm.
He heard of a church where people go on holy pilgrimage. It was in Siberia. So he decided to walk to Siberia.
QUESTION. Can you imagine walking across the nation, knowing you’ll be homeless. In the winter. In Siberia. What does this reveal about the pilgrim’s heart for God?
Along the way, he said the Jesus Prayer. But the prayer seemed to be growing. Instead of being solely on his lips, it now seemed to be entering his heart. It seemed to be saying itself, in such a way that matches the rhythm of his heartbeat. When it first began, there was a slight pain in his heart. But then it became a blessed warmth that spread throughout his chest cavity.
To evaluate this new phenomenon, the pilgrim needed to delve more deeply into the Philokalia. To make this possible, he did his walking by night. That way, he could use the daylight to read the Philokalia.
Sometimes his late elder appeared to him in his dreams and gave him further teachings on prayer.
QUESTION. Can you imagine having such a heart for God that your dreams consist of receiving spiritual advice from a godly person? Would you want to have holy dreams such as this?
If the pilgrim passed through a village, he begged for bread and salt and water. Based on whatever he was given, he would walk another 70 miles.
On day, two men beat him up. They stole his knapsack. It contained his Bible and his Philokalia. He wept over this great loss. In a dream, his elder appeared to him again, telling him it was a lesson on detachment. This strengthened the pilgrim, and he set out once again.
The pilgrim soon encountered a group of prisoners. The two robbers were among them. The pilgrim struck up a conversation with the officer in charge of the prisoners. The officer gave the pilgrim back his Bible and his Philokalia. Upon receiving them back, the pilgrim wept tears of joy.
It turned out that the officer read the Bible, too. The pilgrim and the officer had a meal together and had a very rich spiritual conversation. The officer had been an alcoholic. But a monk gave him a Bible and told him that whenever he felt an urge to drink alcohol, instead he should open his Bible and read it. It worked! He was delivered from alcoholism.
Even then, years later, the officer read one of the Gospels every day.
Then the pilgrim continued on his way. For a long time he stayed in the forest. That way, he could read the Philokalia and the Bible. There, the forest itself spoke God’s love to him.
In the forest he met a man who let him stay in a dilapidated hut for the summer, and eat bread from the village. This gave the pilgrim four months of solitude. Now he could practice continual prayer and study the Philokalia.
The pilgrim had extended conversations with the man. The man was eager for the pilgrim to teach him about continuous prayer.
In the solitude of the woods, the pilgrim delved deeper and deeper into the timeless wisdom of the Philokalia. However, he could not synthesize the totality of what he was taking in. So he spent 24 hours in continuous prayer, asking God for insight.
QUESTION. Are you that hungry for growth in prayer? Would you be interested in spending 24 hours in prayer?
In a dream, his late elder appeared and provided valuable insights as to how to read the Philokalia. Essentially, it was to take it one insight at a time.
There is a section in the Philokalia from Simeon the New Theologian. It taught the pilgrim to imagine looking into his heart, and to listen for its beating, and to say the Jesus Prayer according to its beating. On inhale, say: “Lord Jesus Christ,” and while exhaling say: “Have mercy on me.”
The pilgrim practiced this for three weeks. He began to feel pain in his heart. But it soon gave way to warmth and delight and peace.
After five months, he was so accustomed to this way of praying that he practiced it without ceasing, and without any effort on his part. It was now functioning in his mind and in his heart, regardless of whatever he happened to be doing at the time.
Then the forest was chopped down and the pilgrim had to leave. This self-activating prayer of the heart was a consolation and a joy.
In his subsequent wanderings, the pilgrim had many remarkable experiences. One of those was to fend off the attack of a vicious wolf with the wool rosary of his deceased elder. Another was to teach a peasant woman to pray continually by means of the Jesus Prayer.
Later, the pilgrim was beaten for helping that peasant girl escape from a forced marriage. While they flogged him, the Jesus Prayer consoled him and made him oblivious of the pain.
QUESTION. Can prayer help you contend with the pains of life?
One time he walked through the night for 20 miles, so as to arrive at a particular church for a special event. Along the way, he walked across a frozen stream. But the ice broke and he plunged down into the freezing water. He was drenched in icy water. However, he somehow crawled out and kept walking. He made it to the church on time.
