On Prayer

by Saint Silouan

He who loves the Lord is ever mindful of Him, and the thought of God begets prayer. If you are forgetful of the Lord, you will not pray, and without prayer the soul will not dwell in the love of God, for the grace of the Holy Spirit comes through prayer. Prayer preserves a man from sin, for the prayerful mind stays intent on God, and in humbleness of spirit stands before the Face of the Lord, Whom the soul of him who prays knoweth.

But the novice naturally needs a guide, for until the advent of the grace of the Holy Spirit the soul Is Involved in fierce struggle against her foes, and is unable to disentangle herself if the enemy offer her his delights. Only the man with experience of the grace of the Holy Spirit can understand this. He who has savored the Holy Spirit recognizes the taste of grace.

The man who sets out without guidance to engage in prayer (imagining in his arrogance that he can learn to pray from books), and will not go to a spiritual director, is already half beguiled. But the Lord succors the man who is humble, and if there be no experienced guide and he turns to any confessor he finds, the Lord will watch over him for his humility.

Think in this wise: the Holy Spirit dwells in your confessor, and he will tell you what is right. But if you say to yourself that your confessor lives a careless life, how can the Holy Spirit dwell in him, you will suffer mightily for such thoughts, and the Lord will bring you low, and you are sure to fall into delusion.

Prayer comes with praying, as the Scriptures say; but prayer which is only a habit, prayer without contrition for our sins, is not pleasing to the Lord.

Let me interrupt for a while my talk concerning prayer.

My soul yearns after the Lord, and I seek Him ardently, and my soul suffers thought of no other matter.
My soul yearns after the living Lord, and my spirit strains towards Him, my Heavenly Father, my kin. The Lord made us His kin by the Holy Spirit. The Lord is dear to the heart - He is our joy and gladness, and our firm hope.

O gracious Lord, mercifully seek out Thy creation, and shew Thyself to Thy people in the Holy Spirit, as Thou shewest Thyself to Thy servants.
Rejoice every afflicted soul, 0 Lord, by the coming of Thy Holy Spirit. Let all who pray to Thee know the Holy Spirit.

O all ye people, let us humble ourselves for the sake of the Lord and the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us humble ourselves and the Lord will give us to know the power of the Jesus Prayer. Let us humble ourselves and the Spirit of God Himself will instruct the soul.

O man, learn the humility of Christ and the Lord will give you to taste of the sweetness of prayer. And if you would pray purely, be humble and temperate, confess yourself throughly, and prayer will feel at home in you. Be obedient, submit with a good conscience to those in authority. Be content with all things, and your mind will be cleansed of vain thoughts. Remember that the Lord sees you, and be fearful lest anywise you offend your brother. Neither dispraise nor grieve him, even by a glance, an expression on your face, and the Holy Spirit will love you and Himself be your help in all things.

The Holy Spirit is very much like a dear mother. A mother loves her child and has pity on it; and the Holy Spirit likewise has pity on us, forgives and heals us, enlightens and rejoices us. And the Holy Spirit is to be known through humble prayer.

The man who loves his enemies soon comes to know the Lord in the Holy Spirit, but of the man who does not love his enemies I have no wish to write. Yet he is to be pitied, for he is a torment to himself and to others, and will not know the Lord.

The soul that loves the Lord cannot help praying, for she is drawn to Him by the grace she has come to know in prayer.

We are given churches to pray in, and in church the holy offices are performed according to books. But we cannot take a church away with us, and books are not always to hand, but interior prayer is always and everywhere possible. The Divine Office is celebrated in church, and the Spirit of God dwells therein, but the soul is the finest of God's churches, and the man who prays in his heart has the whole world for a church. However, this is not for everyone.

Many use their lips to pray, and like to read prayers from books; and this is good and the Lord accepts their prayers and is merciful to them. But if a man prays to the Lord while thinking of other things, the Lord hearkens not to his prayer.

