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30 August 2023
Section Feasts and Weekdays was refreshed. There a story A book about general Ilya Leonidovich Tatishchev appeared

24 November 2022
Section Feasts and Weekdays was refreshed. There a talk by schema-archimandrite Abraham Invincible weapon appeared

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Invincible weapon. A talk by schema-archimandrite Abraham

The topic of todays talk is the stages of the Jesus prayer. Unceasing prayer of repentance is the strongest means in the struggle against sin, but because we do not discern the stages or the degrees of prayerful progression, we may fall into mistakes that occasionally lead because of our inexperience to serious consequences. Prayer, as it is well-known, is divided into three stages: prayer of the lips, mind, and heart. This is the first, and the most elementary division. Saint Ignatiy (Bryanchaninov), a highly experienced ascetic, rightly distinguishes the prayer of the lips into two kinds: of the lips proper articulated by the lips, silently, and prayer of the lips said out loud.

A little on the prayerof the lips

There is a number of ill-advised zealots of the Jesus prayer who think that it is always necessary to pray out loud, despite everything and everyone. In reality, of course, this is not always possible. If we start praying out loud on public transportation or at work, we will be tempting and disturbing people in one way or another. But if you are at the monastery obedience, it does profit a person, especially a novice, as it reminds one of the necessity to pray unceasingly. Otherwise, if they, not having sufficient experience or sufficient grace would be striving for silent prayer, as a result they would abandon the prayer completely.

In general, praying out loud profits not just the beginners. Lets say, for some reason, we are incapable to fully concentrate on the prayer of the mind, while, for example, we are busy with needlework. In this case, it can be very beneficial and even necessary to pray out loud. Perhaps the first five to ten prayers we would be articulating inattentively, but then our voice itself will remind us that we need to pray, and we will come to our senses.

There is also this opinion about the prayer of the lips: because this is the very first, beginners stage of prayer, then by definition it cannot be attentive. This is not right. Without paying attention, even the prayer of the mind will turn out completely empty. It is very important to realize: at every stage of prayer, it is essential to force oneself to pay attention as much as possible. But what does it mean, to force oneself to pay attention? It means to be placing your mind into the words of the prayer. This principle, given to us by saint John Climacus, is so universal, that it is good both for the beginners and the advanced, and even for those who have come to know the prayer of the heart.

The next stage of prayer the prayer of the mind

The transition from the prayer of the lips to the prayer of the mind, that is, the prayer uttered by the mind alone, happens not at once but gradually. Sometimes this transition can last for months and even years. It is different from person to person. Schema-monk Hilarion who wrote his famous book On the Caucasus mountains of Caucasus exercised in the prayer of the lips for many years. And then the prayer of the lips, without any compulsion from his side, had transitioned into the prayer of the mind, and then the prayer of the heart. It can also happen differently. A person, having just approached spiritual life, partakes of the sweetness of the prayer of the heart, but then loses it and for many years strives to return to what he experienced at the very beginning of his spiritual life.

The famous ascetic of Glinsk, Seraphim (Romantsov) had experienced the power of the prayer of the heart in his youth. Then, in a dream, he saw a young maid, and somehow he realized that that was the Jesus prayer. The maid told him: I will leave you now, but later, in your old age, I will come back to you. And he stopped having the prayer of the heart. Why this happened only God knows. But when the elder was already on his deathbed, unceasing Jesus prayer was reactivated in him again, along with a copious pouring forth of grace. In this grace-filled state he passed on to the Lord.

And so, when a person feels that at the time of the prayer of the lips, his lips are, as it were, closing up on their own, that it is inconvenient or uninteresting for him to pray out loud, but that he wants to pray with his mind, this is almost invariably a sign of the transitioning to the prayer of the mind. Here one has to be prudent. Some, out of false humility, are afraid of the higher stages of prayer: We are unworthy, we have not deserved it. Of course, we havent, but Gods grace is given not according to our merits. If Gods grace is visiting us, we must judiciously accept it and not reject it under the pretext of humility. In addition, one ought not to think that the sense of ones sinfulness contradicts the awareness of ones success in one or another respect. Some think that if they truly consider themselves to be sinners, they are incapable of sensible self-perception. That is, if they can see any improvement in themselves, it must mean they have pride. But the improvement does not come from us it is a gift from God. And if we stay unaware of our improvement, we will not be able to know what to do in the future, and well renounce any progress, any inner change.

Prayer of the heart

Gradually growing successful, progressing in the prayer of the mind, a person can become worthy of the prayer of the heart. Conducive to this is the immersing of the mind into the heart, using various artificial techniques: looking inside oneself, looking into the upper part of the heart, leading the mind into the heart with the help of breathing. Yet, the success in prayer depends most of all on humility. This is why one should not get too focused on these artificial techniques or to make them the cornerstone. All these artificial methods of leading the mind from the head into the heart into the locus of the source of the human spirit and the source of human thoughts bring success only when grace promotes it.

Certainly, it is desirable to be doing all of this under the guidance of a spiritual father, having read the books of the holy fathers who speak in detail about this work. Out of the Russian writers, the best ones and perhaps completely sufficient, too, if there are no others at hand are the works of saint Ignatiy (Bryanchaninov).

Salvation is our goal

I would like to point out something else here: we should not be exercising in Jesus prayer as in, apologies for the comparison, some sport, i.e., aiming for the results at any cost. The result we need is not the prayer of the mind or of the heart in and of itself but our taking ownership over ourselves; the acquisition of repentance; the power to fight sin inside ourselves; in other words, we learn to fulfill the commandments. One could say that the fulfilling of the commandments, too, is only the means, whereas salvation is the final goal. When we become so serious about our spiritual life, when we begin to understand that we pray not for the sake of succeeding, not for the sake of acquiring some spiritual heights, but for the sake of salvation and eternity, then we will have a completely different attitude towards prayer. Then we will not care too much whether we are praying with lips, mind, or heart; only the end goal would be important to us. And the end goal would be achieved when we are in the Kingdom of Heaven, in paradise. Until that point no one has the right to settle and think that he has reached a certain spiritual level, to be vainglorious about it and to become complacent. If we approach prayer in such a wrong way, if we think that we absolutely have to be someone or to reach a particular state, we are in great danger.

There is a narrative about saint Macarios the Great. As his soul after death was being carried up to the heavens by the angels and was passing the aerial toll-houses, the demons were crying out from the toll-houses: Macarios, youve escaped us! And he would answer: No, I have not yet escaped you. This would take place several times, and only when the saint stepped with one foot into the gates of paradise, he said: Now I have escaped you. Such was the humility of the great saintly men who even after death would rely neither on themselves nor on their ascetic feats, nor even on the grace of God which has become second nature for them.

Let us compel ourselves!

What does it mean to compel oneself? In that a person forces himself to do something, that is, does it with a great effort. If one prays easily, even if paying attention, he does not force himself. Such a man will not succeed.

According to the Savior, whoever does not gather with me scatters (Matt 12:30). If we are not acquiring more and more grace, we start losing it right away, at the same moment. Therefore, we must work on the habitual state of grace, we must compel ourselves to the greater, to exert a certain effort. I mean the spiritual effort, effort towards attention. The correct completion of a prayer rule is the one where a person from the very beginning compels oneself towards attention, and towards the end, his attention is intensified. Prayer becomes more and more purified from the external thoughts, more and more attentive.

Zeal is essential in all virtues, but especially in prayer, because prayer is the virtue that mortifies our old man. Compelling ourselves towards prayer, we suppress and destroy our sinful passions and sinful habits. And since there are two persons living in us: one is a Christian, a spiritual man, and the other is a sinful or old man, then for the old man which has become our second nature, prayer becomes death or annihilation. That is why we often feel certain resistance during prayer. We are bored, disinterested, at times we detest praying, we force ourselves to pray, and only those people reach easy and unimpeded prayer who have almost purified themselves of sin. It is impossible for people on earth to be completely without sin.

Full ease, full freedom in prayer only happens for those who have highly succeeded, and even then, not always but only at exceptional moments, when the grace of the Holy Spirit acts particularly abundantly in them, when their own spirit is exalted, and they receive revelations beyond utterance. In all other cases, every person, even if he is very pure, must be forcing himself to a degree. We should keep this in mind, because some people tend to think: I dont want to pray, so I am not going to pray. I am not in the mood for it, so I wont be forcing myself. When the right mood comes, I will pray sincerely. This is naïve.

Our invincible weapon

At any stage, the Jesus prayer, be it of the lips, mind, or heart, or even of a higher degree is a weapon. Saint Basil of Poiana Marului says that there are two causes that move prayer, that force us to pray: the fight against sinful thoughts and the memory of death. When we are troubled by thoughts of some kind, we counter them, that is, willy-nilly we begin to pray. But when a person does not fight strongly against sinful thoughts and he does not take notice of fairly small, insignificant sins, he can fall into a carefree state. Because he has no need of exerting himself to fight sin, his prayer grows weak and becomes limpid. One should beware this and, if that happens, particularly exhort oneself to the memory of death. Yet also in the fight with sinful thoughts, even with those that are strongly overpowering us, it is good to join forces of Jesus prayer with the memory of death, as Saint John Climacus recommends we do. Then prayer would be a much more powerful, serious weapon against lust, anger, vanity, pride, and despondency in other words, against any kind of sin.

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