After the service, he asked permission to stay. He spent the whole day in unspeakable joy and sweetness. Love surged in his heart. His soul was immersed in joyful ecstasy. Only much later in the night did he become aware that his legs were completely frostbitten and in excruciating pain. But the Jesus Prayer took away his awareness of pain.
In one town, a woman had a fish bone stuck in her throat. The pilgrim’s departed elder appeared to him and told him how to save her life using olive oil. Soon everybody thought of him as a prophet and came to him for advice. However, he fled. As he fled, it felt as though a mountain had been lifted from his shoulders.
The Jesus Prayer was bringing him more amd more joy and consolation. Sometimes his heart burned with unspeakable love for Jesus Christ. At times the joy was so great that he cried tears of real joy.
Finally, the pilgrim arrived at his destination in Siberia. He paid his respects to the relics of St. Innocent. There he met a rich merchant who offered to send him to the Holy Land.
The pilgrim about to start out on his epic journey to Jerusalem. But just before he heads out, his new Spiritual Director asks that he fill in the details of his background.
Here are those details . . .
The pilgrim was born in the Orlovsky province. His parents both died when he was two years old. He and his brother were taken in by their prosperous grandparents.
While they were playing one day, his brother accidentally hurt his hand. His hand became withered and was rendered useless. He had been made functionally handicapped.
Seeing that, his grandfather taught him to read, using the Bible. A district clerk taught him to write.
When the pilgrim was 17 years old, his grandmother died. Upon the urgings of his grandfather, he got married at age 20. A year later, his grandfather passed away.
His brother became jealous, broke in during the night, stole the money and set the house on fire. The pilgrim and his wife escaped only with their lives and with their Bible.
They borrowed money and started all over again. She was a godly person who was brought to tears of joy upon reading the Bible. They fasted and prayed together.
After two years of marriage she became seriously ill. After nine days, she passed away.
Unable to work due to his handicap, and overcome with grief for his departed wife, the pilgrim became a homeless wanderer.
At this point, it is 13 years after he lost everything. He is 33 years old.
QUESTION. The Pilgrim lost everything in life, yet he did not blame God for it. Do you blame God for the things people have done to you?
The pilgrim’s departure for his pilgrimage to Jerusalem was delayed for three days. Since the pilgrim was delayed, his Spiritual Director asked him to sum up what he learned from his wanderings. The pilgrim shared some stories of remarkable people he had met.
A LADY AND A JUDGE
Sometimes the pilgrim felt a strong desire to turn within. Prayer would be kindled in his heart. The “self-activating flame” had been triggered.
Sometimes the urgency to pray was so strong that holding it in produced great pain, as it did after he had been visiting a devout lady and a judge for two days. They were a godly family in the Tobolsk province. He was so touched by their words that he wondered if he was speaking with real people or having a vision.
In those days, people in Russia regarded homeless wanderers as brothers of Christ and messengers of God.
The pilgrim’s being invited in by the devout couple led to his teaching them about continual prayer. He referenced two authors from the Philokalia: Maximus the Confessor and Peter Damascene.
Afterwards, the couple gave the pilgrim new clothes and shoes. They tenderly washed his feet. He cried.
That night, the pilgrim told them that anyone can have what he has. All that is required is to descend into the heart and call on the name of Jesus frequently.
The judge shared his own remarkable story. Formerly, he was a rich prince. One day he struck a servant, who soon died. After his death, the prince became aware of his own sins. He repented and vowed to live his life in the service of the poor. He and his wife ran a home for the sick and poor. Many of its guests were real friends of God. A few of their guests were troubled souls, but the home gradually influenced them to become converted.
A BLIND MAN
The pilgrim met a blind man who prayed the Jesus Prayer day and night. The blind man’s prayer journey began years back, when he read about continuous prayer in a book. The pilgrim noted that the quote was from Peter Callistus in the Philokalia.
Later, because of glaucoma, the man became blind.
The blind man asked the pilgrim to teach him everything about continual prayer from the Philokalia. So they traveled together, the pilgrim and the blind man. The pilgrim taught him from the Philokalia.
The blind man asked how one is to descend into the heart. The pilgrim said to imagine his heart. Imagine seeing it. Listen to it.
Once you are accustomed to this, then say the Jesus Prayer:
- On one heartbeat, say the word “Lord.”
- On the next heartbeat, say the word “Jesus.”
- On the next heartbeat, say: “Christ.”
