Thursday, August 25, 2011

On Sobriety and Prayer


Pray without ceasing—and pray without anger or thinking. Know that every thought that distances the mind from God, no matter how good it might seem in and of itself, is from the devil, who constantly sows high-sounding and irrational dreams only in order to distract the mind from God, from His commandments and His good works. The attention must not attach itself to any such thing, but rather it should firmly tear itself away and cleanse the heart in every way from evil suggestions. The devil tries very hard to distance the mind from God and enmesh it in worldly delights. But the soul should try in every way to struggle and not comingle with unclean thoughts; and in order to do this it should not fix its gaze upon that which the ancient and ever cunning seducer paints inside the head; that is, the images of things, faces and deeds into which the evil devil transforms himself. The poor person who has been drawn into this stands in one place, thinking that he is somewhere else; he sees, it seems to him, various faces, talks to them and carries on affairs with them, meanwhile this is none other than diabolical prelest.
Thus, having contained yourself within, bind the mind and cut off all unrelated thoughts with the name of Jesus Christ, who took away the sins of the world. Wherever you body stands, let your mind stand there also, so that there might be nothing between God and your heart that, like some cloud or curtain, might darken the heart and hide the face of God from it. If the mind should be sometimes distracted, it must not linger with those thoughts, so that its comingling with them would not be counted as deeds before God in the Day of Judgment, when God will judge the secret thoughts of men and every human thought will be confessed before Him. This podvig is bound up with many tempations both interior and exterior, but be brave. Blessed is the man who endures temptations, for having been tested, he will receive the incorruptible crown and become the temple of the great King—Christ, Who having built an abode within him, will settle into him and move him.... Having such a promise, let everything go and attend unceasingly to the Lord God; ask nothing more from Him that mercy, and that will be sufficient for you. In asking for mercy, ask for it with humility and contrition of heart, from morning till evening, and if possible, call out to Him all night also:
Lord Jesus Christ and Word of the Living God, through the prayer of the Theotokos have mercy on me.
Force yourself, and I repeat: force yourself, for this work requires great force. It is a narrow and sorrowful path that leads to the door of life, and only those who force themselves will enter in. (The Kingdon of God suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force) (Mt. 11:12). Do not distance yourself from God in your mind, and may your heart preserve the remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ. The same sweet name repeat and repeat until it makes its resting place in your heart, and Christ will become magnified you.
Watch, and never abandon the rule of this holy prayer, for I have heard from the holy fathers who said: she who abandons this rule is no nun. Whether a nun be eating, drinking, walking or serving, she should ceaselessly call out: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.
Through the remembrance of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ the heart warms itself for the battle against the enemy; through the remembrance of the Lord the laboring soul seeks out everything, the evil and the good: it routes out the evil and implants the good. This remembrance triumphs over all the power of the devil in the heart and catches him, overcomes him and sunders him in half. Tirelessly call on the name of Jesus Christ, and having descended into the depths of the heart, it will burn up all the roots of sin and enliven the soul. Ceaselessly call upon the name of the Lord Jesus, and your heart will swallow the Lord, and the Lord will swallow the heart, and the two will be one. By the way, this is not the work of one day or even two, but sometimes of many years and a long period of time. Much labor and time is required before the enemy is expunged and Christ comes to dwell.
St. Theophan the Recluse
On the Jesus Prayer
The prayer which the holy fathers call the Jesus Prayer, is pronounced thus:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. The holy fathers teach us this prayer in many different ways. Saint John of the Ladder says: "Labor to enclose your mind in the words of the Jesus Prayer—pray aloud and attentively with the mind—the heart cannot help but participate in attentive prayer. Thus, whoever prays in this way will pray with his lips, his mind and his heart. Progressing in prayer, he will acquire prayer of the mind and heart, and thus attract Divine grace to himself." This method of St. John of the Ladder is the simplest, most understandable and best.
St. Nilus of Sora, one of our Russian ascetics, instructs us to be silent in thought—not to think during prayer, not of anything bad, nor even of anything good. Instead of any thought, he says to gaze ceaselessly into the depths of the heart and say: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner! According to the teaching of St. Nilus of Sora, one may pray standing, sitting, or lying down, not constraining the body so that the spirit can work freely, only regulating the breath, breathing quietly and frequently.
St. Seraphim of Sarov instructs the beginner to do the Jesus prayer without ceasing. While praying, he says, attend to yourself, that is, collect your mind and unite it with the soul. At first, for a day or two or more, say the prayer with the mind only, separately, attending to every word particularly. When the Lord will warm your heart with the warmth of His grace and unite you in one spirit, then this prayer will flow within you ceaselessly, and will be with you always, delighting you and nourishing you. And at first, you should say the prayer with your voice, that is with the lips, the tongue and speech—aloud to yourself alone. When the lips, the tongue and the feeling of prayer are satiated with pronouncing it aloud, then voiced prayer is ceased, and the prayer is prounounced in a whisper.

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