About Prayer

By Metropolitan Vitaly, First Hierarch of the Russian

Orthodox Church Abroad

To you, my children, I would like to say a few words about prayer.

Prayer is what we need more than any other thing - true, fervent, real prayer. And this is where we sin most of all. Often we pray merely with our lips - this is the ultimate fall. Or we may pray with our mind - we limit ourselves to an intellectual understanding of prayer, and this is the extent of our prayerful struggle.

We forget that the last great man of prayer of the Russian land, Fr. John of Kronstadt, has left us his book, My Life In Christ. This book is not just a description of certain spiritual states, it is the teaching which he has left to us about heartfelt prayer.

But when we pray without our whole heart, we are not really praying at all.

However, heartfelt prayer is not within our power. We can raise up our hands, walk, stand up, sit down and even think of whatever we wish. In one second we can even be transported in our thoughts to any point on the surface of the earth. All this is within our power but we are not capable, whenever we wish, of praying from the heart.

So we must acquire this heartfelt prayer, for without it, as one great elder has said, Russia began to slide down towards her fall. She began to feel the burden of outward prayer, did not put her heart into the prostrations or into the candles which she offered before the icons or into any externals, so that these outward forms became a great burden for her and she threw off this burden, threw off the truth and so cast aside the Church.

The real cause, the profound inner cause, of the fall of any individual person, of any family, of any people or any individual Church, arises when the people of this Church, the children of this Church, no longer join in with their hearts in the prayers or prostrations, but bear them as a purely outward burden. So now we, the Russian people of the diaspora, who enjoy complete freedom, which is a great gift of God, must make every effort to acquire this heartfelt prayer, remembering that when we stand up to pray, when we say the words of a prayer, when we understand the prayer, we are still just knocking, knocking at the door of the heart.

The Lord will see this struggle (podvig) of ours and He will Himself touch our hearts with His mighty right hand and He will enter into the prayer.

When our prayer enters the heart, then the Lord will hearken to us, because we are praying in our entirety, without remainder - there is nothing in us that is not praying. The mind is praying, it does not soar away anywhere, all is silent, all the senses are silent, but the human heart is praying to God, the body is praying, everything in it is praying, so is it possible that God shall not hearken to such a praying man? The Lord will hear such a man and avenge him, as the Holy Scripture says. He will defend him, will protect him, when He sees such a man.

So we have a task before us, a great task, one which would appear simple, but is really very great - to acquire heartfelt prayer. With all our strength we must ask the Lord, ask our great men of prayer: St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Sergei of Radonezh, St. John of Kronstadt and all those whom we know.

We must ask our Guardian Angel to lift us up to prayer, to wake us up to pray, for this is, one might say, his duty. We can have such boldness before God as to ask our Guardian Angel to waken us, to give us vigilance in prayer and to remind us of the whole of Holy Scripture, to ask the great saints and men of prayer, St. Elijah the Prophet, who brought down fire and burnt up the wood which was covered in water, to ask all whom we remember, to whom our hearts are drawn, to ask all the saints, that the Lord should give us heartfelt prayer and them if we pray this way, the heavens will be opened, the Lord will fulfill our prayer...in this lies the whole key to the mystery of prayer.

Brothers and sisters! This is the greatest school of all schools. Prayer is the science of sciences. But prayer does not have its own special school. The Church is the school of prayer. Somebody asked an elder how to pray, how to learn to pray. He said to him, "Pray, and you will learn how to pray!"

And so, my beloved brothers and sisters ...I invite you, I ask you, I beg you and will constantly repeat: we must acquire heartfelt prayer.

In it you will find everything - both your own personal happiness, and unselfishness, and all the qualities: the illiterate becomes learned, the poorest man becomes the richest, each person is transfigured, and each in his own way. Before prayer all are equal and each can obtain from God, depending on the gifts of his spirit.

Let us remember the two robbers before the crucified Christ: they are the whole human race, all are suffering. But the sufferings are not the same, and God grant that our sufferings should be those of the wise robber. He turned to the Savior with heartfelt prayer and censured the other, unrighteous one, who was crucified.

When he confessed the true faith, then he acquired heartfelt prayer and said to the Lord, "Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom," and God grant that to each the Lord should answer thus, to the repenting servants, that each repenting should hear ; "Verily, I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise."