Prayer is infinite creation,
the supreme art. Over and over again we experience an eager upsurge
towards God, followed only by a falling away from His light. Time
and again we are conscious of the mind’s inability to rise to Him.
There are moments when we feel ourselves on the verge of insanity.
‘Thou didst give me Thy precept to love but there is no strength in
me for love. Come and perform in me all that Thou hast commanded,
for Thy commandment overtaxes my powers. My mind is too frail to
comprehend Thee. My spirit cannot see into the mysteries of Thy
will. My days pass in endless conflict. I am tortured by the fear of
losing Thee because of the evil thoughts in my heart.’
Sometimes prayer seems to flag and we cry, ‘Make haste unto me, O
God’ (Ps. 70.5). But if we do not let go of the hem of His garment,
help will come. It is vital to dwell in prayer in order to
counteract the persistently destructive influence of the outside
Prayer cannot fail to revive in us the divine breath which God
breathed into Adam’s nostrils and by virtue of which Adam ‘became a
living soul’ (Gen. 2.7). Then our regenerated spirit will marvel at
the sublime mystery of being, and our hearts echo the Psalmist’s
praise of the wonderful works of the Lord. We shall apprehend the
meaning of Christ’s words, ‘I am come that (men) might have life and
that they might have it more abundantly’ (John 10.10).
But this life is full of paradox, like all the Gospel teaching. ‘I
am come to send fire on earth; and what will I, if it be already
kindled? (Luke 12.49). Unless we go through this fire that consumes
the decaying passions of nature, we shall not see the fire
transformed into light, for it is not Light that comes first, then
Fire: in our fallen state burning precedes enlightment. Let us,
therefore, bless God for this consuming fire. We do not know
altogether but we do at least know ‘in part’ (1 Cor. 13.9) that
there is no other way for us mortals to become ‘children of the
resurrection’ (Luke 20.36), to reign together with Christ. However
painful this re-creating may be; however it may distress and
lacerate- the process, agonising as it is, will be a blessed one.
Erudition requires long labour but prayer is incalculably harder to
When the Gospels and Epistles become real for us we see how naïve
were our past notions of God and life in Him, so far does Reality
surpass man’s imagining. ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither
have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath
prepared for them that love him’ (1 Cor. 2.9). Even a whisper of the
Divine is glory beyond compare to all the content of life lived
apart from God.
Strait is the way, and thorny and sorrowful. We shall heave many a
sigh as we go along. The peculiar fear which is ‘the beginning of
wisdom’ (Ps. 111.10) will clutch at our heart and twist our whole
being outside in to concentrate attention on what is happening
within. Impotent to follow Christ, we stop short in dread. ‘Jesus
went before (the disciples); they were amazed; and as they followed,
they were afraid’ (Mark 10.32).
None of us can escape suffering if we would be born into a new life
in God- if we would transform our natural body into a spiritual
body. (As St Paul said, ‘It is sown a natural body; it is raised a
spiritual body’ (1 Cor. 15.44).). Only the power of prayer overcomes
the resistance of matter and releases our spirit from this cramped,
inert world into the vast open spaces radiant with Light.
The mind is bewildered by the trials that befall in our struggle for
prayer. It is not easy to identify their cause or their kind. Until
we go ‘into the sanctuary of God’ (Ps. 73.17) we shall often
hesitate, unsure whether our works are pleasing to the All-Holy.
Since we are not exempt from sin we can only think that it is our
wrong-doing which provokes the storms raging around us- though St
Peter reminded the early Christians in their despair that ‘the
spirit of glory’ (1 Pet. 4.14) rested upon them. One thing, however,
is not open to doubt: the hour will come when all our trials and
tribulations will disappear into the past. Then we shall see that
the most painful periods of our life were the most fruitful and will
accompany us beyond the confines of this world, to be the foundation
of the Kingdom ‘which cannot be moved’ (Heb. 12.28).
The omnipotent God summoned us from the void. By nature we are of
the void; yet even from God we expect consideration and regard.
Suddenly the Almighty reveals Himself in boundless humility. The
vision floods our entire being and instinctively we bow in
adoration. Even this does not seem enough but however much we try to
humble ourselves before Him we still fall short of His humility.
Prayer to this God of love and humility rises from the depths of our
being. When our heart is filled with love for God we are wholly
aware of our closeness to Him- although we know full well that we
are but dust (cf. Gen. 3.19). Howbeit, in the visible form of our
nature the immortal God described the likeness of His invisible
Being, and thus we apprehend eternity. Through prayer we enter into
Divine life; and God praying in us is uncreated life permeating us.
In making us in His image, after His likeness, God placed us before
Him, not as action of His, entirely subject to Him, but as fact
(datum) even for Him- as free beings And by virtue of this,
relations between man and God are based on the principle of freedom.
When we take advantage of this freedom and commit sin, we thrust God
aside. This liberty to turn away from God is the negative, tragic
aspect of free will but it is a sine qua non if we are to take hold
of the life which is truly divine, life which is not predetermined.