- On the next heartbeat, say: “have mercy.”On the next heartbeat, say: “on me.”
The next step in continuous prayer is to direct the flow of the Jesus Prayer in the heart in harmony with your breathing:
- While inhaling, say, “Lord Jesus Christ.”
- While exhaling, say, “have mercy on me.”
Practice this often. Soon there will arise a pleasant pain in the heart. It is a sort of warmth, and a sort of burning.
After five days of praying in these ways, the blind man experienced this warmth and joy in his heart. Sometimes he would see light. At other times it felt as though a candle was burning in his heart. Sometimes it felt that this inner light was illuminating his whole being.
Sometimes it gave him the ability to see faraway objects. Once, for example, he saw a burning church and fallen tower, even though they were miles away.
Even so, the pilgrim cautioned him against visions. They are not necessarily from heaven. In most cases, they arise from a natural human ability for remote viewing. Nothing as sensual as a vision can be compared to God-given sweetness in the heart.
Finally the two arrived at the almshouse in Tobolsk. This was to be the new home of the blind man. Thus, the pilgrim continued.
A POST OFFICE AND A HORSE
Now that he was alone, the pilgrim was able to put his attention more fully on the Philokalia and on prayer. Continual prayer was so consoling that he considered himself the happiest man on earth. He felt deep inner joy as well as at one with the creation.
Sometimes he felt as though he had no physical body. At other times, he could clearly see his own internal organs. And sometimes he was ready to die, so as to be able to be closer to Christ.
But then, those wonderful things were lost. He fell into fear. He feared some trial was in store for him. He had to slog though torrential rain and deep mud.
He asked to spend the night at a post office. The postmaster (a man) and his cook (a woman) were drunk. That night, as they were starting to fall asleep, a horse and carriage crashed into the house, startling everyone greatly. But it did not run anyone over, and so the life of the pilgrim was spared.
Six years later, at a convent, the pilgrim met a nun. She seemed familiar to him. It turns out she was the cook at that post office. That incident had redirected the course of her life.
AN OLD WOMAN
One day he went to a Liturgy where people complained that the priest was too slow. However, the pilgrim interpreted the priest’s slowness as heartfelt devotion.
The priest lamented to the pilgrim that his parishioners did not want to pray with feeling. They did not yearn for spiritual life or interior enlightenment. The priest wished that his parishioners would meditate on passages from the Scripture and pray often.
Later, in the kitchen of the priest’s house, the pilgrim met an old woman. She was bent over and coughing. The pilgrim noted that she was praying the Jesus Prayer continually.
She had been praying the Jesus Prayer since she was very young. After her fiancé died unexpectedly, she resolved to spend her days in prayer and in visiting holy places.
She had traveled all her life as a homeless pilgrim, praying the Jesus Prayer continuously.
The pilgrim spent a night in a Tartar settlement. There, he met a gentleman who had been a captain in the navy. After retiring, he lived with his wife on her farm. But he was very ill with an incurable disease, and she grew bored and left him. She took everything except his godson, who was eight years old.
He had read a book by Gregory Palamas on the Jesus Prayer. When his godson was mischievous, he forced the boy to recite the Jesus Prayer. If the boy lapsed in praying, the man threatened to hit him with a hickory whip. This frightened the boy back into praying.
Eventually the boy became so accustomed to praying the Jesus Prayer that he did it of his own accord.
Later, in the midst of a war, the boy died. His body was found thousands of miles from where it would have been expected.
The pilgrim began with Gregory Palamas, and introduced the gentleman to the Philokalia’s teachings on the interior praying of the Jesus Prayer.
The pilgrim marveled that a boy was taught to pray by means of a whip. The pilgrim wondered if our cares and misfortunes are “whips” that prompt us to pray.
After a year’s absence, the pilgrim returns to visit his spiritual director. The following is what the pilgrim shares with his spiritual director.
Previously, the pilgrim and a Deaf man were on their way to the Holy Land. However, their benefactor in Odessa died, and their financial arrangements died with him.
A STRANGE SIGHT
So the pilgrim returned to his life of roaming throughout Russia.
He decided to head for Kiev. The Jesus Prayer was still his companion while walking, and the Philokalia was his companion at night.
Along the way, the pilgrim beheld a strange sight. A young man was suddenly engulfed with an irresistible urge to be doused in water. Then the young man abruptly died.
