On Prayer (2)

Continuing with the second part of Patriarch Pavle’s thoughts on prayer, I find this second half interesting in that the holy patriarch gives us some practical advice when he concludes that it is much better to use a prayer book in prayer than say prayers from memory:

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His Holiness Patriarch PAVLE of Serbia on Prayer:

2. Humility and a Contrite Heart

The teachers of the Church and the holy fathers advise that during prayer everyone have humility and a contrite heart because of one’s sins. For, if man doesn’t feel in hs heart that he is a sinner, God will not hear his prayer. This is seen in the prayer of the Pharisee and the Publican. The prayers bedewed with the tears of humility and repentance are instantly heard. Poured out from the humble soul, as the wise Solomon says, it breaks through the clouds and doesn’t delay until it reaches the Lord.

When it is time for prayer do not occupy yourself with any sort of work, for the demons look to occupy us with any sort of work during our prayer. If your soul is sweetened with any words of the prayer, continue your prayer for know that at that time your Guardian Angel is praying with you. St. Nefon once saw a monk walking and praying. The monk went but also his angel went with him, escorting the monk with a fiery spear in hand, with which he drove the demons away from the monk.

“Pray ceaselessly,” says the holy Apostle, “that you do not fall in temptation.” This ceaseless prayer consists not only in our ceaslessly praying, but also in a consant remembrance of God and a feeling that he is always before us, watching all of our deeds, intentions and thoughts. Therefore it is a beautiful habit to call upon the Lord from the heart and to pray briefly at every opportunity and at every task, beginning with, for example: “God help me! Lord, bless!” When we have concluded: “Glory to Thee, O Lord! I thank Thee, O Lord!” In surprising dilemmas, whatever temptation might be: “Lord, save! God, be merciful to me a sinner! Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner! Holy Theotokos, save us!”

It is necessary to pray not only when we feel like praying but also then when we don’t have a specific longing or disposition for it; when laziness, sleepiness, forgetfulness and such, drive us away from prayer. If we are compelled and do battle with our own bodies in order to pray, not paying attention to the large collection of dark obstacles, then that prayer will take flight to the heavens and stand before the very throne of the Lord. Night is very suitable for prayer. It is at that time that everything is quieted, calmed and the prayer that is offered to God in the evening quiet, from the depths of our hearts, is heard and on our souls descends a twofold grace from God. It’s during these prayers that the all-evil devil, with particularly great power arises and strikes the man of prayer with temptations, fear and assaults, but it is also at this time that the grace of God for spiritual aid is multiplied.

According to the general thinking of the holy fathers, prayer is considered the daughter of the fulfilling of the gospel’s commands while, at the same time, it is considered to be the mother of all virtues.

That we might protect ourselves from the distraction of our thoughts in prayer, the holy fathers advise that the mind cling all the more to the words of the prayer. From this it is better that we read the prayers from the prayer book and not from memory. This is especially necessary for the beginners and the weak. For this reason everything that is read or sung in the Orthodox Church, no matter how well it is known, is done from a book. Such an immersed mind in the words of prayer is not easily distracted by different sides. If the mind cannot concentrate and immerse itself in the words of the holy fathers, then one should read softly out loud so that one can hear oneself reading. This kind of prayer is especially helpful when one prays alone.

In prayer we shouldn’t work up our nerves, nor sigh too much, nor hold our head up, for all this is harmful. We should pray quietly, with deep, but silent sighs, our heads lowered to the ground, patiently, from time to time looking at the icon as those who truly feel sinful before God.

In public our prayer should be unheard that it might not interrupt anyone’s prayer.

If during prayer your mind wanders to other things and not to the heavens and God, do not be disheartened, but always bring it back and concentrate on the words of the prayer. After all, such a prayer will not remain fruitless even though it is not pure.

For a man in sorrow there is no greater comforter than prayer. “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray” (James 5:13).

Sickness and other misfortunes which befall us are a result of sin. For this reason we are obliged to pray to the Lord that He might forgive us our sins, that toghether with that He might heal us from bodily sicknesses and tragedies of this world. When God allows hunger, war, heavy storms, droughts, hail, earthquakes and such, this comes from the sins of the people. For this reason does the source of evil lie in us. Here again is the need for us to pray to God for the forgiveness of our sins that we might free ourselves of this source of all tragedies, that we might be delivered from all natural evils that come to us in the form of terrible natural phenomena.

If it happens that one asks something of God and does not receive it, this can mean that God heard the prayer but in His providential wisdom He tests the man of prayer’s endurance, and when this man endures to the end then he will receive in greater amount than that for which he prayed; or, it means that the man of prayer did not receive what he prayed for because it might lead to some evil.

But praying to God individually, alone, according to the Lord’s command (Matt. 6:6), should not be considered to be sufficient. In different situations and need in life: birth, death, marriage, building a home, sowing, departure on a long journey, sickness, etc., besides the private prayers we should all upon the graceful and prayerful help of the church and the priests, for Holy Scriptures advises us to do so (James 5:14). Besides this we shouldn’t forget our regular participation in the communal prayer in the holy church, which the holy Apostles did as well as all the saints (Acts. 1:14, 12:12), as this is the will of God (Matt. 18:20).

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