The prayer of the man who prays from habit is always the same, but the prayer of him who prays fervently knows many vicissitudes; now he is engaged in struggle with the enemy, now with himself and his passions, now with other people; and in all this he has need of fortitude.

Ask counsel of the experienced, if such you find, and humbly entreat the Lord, and the Lord will give you understanding because of your humility.

If our prayer is pleasing to the Lord, then the Spirit of God bears witness in our soul. The Spirit of God is pleasant and tranquil. But in the past I did not know whether or no the Lord had heard my prayer, nor how it is possible to tell.

Sorrow and danger have brought many people to prayer.

A soldier came to see me in the storehouse. He was on his way to Salonika. My soul took a liking to him, and I said to him:
'Pray to the Lord that there be less affliction in the world.'

And he replied, 'I know how to pray. I learnt in the war, when I was fighting. I prayed hard to the Lord to let me live. Bullets showered down, shells burst, and few of us were left alive; but I was in many a battle and the Lord preserved me.' As he spoke he showed me how he prayed and by the attitude of his body it was plain how he had been utterly rapt in God.

Many people like to read good books, and this is right, but it is best of all to pray; while he who reads newspapers or bad books condemns his soul to go hungry - hungry because the food of the soul and her true satisfaction lie in God. In God are life, joy, gladness, and the Lord loves us ineffably, and this love is made known by the Holy Spirit.

If you are minded to pray in your heart and are not able, repeat the words of your prayer with your lips and keep your mind on the words you are saying, as St. John Climacus explains. In time the Lord will give you interior prayer without distraction, and you will pray with ease. Some there are who have injured their hearts in their efforts to force their minds into their hearts to pray, so much so that afterwards they were unable to pronounce the words of their prayer with their lips either. But do not forget the pattern of spiritual life: God bestows His gifts on the simple, lowly and obedient soul. The man who is obedient and temperate in all things - in food, in speech, in movement - receives the gift of prayer from the Lord Himself, and prayer continues without difficulty in his heart.

Unceasing prayer is born of love, while fault-finding, idle talk and self-indulgence are the death of prayer. The man who loves God is able to keep his mind on Him day and night since no form of activity interferes with loving God. The Apostles loved the Lord, and the world did not hinder them - though they were not forgetful of the world and prayed for it, and preached. True, Arsenius the Great was bidden to 'shun people' but in the desert, too, the Spirit of God teaches us to pray for people and for all the world.

Everyone in this world has his task to perform, be he king or patriarch, cook, blacksmith or teacher, but the Lord Whose love extends to everyone of us will give greater reward to the man whose love for God is greater. The Lord gave us the commandment to love God with all our hearts, with all our minds, with all our souls. But without prayer how can one love? The mind and heart of man, therefore, must always be free to pray.

When we love someone, we like to think about that person, talk about him, be with him. Now the soul loves the Lord, as her Father and Creator, and stands before Him in awe and love; in awe because He is the Lord; in love because the soul knows Him for her Father - He is all mercy, and His grace sweeter than aught else.

And experience has shown me that the grace of God makes prayer easy. The Lord loves us and in His mercy grants us to converse with Him in prayer, and to repent and give thanks.

I lack the power to describe how greatly the Lord loves us. This love is made known in the Holy Spirit, and the soul when she prays knows the Holy Spirit.

Some there are who say that prayer beguiles. This is not so. A man is beguiled by listening to his own self, not by prayer. All the Saints lived in prayer, and they call others to prayer. Prayer is the best of all activities for the soul. Prayer is the path to God. Through prayer we obtain humility, patience and every good gift. The man who speaks against prayer has manifestly never tasted of the goodness of the Lord, and how greatly He loves us. No evil ever comes from God. All the Saints prayed without ceasing: they filled every moment with prayer.

When the soul loses humility, she loses grace and love for God at the same time, and ardent prayer is extinguished. But when the soul stills her passion and grows humble, the Lord gives her His grace, and the n she prays for her enemies as for herself, and sheds scalding tears for the whole world.

From Saint Silouan the Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony, pp 292-297