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Conditions for perfect prayer. Talk by Metropolitan Afanasiy of Limasol (Cyprus)

Great Lent is the most beautiful time in the life of a Christian; it is a time when we are especially close to repentance and prayer. The well-known preacher Metropolitan Afanasy of Limasol talks about the conditions for perfect prayer.


Prayer is a natural service of a human being. When a person prays, he acts in accordance with how God has created him. It is natural for a person to be addressing God, to be in communion with Him. Yet, after the fall, the mind of man ran away from God and has turned to sensual things and now special conditions are needed for a man to be able to pray. Special spiritual work is necessary.

Prayer is a natural service of a human being. When a person prays, he acts in accordance with how God has created him. It is natural for a person to be addressing God, to be in communion with Him. Yet, after the fall, the mind of man ran away from God and has turned to sensual things and now special conditions are needed for a man to be able to pray. Special spiritual work is necessary.

Right now we are passing through the period of lent. Bodily lent is one of the main conditions for prayer. Holy Fathers say that when a person fasts, even his blood in some way becomes refined, which greatly helps him in prayer. What is greater than this kind of fasting, however is the spiritual fasting, the temperance of the mind., One should stop collecting garbage into his mind. Clearly, if a person is filling himself with things from his environment all day long; if his mind is constantly learning something new, accepting a multitude of images and fantasies; studies that which is not his own business, then all this junk will become an obstacle for a man when he starts praying.

With bodily fasting, man eats that which gives him strength to live on and to work but cuts off everything that is excessive. A similar thing happens with the fasting of our senses: everything superfluous is being cut off, and only the essentially needful remains. It is clear that we have certain duties, since we live in society. For instance, I go somewhere because it is necessary for the sake of my job, family, children, spouse, etc., but all this has its measure. And no matter where I go, I preserve inner attention; my mind is attuned to prayer. When I do the necessary things they are not a big obstacle to my prayer. The real obstacle occurs when a person engages in useless things which do not need to be done, especially if these things stand in connection with transgressing of God's commandment.

It is obvious that we cannot pray if we consciously transgress God's commandments. As soon as we turn to prayer, our conscience expresses protest, raises against us and, as a tall wall, does not allow us to meet the Holy Spirit of God.

I remember how an elder (now reposed) once told me how somebody asked him about his spiritual father who was a very difficult person in character: "How is Geronta, is he well?" And he answered with certain discontent: "He'll be none the worse for anything. Ummm..., he is doing well." And this tone of displeasure, judging the elder in his thoughts -- all this has become the reason that grace has left him for entire months, he could not pray. And he had to toil a lot to acquire the former prayerful state.

God does not manifest Himself where His commandments are being transgressed. Especially if we deny help to our brother. The result thereof is the immediate ceasing of prayer. It is never possible for us to pray when we have denied help to another person.

I remember when I was at the New Skete, there was an elder Fr. Elpidy, a holy person. He was a man of great prayer. When I came to New Skete, we lived in terrible poverty, we would often not even have food. This elder would receive a small pension every month, which would sustain him and the entire community. Oftentimes we would be visited by beggars (there are many such people wandering over the Holy Mountain). The elder would always give alms to all. Of course, many of those who were begging were not in a real need: it was simply their profession to beg. One such person comes up and says: "Geronta give me a thousand drachmas!" And we knew about this man that he was a fraud. So I tell the elder: "No, don't give him a thousand drachmas. He's got money; it's his specialty to beg. And we have such great need here! Give him a little less, five hundred drachmas." "All right, let it be five hundred," Ц answered the elder. Fr. Elpidy gave five hundred drachmas to the fake pauper, and the latter left. After the vespers we saw that the elder was very upset, could not find any peace. He told me that he feels he is not with God today. And he explained the reason for that: some beggar came by today and asked for a thousand, and we didn't give it to him. "What do you mean, Geronta, we gave it to him! We gave him five hundred drachmas!" Ц I said. "No, Ц he answered, Ц go and find him, give him the other five hundred, because I cannot pray. I've lost prayer. I don't have it." So we took five hundred drachmas, went from monastery to monastery, found that monk and gave him the money he asked for.

Think about it, do think: it is impossible to pray when we transgress the commandment about love! Other sins can turn out to be much smaller obstacle for our prayer. Even in the case when carnal sin has been committed, if a person humbles himself before God and stands wounded in front of Him, his prayer could still be heard. But when we transgress the commandment about love, this obstacle is impossible to overcome. In this respect God does not permit compromises, since He Himself said: "If you go to the altar with an offering and remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering, go reconcile with your brother and then come back." Christ did not say: if you come with an offering (i.e., come to pray), having committed a carnal or some other kind of sin, then first go settle it, and then come back... No, He was talking about love. And He never aids a person in prayer, if that person in his heart holds a grudge against another person. Or, to be more precise, God will not help us in prayer if another person holds something against us. This is namely what the Gospel is talking about here. It does not say: "If you have something against your brother, settle it with him," but: "If you remember that your brother has something against it," and this means that if our brother feels uneasy because of us if he is upset and has taken offense with us, then we cannot pray.

This is a very important moment, but, unfortunately, we often pay no attention to it. And we think that it is enough if we can say: I am not at odds with anybody. While saying this, we are capable of turning someone's life into torture. For instance, you became enraged -- and have immediately forgotten about this, yet the other person has been spiritually traumatized. You feel an obstacle in prayer. And if you just had more judiciousness, you would understand that this obstacle has appeared because your brother has something against you.