We have the diametrically opposite alternatives: either to refuse
God- the very essence of sin- or to become sons of God. Because we
are made in the likeness of God we naturally desire the divine
perfection which is in our Father. And when we follow Him we are not
submitting to the dictates of some extraneous power: we are merely
obeying our own impulse to assimilate His perfection. ‘Be ye
therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is
perfect’ (Matt. 5.48).
Our Father Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name
Thou hast given me to perceive Thy holiness, and I would fain be
holy in Thee.
Thy Kingdom come
May Thy glorious life enter into me and become mine.
Thy will be done
on the earth of my created being, as it is in heaven, in Thee
Thyself, from all eternity.
Give us this day our daily bread
‘the true bread which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto
the world’ (John 6.32-33).
And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trepass
By Thy Holy Spirit grant me so to forgive others that nothing may
prevent me from receiving Thy forgiveness.
Lead us not into temptation
Thou knowest my perverseness; that I am ever ready to transgress.
Send Thine angel to stand in the way for an adversary against me
when I would sin (cf. Num. 22.22).
But deliver us from evil
Deliver me from the power of the mortal enemy, the adversary of man
At first we pray for ourselves; but when God by the Holy Spirit
gives us understanding our prayer assumes cosmic proportions. Then,
when we pray ‘Our Father’ we think of all mankind, and solicit
fulness of grace for all as for ourselves. Hallowed be Thy Name
among all peoples. Thy Kingdom come for all peoples that Thy Divine
life may become their life. Thy will be done: Thy will alone unites
all in love of Thee. Deliver us from evil- from the ‘murderer’ (John
8.44) who, far and wide, sows enmity and death. (According to our
Christian interpretation evil- like good- exists only where there is
personal form of being. Without this personal form there would be no
evil- only determined natural processes.)
The problem of evil in the world generally and in mankind
particularly poses the question of God’s participation in the
historical life of the human race. Many lose their faith because it
seems that, if God existed, evil could not be so rampant and there
could not be such widespread senseless suffering. They forget that
God cares for man’s freedom, which is the root principle of his
creation in the Divine image. For the Creator to interfere when man
inclines to evil would be tantamount to depriving him of the
possibility of self-determination, and would destroy him altogether.
But God can and does save individuals and nations if they tread the
road He designates.
Christ said, ‘I came not to send peace, but a sword’ (Matt. 10.34)
and ‘division’ (Luke 12.51). Christ summoned us to war on the plane
of the spirit, and our weapon is ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is
the word of God’ (Eph. 6.17). Our battle is waged in extraordinarily
unequal conditions. We are tied hand and foot. We dare not strike
with fire or sword: our sole armament is love, even for enemies.
This unique war in which we are engaged is indeed a holy war. We
wrestle with the last and only enemy of mankind- death (1 Cor.
15.26). Our fight is the fight for universal resurrection.
The Lord justified and sanctified the line of His forefathers.
Likewise, every one of us, if we follow Christ, can justify
ourselves in our individual being, having restored the Divine image
in us through total repentance, and by so doing can help to justify
our own forefathers. We bear in ourselves the legacy of the sins of
our ancestors; and, by virtue of the ontological unity of the human
race, healing for us means healing for them, too. We are so
interjoined that man does not save himself alone.
I found that the monks of the Holy Mountain understood this well. A
monk is a man who has dedicated his life to God; who believes that
if we want God to be wholly with us and in us, then we must give
ourselves to Him completely, not partly. The monk renounces marriage
and the fathering of children in order to observe and keep Christ’s
commandments as fully as possible. If a monk does not achieve his
true purpose- to live his life on earth in the spirit enjoined by
Christ- his monasticism has not been duly implemented. In other
words, he neither assists in the continuation of the human race by
procreating children, nor does he entirely further immortality
through resurrection. He drops out of the historical plan by his
refusal to take positive historical- not to say, political- action,
yet he does not transfer existence to the spiritual, meta-historical
plane. Having gained no victory on the universal plane of spiritual
warfare, he is not helping his fellow-humans to attain the divine
plane. However, though the monk may not realise Christian
perfection, his striving, even so, helps the whole world.
O Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit,
The only Truth and God;
Ever-living and all-powerful,
Who alone dost give strength to the troubled
and upholdest the weak;
O Thou without Whom the strong shall weary
and the firm grow feeble,
those who are full shall hunger
and young men shall bend:
Hear us in our affliction
and raise us to worthy service of Thee.
We beseech Thee, be swift to hear and have mercy.
When by the grace of the Holy Spirit it is given to a man to
‘come…unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the
fulness of Christ’ (Eph. 4.13), such an event reflects in the most
decided fashion not only on the destiny of all mankind- its
influence reaches beyond the confines of history and reflects on the
whole of cosmic life, for the world itself was created for man.
When we turn away from the path indicated by Christ- that is, from
the deification of man by the power of the Holy Spirit- the whole
point of man’s coming into the world disappears.
Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov (2001) (2nd ed.) His Life is
Mine. Chapter 8: The Struggle in Prayer. New York: St Vladimir’s