Table of contents
Chapter Eighteen: ON PRAYER
PRAYER does not stop when morning devotions are over. Now it is a matter of maintaining prayer the whole day through, no matter what the day's complications. Bishop Theophan advises the beginner to choose a suitable short sentence of prayer from the Psalter, for example, O Lord, make haste to help me, or Create in me a clean heart, O God, or Blessed art Thou, O Lord, or some other. The Psalter offers a wide choice of such more or less brief prayers. Later, as the day goes on, one may keep this prayer in mind and repeat it as often as possible, mentally or in a whisper or, better still, aloud as soon as one is alone and unheard. In a bus or a lift, at work and during meals, constantly, as soon as one has opportunity, one recaptures the prayer and fixes all his attention on the content of the words. Thus the day is filled until the evening reading from the prayer book in the quiet moments before going to bed. This practice is also suitable for those who do not enjoy the privacy that is necessary for regular evening and morning devotions, for it can be carried out wherever and whenever one wishes. Inner solitude is in such cases a substitute for the external solitude that is lacking.
Frequent repetition is important: with frequent wing-beats a bird soars up over the clouds; the swimmer must repeat his strokes countless times before he reaches the desired shore. But if the bird ceases to fly, it must be content to dwell among the mists of earth. And close beneath the swimmer lurk dark and threatening depths.
Pray in this way hour after hour, day after day, without growing weary. But pray simply, not with pathos nor plodding nor with all manner of questions: do not be anxious for tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). When the time comes, you will get your answer.
Abraham set forth without wondering curiously: What does the land look like, that Thou wilt show me? What is awaiting me there? He simply set out and departed as the Lord had spoken unto him (Genesis 12:4). Do likewise. Abraham took all his possessions with him, and in that respect you ought to do as he did. Take everything you have, your whole being with you on your wandering; leave nothing behind that could bind your affection to the land where many gods are worshipped, the land you have left.
It took Noah a hundred years to build his Ark; log upon log he dragged to the construction. Do as he did; drag log upon log to your construction, patiently, in silence, day after day, and do not inquire about your surroundings. Remember that Noah was the only one in the whole world who walked with God (Genesis 6:9), that is, in prayer. Imagine the crowding, the darkness, the stench, that he had to live in until he could step out into the pure air and build an altar to the Lord. The air and the altar you will find within you, explains St. John Chrysostom, but only after you have willingly gone through the same narrow gate as Noah.
In this manner do all that the Lord commands you to do (Genesis 6:22), and build with all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:18) the bridge that takes you away from your carnal self and its divided interests to the wholeness of the Spirit. With the coming of the Only One into your heart, plurality vanishes, says Basil the Great. Your days become whole, secured by Him who holds the whole world in His hand.