Unfortunately, no matter how we act, both we and the world around us lives with its own difficulties and problems. And we all, without exception, have people around us who don't like us. For them even to see us is already hard. In this case, we happen to be guilty if, first of all, we do not do what we can to appease these people. Yet, if, unfortunately, this is not possible, and we are incapable of appeasing them, then let us remain in prayer for them. We are at fault, if we do not pray for them with heartfelt pain, with great intensity.

And so, love is a necessary condition for us to be able to pray. And this concerns all aspects of our life. Let's say, in marriage -- we cannot pray if in our home we have created the atmosphere of enmity and coldness. And on the contrary, when a person humbles himself, when at a bad situation he always considers himself to be at falt, when he addresses with love the one who is near him, then grace will not tarry to come to him. That is, we can say that the key that is at our disposal and that enables us to enter the stream of prayer Ц is love. The next thing that brings great harm to prayer Ц is judging. When we judge, we cannot pray. The same thing could be said about the contrary. If we want to pray, we must learn to speak kindly about all people and to talk kindly to people. Meanwhile, unfortunately, for most people, and even for us -- those who attend church, Ц the most characteristic thing is that we are miserable. It is as if we have to pay for saying a kind word to someone! As if something will be snatched away from us, if we say something kind about another person! You say one good word -- and that's it, you are all clenched, you can't squeeze anything else from yourself! Do you see why marital bonds are so weak? Because neither of the spouses says a good word to the other. Yet, how easy that is! We undertake spiritual life, we are Christians, but in our homes, the husband will not say a kind word to his wife, the wife will not say a good word to her husband Ц a word that would give wings to the other person, a word that is shed from the bottom of a loving heart!

For a person who wants to pray, it is very important to have the right relationships with his neighbors! My memory holds a number of people who treated their neighbors very kindly, in order to not upset them with anything. For instance, I remember one elder from the New Skete, who had several vines. Fishermen would come to the Skete from time to time Ц laymen, they would rip grapes off the elder's vines and eat them, so the elder himself would rarely partake of his grapes. Once he came and caught them while they were cutting off grapes. The elder noticed what was happening from afar and not wishing to offend the fishermen, began coughing lightly: "Khe-khe-khe" and humming so that they would hear him and have time to do something about it before his arrival, so that they would not feel humiliated because he saw them coming to his vineyard and cutting off vines.

If we happened to be there, we would start screaming and would regard it a great thing that we have caught the thieves red-handed. Yet, not so the elders. They watched themselves: how they were comporting themselves. Whether the other person steals or not Ц that is his own business; they cared about how they themselves were treating this person.

Another important condition for prayer consists of us standing before God with a humble mode of thoughts and with a contrite heart. A contrite heart is what attracts God to us. The holy fathers at prayer would feel that there exists no person worse than they were. Only with such disposition can we stand before God. And only with such disposition can we approach communion -- as a person ready for death, as a sentenced one who walks knowing that everything has been lost and only thing remains -- his connection with God. Only this can save us. We stand before God and summon Him: look, I have nothing that I could give you. If you are going to look at my sins, I will not stand before You. I have only one thing. What is this one thing? It is You. You are my Father Who gave me Your Blood and Your Honorable Body. And this is the only thing I can bring to You so that You would incline to me. As the saints would say: o Lord, for the sake of Your holy Blood Which You shed at the Cross, for the sake of this Blood have mercy on me.

God saved us with His Honorable Cross. Nothing else saves us. Neither our deeds, nor anything else.

In prayer it is also necessary for a person to never receive the thought of ceasing to pray. If the thought tells you:" Why are you praying? And all this after you sinned so much? After you got so angry, did so many awful things? You won't be able to pray! Don't pray!" Let us never receive such thought either. No matter what we did, no matter what sins we committed, we have the right to prayer. No one can take away this right from us. We have the right to summon God -- the Doctor, our Father, so that He would have mercy on us. The Fathers say that even at the moment of committing a sin we must be praying: "My God! Look what I am doing now. I am committing a sin. Doesn't matter what sin, the most atrocious, most abominable sin. Lo, I am sinning at the moment. Look down at me and have mercy on me! Grant me Your mercy at the moment while I am sinning."

In other words we must not lose our daring before God. We must summon Him, even if we are burded by sin and immersed in it. We must with humility summon God, beg Him. We pray to Him because we are sinners. And when our mind is being carried away hither and thither and spreads out to various thoughts at the time of prayer, when we begin praying and see impure images inside of us, when we experience in us a surrection and counteraction, when we do not believe anything, when in place of prayer we commit sacrilege, Ц even at that moment we must not lose our daring. All this is nothing! We must continue our prayer. To remain in it. God, in the end, will win. Let us not panic, let us not grieve, let us remain in prayer. Whatever happens, whether we feel anything or not, whether our mind is gathered together or not whether there are a thousand impurities in us or not Ц let us remain in prayer. This comprises the power of the one who wants to pray. Whatever happens Ц let us be patient in prayer to God. Then God will visit us indeed and will let us experience the invaluable fruit of prayer.

In this period of fasting and prayer let us bring order to ourselves in body and soul and let us persevere more in the divine virtue of prayer which is the wire that connects us to God and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

(Published with abridgments).


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