Letter to prisoners.

The Most important life skill

O Heavenly King.

The Jesus Prayer.

Tuesday June 10/23 2015  Apostles Fast


Dear Brothers in Christ:


I owe many of you letters, and some of you I owe NO letters, because you have not sent me one in a long time! Nevertheless, I will send a general letter to all of you because I am that kind of guy.


Things are very busy. I have added Powledge to my visitation list. I will visit  it after (and sometimes before) Michael, because they are close to each other. There are two Orthodox Christians there and at least three that desire to be united to the church. I may change the day I visit to Thursday because of scheduling problems with liturgy. I want to serve liturgy each month in each prison, and it would be really hard to serve at Powledge at 11am. I want to flip flop the times I visit - on one week, I go to Michael at 8, and Powledge at 11, and then two weeks later to Michael at 11 and Powledge at 8. I would serve liturgy at the unit I come to earliest. As you know, prisons do not like change, so I will ask my incompetent secretary to do his best to make it happen.


I am going to a summer camp with 8 children from the parish next week (June 29-july 3), so, unfortunately, I cannot make my usual visit the first week. I wish I could split myself into two or even three, but no matter, what, you are always in my heart, as I pray for everybody every day.

The most important skill we can learn


I have a question for you: what is the most important skill you can learn in life? There is no absolutely correct answer to this question, but all answers must be related to each other. Of course I am talking about "spiritual skills". I do not care if you can dunk a basketball (although this is, alas, something that will ever remain on my bucket list - the best I could do was dunk a golf ball when I was young). We learn many skills in life: to communicate, relate to others, love, be patient, etc.


A good answer would be: "To fulfill the greatest commandment", and of course, if we fulfill the greatest commandment ("Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." Mat 22:37, where the Lord is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5)) we will possess all the virtues.


I do not think this is the best answer. Our purpose in life is not primarily to love God with all our heart, soul and mind - it is to be in union with God. This is something of which we are completely incapable. God is high and we are low. We cannot know him, unless He chooses for us to know Him. When you want something precious from someone, what do you do? You ASK FOR IT. Since it is precious, you do not only ask - you orient your entire life so that you can obtain what you desire. This asking, and the orientation of our life towards what we ask for - it is prayer. 


The skill we need to learn is prayer. Remember that when you are doing everything during the day except prayer. If we pray well, we will be changed in every way that is good, and we will be united with God. We will acquire the Holy Spirit. We will achieve our purpose.


Prayer does not occur in a vacuum. You cannot go to some mountain top and learn to pray. You must struggle against your sins, and to acquire the virtues, and to depend on God in all things. As God leads you, you must be obedient and respond. For example, if I did not go to prisons, I would never learn to pray. This is because God has  commanded me to do this.


Order your life so that everything increases prayer. This is very hard to do, but since it is a skill, we will get better if we try. since it is the highest skill a man can obtain, God will help us, and will attain it.


What are the most important things that increase prayer?


Prayer increases prayer. If you do not pray, you will not learn to pray.


Humility increases prayer. The Holy Spirit abides with the humble and does not help the proud.


Obedience increases prayer. There is always a purpose for obedience - it is to increase prayer and be united with God. think of that when you are told, or forced to do something you do not want to do.


Study of the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers increases prayer.


Forgiving your brother increases prayer.


And so on.....


In other, words, living spiritually increases prayer.


I have been reading an incredible book about prayer. Here is a quote from it.


Prayer is the primary need of soul. It is a tree of life which nourishes us, and renders us incorruptible, because it enables us to partake in the life of the incorruptible God. Just as there can be no human life without a soul, there can be no life in Christ from
apart from prayer.

Noetic prayer is the unceasing activity of the angelic orders: it is the bread, the life, and the language of those non-material beings. It is an expression of their love for God.

Monks, by imitating such a life in their flesh, and by means of their ascetic struggles, inhabit the realm of angels, and set ablaze their desire for the divine by unceasing prayer of the heart.

Archiamandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, "The Church at Prayer", Talk entitled "THE PRAYER OF THE HOLY MOUNTAIN", page 37

My small note. He mentions monks, because he was talking to monastics. We lay people are not exempt from this. He said there can be "no life in Christ apart from prayer"! Do you believe this? How much of your daily life proves that you believe this? All people are called to noetic prayer. This is the most important skill that we can learn it this life, and the only one we will take with us into the next life. If we are very bold, it is not an exaggeration to say that the purpose of our life is to learn to pray. As we attain this skill, all of the fruits of becoming godlike become apparent in our life.



