Chapter Seventeen: ON PRAYER
A PERSON who resolves to begin regular morning exercises usually does so not because he already has physical fitness but in order to get something he does not have. Once one has something he can be anxious to keep it; previous to that, he is anxious to get it.
Therefore, begin your practice without expecting anything of yourself. If you are fortunate enough to sleep in a room by yourself, you can quite literally and without trouble follow the instructions of the prayer book: “When you awake, before you begin the day, stand with reverence before the All-Seeing God. Make the sign of the Cross and say: “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
“Having invoked the Holy Trinity, keep silence for a little, so that your thoughts and feelings may be freed from worldly cares. Then recite the following prayers without haste, and with your whole heart.
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Thereafter follow the other prayers, with the prayer to the Holy Spirit first, then to the Holy Trinity, and next the Our Father, which precedes the whole list of morning prayers. It is better to read a few of them quietly than all of them impatiently. They rest upon the gathered experience of the Church; through them you enter a great fellowship of praying folk. You are not alone; you are a cell in the body of the Church-that is, of Christ. Through them you learn the patience that is necessary not only for the body but also for the heart and mind, for the building up of your faith.
The complete and correct prayer is one in which the words of the prayer are accepted by both thought and emotion; attentiveness is therefore needful. Do not let your thoughts wander; imprison them again and again, and always begin anew from the point where you left off praying. You may read from the Psalter, in the same -way, especially if you do not have a prayer book. Thus you learn patience and watchfulness.
A person standing at an open window hears the sounds from outside; it is impossible not to do so. But he can give the voices his attention or not, as he himself wishes. The praying person is continually beset by a stream of inappropriate thoughts, feelings and mental impressions. To stop this tiresome stream is as impracticable as to stop the air from circulating in an open room. But one can notice them or not. This, say the saints, one learns only through practice. When you pray, you yourself must be silent. You do not pray to have your own earthbound desires fulfilled, but you pray: Thy will be done. It is not fitting to wish to use God as an errand boy. You yourself must be silent; let the prayer speak.
Your prayer must have four constituent parts, says Saint Basil the Great: adoration, thanksgiving, confession of sin, and petition for salvation. Do not be concerned with or pray for any private matters, but seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:33).
He who cannot make his will and hence his prayer coincide with God’s will, will meet obstacles in his undertakings and constantly fall into the enemy’s ambush. He becomes discontented or angry, unhappy, perplexed or impatient or troubled; and in such a state of mind no one can remain in prayer.
A prayer offered while one has any cause to reproach a fellow man is an impure prayer. There is only one whom the praying person may and must reproach, and that is himself. Without self-reproach, your prayer is as worthless as it is while you are reproaching someone else in your heart. Perhaps you ask: How can one learn this? The answer is: One learns it through prayer. Do not fear the drought within you. The lifegiving rain comes from above, not from your own hard soil below, which brings forth only thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18). Do not wait, therefore, for any “state,” for ecstasy or rapture or other desire-laden experiences. Prayer is not for the sake of enjoyment. Be afflicted and mourn and weep (James 4:9), remember your mortality, and call upon the Lord for mercy. The rest depends on Him.