Later, the pilgrim talked about this with an old priest. The old priest replied with an equally-strange story of a young man who had an irresistible urge to jump off a bridge.
Note. What the priest did is called one-upmanship. He had to outdo the story of the pilgrim by telling a story he thought was more important. Many Christians do this. Church workers do it even more. One-upmanship is all about self. Instead of listening to what somebody else is telling them, they use the other person as a springboard to talk about their own stories.
In a city called Byelaya Tserkov, the pilgrim ended up in the home of a man named Yevrejnov. That name was curious, as it meant “son of a Jew.” Yevrejnov told the story of his dad’s remarkable conversion to faith in Christ.
DON’T SKIP CHURCH
Still in Byelaya Tserkov, the pilgrim got to know a merchant who was about to become a monk at a monastery in Bessarabia.
A fellow traveler scoffed at their wanting to go to church. Instead, the traveler got going on his trip. But then he realized he lost his passport, and had to return. The merchant interpreted the incident as a sign that the officer should have went to church instead of traveling.
A PRAYERFUL ORPHAN
The pilgrim continued on. One day he stopped in the woods to read the Philokalia. There, he met a man who was. The man was an orphan. He had been traveling for five years. The orphan’s journey began when, in a moment of fright, he prayed, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” From that moment on, he kept praying it. Sometimes when he prayed it, he felt joy and peace and comfort. At other times, he felt heaviness and boredom and dejection.
The pilgrim replied by reading a text from John Climacus on how to interpret our feelings when we pray.
A BOSSY CONFESSOR
The pilgrim heard of a holy priest who lived in a poustinia (hermitage) a few miles out of Kiev. The pilgrim met him for confession. However, the holy priest chided the pilgrim for the worthlessness of his confession, and gave him a printed guide for making a good confession.
It listed four main sins:
- I do not love God
- I do not love my neighbor
- I do not have faith in spiritual realities
- I am full of pride and self-love
The priest told the pilgrim he was spiritually lazy and indifferent. The priest told the pilgrim to study the Bible and the writings of the spiritual fathers, to pray, and to get spiritual direction.
Of course, the pilgrim had been doing these things with heroic diligence for years. And so the holy priest was wrong. Dead wrong. However, the pilgrim received the priest’s instructions with humble sincerity.
Note. In our day, many believers meet some esteemed leader, and the leader tells them something that is wrong. Dead wrong. Perhaps the leader thinks he acts like some great prophet. And the believer, acting out of humble sincerity, does not examine critically what the leader said. Rather, it is accepted because it was from an esteemed authority figure. Sometimes the words of the leader damage them for years or decades as a result.
IN AN INN
After a brief stay with the holy priest, the pilgrim set out for a shrine in Pochaev. Along the way, he met an innkeeper who attacked him for being a member of the Orthodox church. The innkeeper was a member of the Old Believer church, which had dissented from the Russian Orthodox church in the 17th century due to the very poor quality of the liturgies in those days, a point the pilgrim conceded. However, the pilgrim knew that the interior life is more important than externals.
Note. The pilgrim was not a Company Man. He was not a mindless yes-man. He did not deny the objections to his denomination, as they were true. In our day, many believers defend their denomination from criticism, even if the criticism is valid. Believers would do well to concede if an objection is true. Otherwise, the believer is opposing the truth. It is the truth that sets us free.
At that inn, the pilgrim met a monk who was sick. The monk was Greek Orthodox, and had studied at the Academy of Athens. The monk had a copy of the Philokalia and other great writings. The monk prayed continually. Together, they discussed the Jesus Prayer. One great insight was that by emphasizing a different word in the Jesus Prayer, different meanings emerge. These variations in what people emphasize might be the workings of the Holy Spirit.
A few days later, somebody stopped by the inn ands was cursing the Jews. The monk told the newcomer that he was not rooted in the love of God and not secure within himself. Rather, if we are united with God, we are full of joy and we love everyone equally.
Note. A Christian believer should never come across as intolerant. If so, the believer has a problem. It is a problem at the core of their faith. In our day, Mel Gibson, a famous Christian believer, has said intolerant things about Jews and about women.
THE CONVERSION OF A DESERTER
Back on the road toward Pochaev, the pilgrim met a soldier whose death was approaching. In previous years, the soldier had made lots of trouble for himself due to his drunkenness and stealing.
To escape the trouble, the soldier had deserted the military. He stole the passport from a dead man, and lived as if he were that man. Thus he had been a fugitive for 15 years.
One night, he had a powerful dream in which he pre-experienced the punishments he would face due to his many sins. He became depressed and suicidal.
He asked the pilgrim what he should do.
The pilgrim told him about the mercy of God and about the Jesus Prayer. The soldier decided to accompany the pilgrim on his journey to the shrine in Pochaev. Along the way, they resolved to not talk, but instead to ceaselessly recite the Jesus Prayer. The soldier was transformed.
At their destination, the soldier went to confession and communion. In a dream, he received direction to go to Zhitomir, where he would pray without ceasing and work as a churchwarden. His entire life had been changed.
Note. This is a remarkable testimony about the need for a believer to speak about their faith. Christians need to be able to speak up about Jesus Christ. There is a popular notion that we preach but not with words. Wordless preaching is powerless to deliver people. People who need deliverance need to be told things. They need to be told about Jesus Christ. Had the pilgrim kept his mouth shut about Jesus Christ, the deserter would have went on living his miserable existence and died without hope.
A MONK TEACHES FROM THE BIBLE
The pilgrim stayed in Pochaev for a few days, so as to get a sense of where to go next. A man suggested he go to the skete in Anzersky. A skete is a settlement of monks who live in small cottages around a church. The man offered to fund the trip. The pilgrim regarded this as the answer to his prayers. So they set out together.
The pilgrim noticed that this man was always reading from the Bible. The man told the pilgrim that prayer is the essence of Christian life, and that we should pray always. The pilgrim asked the man to explain it. So the man cited all the verses he knew of that address the topic of prayer, and added his own explanation of them.
Matthew: introduction, form, and conditions of prayer
- Matthew 6:5-9. Intention, place, forgiveness, not babble on
- Matthew 6:10-13. Form and words
- Matthew 6:14-15. Conditions for effectiveness
- Matthew 7:7-12. Be full of hope
Mark: examples of prayer
- Mark 14:32-40. Prayer prior to doing
Luke: parables about prayer
- Luke 11:5-14. Frequent prayer
- Luke 18:1-15. Pray always in all places
John: interior prayer
- John 4:5-25. Worship God in spirit and in truth
- John 15:4-8. Necessity and power of interior prayer
- John 16:23-25. The Jesus Prayer
- John 16:24. Ask and you will receive
Acts: practice and results of prayer
- Acts 16:25-26. The gifts of the Holy Spirit flow from prayer
Letters and Revelation: aspects of the act of prayer
- Romans 8:26. The Holy Spirit helps us in our prayer
- Ephesians 6:18. Pray in the Holy Spirit in all occasions
- Philippians 4:6-7. Calm and inner peace are necessary for prayer
- 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Pray without ceasing
- 1 Timothy 2:1-5. Pray not just for self but also for all people
- James 5:13-16. Pray in all circumstances in life
- Jude 1:20. The Holy Spirit helps us in our prayer
The pilgrim found the man’s insights to be remarkable and inspiring. He wrote notes in his own Bible.
The pilgrim assembled with several other holy people for a discussion. There is a professor, a monk, a priest, and the pilgrim.
THE CONVERSION OF THE PROFESSOR
The professor tells the story of his conversion. It began when he befriended a handsome young man. Together, they went for walks, amused themselves, and went to immoral places in search of company.
One day, they were in the professor’s house, discussing unholy things. The young man was spooked by the presence of a Bible, and was unable to continue their discussion of unholy things. When the professor handed him the Bible, the handsome young man vanished.
The professor became paralyzed, perhaps due to the shock of this incident. Over a year later, a visiting monk told him that prayer was the solution. The professor searched the Bible for clues about prayer. As he began to pray, the paralysis left him and he was made well.
He decided to became a hermit. He was on his way to the solitary Skete of the Solovecky Monastery on the White Sea.
THE MONK READS AN ARTICLE
The pilgrim asked the monk to favor the group with some teaching or other about interior prayer. So the monk read aloud an article called The Mystery of Salvation Revealed Through Ceaseless Prayer.
Here are our notes from it:
Our efforts to live a moral life always end in failure. This causes us to wonder how it is that we can be saved.
One way to be saved is to pray. However, we don’t know how to pray. We consult experts on prayer. These experts blather on and on about the notion of prayer, or the urgency of prayer, or the power of prayer, or such. But they do not actually teach us how to pray.
However, the Philokalia teaches us the prayer of the heart. The prayer of the heart begins by saying the name of Jesus in harmony with our breathing and with the beating of our heart. But we soon encounter difficulties and need an experienced guide.
Such a guide will teach us our need for faith, which we receive by asking.
A guide will also teach us our need to obey the commandments and to do good works. These are impossible, though, until we ask God for them.
God commands us to pray ceaselessly. Yet he has given us the freedom to pray or to not pray. We are free to call on the name of Jesus Christ frequently. The name of the Lord is very powerful for those who call upon it continually.
DO WE NEED FAVORABLE CIRCUMSTANCES?
The professor wondered if one needs favorable circumstances in order to be able to pray continually. The monk replies that the heart can pray in any and every circumstance. Those who pray continually find this to be the case.
Of course, it is optimal to be alone and free from involvements. But if this is not possible, we should not excuse ourselves from continual prayer. John Chrysostum said no matter where we are, we can erect an altar to God in our heart.
It is entirely possible to pass from frequent vocal prayer to mental prayer, to prayer of the heart, and to the realization that the kingdom of God is within.
The professor wondered how he could pray continually whilst reading attentively or analyzing some complex literary text.
The monk divided praying people into three groups:
- Beginners. They can pray now and then.
- Intermediate. They can do their intellectual work with constant awareness of God’s presence.
- Proficient. This is the level of the prayer of the heart. They find that they pray even while sleeping.
The priest asked if continual prayer was to disobey Jesus and multiply words with our lips. The monk replied that the repetitive nature of continual prayer was aimed at self-activation and devotion. It becomes interiorized and natural. It enlightens and nourishes the soul.
A child doesn’t want the discipline of learning grammar. Instead, it prefers to go fishing. Similarly, many believers don’t want the discipline of continual prayer. They don’t realize that continual prayer develops the inner prayer of the heart and promotes union with God.
The experience of those who practice ceaseless prayer is this: once they decide to say the Jesus Prayer continually, true enough there are difficulties, especially at first. But later, it becomes self-activated. It continues involuntarily.
It is true that Jesus condemned those who gave him hypocritical lip-service. But it is still incumbent upon us to pray continually.
THE MONK READS ANOTHER ARTICLE
The monk read another article. It was called “The Power of Prayer.” Here are a few notes from it:
1. Prayer purifies your thoughts.
2. Prayer causes your actions to be fruitful.
3. Prayer overcomes your passions.
4. Prayer protects you.
5. Prayer will give you guidance.
6. If you pray, you won’t have time to sin.
HOW TO OVERCOME SLOTH?
The professor shared that there were battles within him between zeal and sloth. The monk shared that the standard intellectual arguments concerning prayer are not very convincing. Rather, prayer itself is a powerful way to convince us of our need to pray.
Even if our motives for prayer are somewhat self-centered, still, such motives at least get us going in the right direction. They get us to actually pray!
Macarius of Egypt said the goal of our spiritual efforts should be consolation and sweetness in our hearts. Thus prayer satiates our own innate self-love. The less we are fulfilled, the more we seek it.
There is one final meeting of holy people: the pilgrim, the professor, two monks, and a hermit who had been in total solitude for 20 years.
ISN’T IT DANGEROUS TO BECOME A HERMIT?
The pilgrim wished he could become a hermit.
The professor said that becoming a hermit is a dangerous path, since many hermits fall into self-deception and delusion.
The hermit replied that such fears are common. They stem from people being unfamiliar with the interior life. Or perhaps people have such fears because they misunderstand the interior life or lack spiritual enlightenment. Or perhaps people are simply indifferent to contemplation.
But the spiritual authors write that there is no need to fear. Philoteus of Sinai, for example, wrote that people who fear contemplative prayer are the ones who are actually deceived.
WHAT IF YOU DON’T HAVE A SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR?
The professor asked what one should do if there is no experienced director available. Shouldn’t one abandon the contemplative project altogether?
The hermit replied that if you’re not able to find a director, simply ask God to help you understand the writings of Scripture and the spiritual writers.
Do not abandon the spiritual life. Do not turn away from contemplative prayer.
ISN’T IT DANGEROUS TO GIVE UP ICONS?
The professor asked if it is dangerous to not use sacred images (icons). His rationale was that this would require a sort of absolute formlessness in prayer.
The hermit replied that it is the very nature of contemplative prayer that you must eschew images and forms.
In fact, imageless prayer can be sustained easily and naturally. It is very possible to be aware of God’s presence in a purely abstract way.
The pilgrim added a quote from Gregory of Sinai that the activity of the heart, such as warmth or joy or light, cannot be a delusion. The enemy cannot deceive us about such things.
FIX YOURSELF BEFORE PRAYING?
The professor said we should not pray or approach God until after we have cleansed our own heart. Repentance is more important than prayer.
The monk replied that the professor was wrong, and that such a view leads to dejection.
Venerable Nikita Stethatus, for example, wrote that our need is to turn to God, no matter what the situation is. We need to call on the name of the Lord Jesus, who is present in our hearts.
The hermit added that the main source of strength is trust in God and peaceful solitude.
ISN’T A PRAYERFUL LIFE SELFISH?
The professor objected that to be a recluse is to fail in loving your neighbor.
The hermit replied that the hermit’s activity is of a higher order than the activities of other people. He shared three reasons for this:
- It benefits many people. The hermit shares his or her experiences with many other people either by writing or in-person. These teachings get passed from generation to generation.
- The hermit stands as an attractive example of renunciation.
- If the hermit is a poor example of being a hermit, that fact that he or she is hidden means few other people will be poisoned by the bad example.
St. Isaac of Syria says silence outweighs action. Even the doing of signs and miracles cannot be compared with the excellence of silence.
The pilgrim added that Jesus Christ often left his public ministry and went away into desolate regions to pray.
The pilgrim said the contemplative hermits are the pillars of the church. Their life of silent prayer supports the piety of the non-hermits.
ISN’T INTERCESSORY PRAYER UNNECESSARY?
The professor objected to the concept of asking others to pray for us. He saw it as self-love, or perhaps as a mere religious courtesy. God does not need a human intercessor.
The monk replied that godly people see this issue in a very different way.
It is like two students studying together. Even though one student knows the material better, in the end, they both benefit from studying it together. People have a strong influence on each other.
The monk quoted several Bible passages on praying for each other:
- Luke 22:32. Jesus prays for Peter
- Acts 12:5. The church prays for Peter
- James 5:16. We are required to pray for one another
- Hebrews 13:18. Pray for us
The professor asked what the best way is to pray for others. If we focus on praying for others, won’t that distract us from the presence of God?
The monk said intercessory prayer cannot take you away from the presence of God.
With that, the encounter of these holy people came to an end. And so does the book.
We did not want the book to end. It was an awesome story. We have read it many, many times.
Now it is time to live it.
Song of Songs 5:2a. I was asleep, but my heart was awake.
Luke 17:21b. behold, God’s Kingdom is within you.
Luke 18:1. He also spoke a parable to them that they must always pray, and not give up,
Luke 22:31-32. The Lord said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have all of you, that he might sift you as wheat, 32 but I prayed for you, that your faith wouldn’t fail. You, when once you have turned again, establish your brothers.
John 14:14. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
Acts 2:21. It will be that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Acts 12:5. Peter therefore was kept in the prison, but constant prayer was made by the assembly to God for him.
Romans 8:22. For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now.
Romans 8:26. In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we don’t know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can’t be uttered.
1 Corinthians 10:13. No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 12:31a. But earnestly desire the best gifts.
Ephesians 6:18a. with all prayer and requests, praying at all times in the Spirit,
Philippians 2:13. For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.
Philippians 3:13. Brothers, I don’t regard myself as yet having taken hold, but one thing I do: forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before,
1 Thessalonians 5:17. Pray without ceasing.
1 Thessalonians 5:19. Don’t quench the Spirit.
1 Timothy 2:1. I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks be made for all men:
1 Timothy 2:4. [God] who desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:8. I desire therefore that the men in every place pray, lifting up holy hands without anger and doubting.
Hebrews 11:6. It is impossible to please God without faith.
Hebrews 13:15. Through Jesus, let us offer to God a continual sacrifice of praise.
Hebrews 13:18. Pray for us, for we are persuaded that we have a good conscience, desiring to live honorably in all things.
James 4:2. You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.
James 5:16. Confess your offenses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective.
1 John 4:4. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.
Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.