I am anticipating some questions about the "Jordanville prayer book", since I did not have time to address them at the Powledge unit. I have not idea what they will be, but I have wanted to talk to you about the prayer book for a while now, so I want to get started. Most of you have this book, which I highly recommend, and if you do not have it, arrangements can be made.


Lets start with the simple beginning prayers from Morning prayers and the 'Prayers before Sleep". This set of prayers is call the "Trisagion prayers", because it contains the "Trisagion" (Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us").  These prayers are used in many services during the day.


The Trisagion prayers


Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee.


O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us, and cleanse us of all impurity, and save, our souls, O Good One.


Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.


Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the unto the ages of ages. Amen.


O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on me, O God, according to be gracious unto our sins. Master, pardon our iniquities. Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy Names’ sake.


Lord have mercy. (Thrice)


Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.


Our Father, Who art in the Heavens, hallowed by Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the ages of ages. Amen.



For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. (A Laymen can say: "through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and save us. Amen."


"O Heavenly King"


St Seraphim of Sarov teaches that the purpose of life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. It is therefore quite appropriate that we say the prayer "O Heavenly King" many times each day.


As a practical matter, you should say the Trisagion prayers so often that you have them memorized. You should also know the Symbol of Faith and 50th Psalm so well that they are memorized.


You can say "O Heavenly King" before you do anything. When I have a meeting, I usually say this prayer. In church, we often sing it, usually in the 6th sticheric tone. We will learn about tones eventually.


I want you to feel what you pray in your heart. Do not just rattle off  your prayers. The ones we say often get very familiar to us, and "familiarity breeds contempt". We must not let this happen! This prayer is actually one of the most sublime and important prayers we say, so we must slow down when we say it and feel it resonate in our heart. I do not know how to teach you to do this. God will teach you, if you pray this prayer with expectation and care, and if you struggle in the virtues. If you do not try to live according to the Gospel, you may as well read the phone book for your prayers, but if you struggle, God will teach you all things.


I have written some things about "O Heavenly King", but right now, I want to tell you what I feel when I pray it. Maybe some of this will be how you feel, and will motivate you to pray carefully.


Since we call the Holy Spirit a King, we are His subjects. There is no higher title or honor than to be a subject of the king. It is a great honor and responsibility. It is not a static thing, like a rich person who inherits millions from his parents. No matter what kind of person he becomes, he is rich. Being a servant (the actual word in the scriptures is actually "slave", and slavery to God is true freedom compared to subjection to anyone or anything else)  of God is not like that. We are called to be sons of God, and actually to be like God, so much that the Scripture says of us: "Ye are Gods" (Ps 81:6 Sept)


We had best know Who we are talking to when we pray!


We call the Spirit a "Comforter" (Paraclete). To call Him a King and Comforter is scriptural. Our Lord told us: ".... The Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." (John 14:26)  


How does the Holy Spirit comfort? You will know this if you are not comfortable with the word. If you feel death in yourself, and sin, and darkness, you will understand the comfort that the Holy Spirit brings. He brings light and warmth, and purity. He fills us with Himself. If we are full with Him, then all others things are gone - passions, and sins, and weakness and death. This is the comfort we seek.


If you are satisfied with the world, or seek comfort in the world, you will not fully know the comfort that the Holy Spirit brings. When we call Him comforter, we are therefore making  a promise and a plea. We are making a confession: "Only in Thee O Lord is life! I desire to follow only Thee, but I do not know how! I am weak and full of sins. Help me! Comfort me!"


We call Him the "Spirit of truth". This is also scriptural : "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall he speak: and He will shew you things to come. " (John 16:13)


What does this title mean? Without application to our life, it is just words, with no power for us. All truth is from God. There is nothing false in God. We are a strange mixture of truth and falsehood. Our lies masquerade as truth. We are easily fooled. We are not what we seem, even to ourselves, and nothing that we perceive is as it seems. How will we find the truth? Only by God helping us! We cannot know the truth, or live according to the truth without God. We must imprint this knowledge deeply in our consciousness: nothing outside of God is true. The only way to find truth is to seek after God.


We will find truth if we call upon the Holy Spirit, and live spiritually. We must evaluate everything according to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Only He will tell us the truth. Without Him speaking to us, and us being in the correct disposition to hear him, will we know the truth about anything.


We ask the Spirit to "Come and abide in us, and cleanse of all impurities". One of the symbols of the Holy Spirit is water, which cleanses and gives life. We must know that we are sinners if we are to say this prayer honestly. We must seek the water of the spirit, for cleansing and life as much as a thirsty man in the desert. We must continue asking until we receive what we ask for. There will be a day when we no longer ask the spirit to abide in us, because he will fully abide in us, and we will fully know Him.  this is union with  God, and at that point, we will not longer supplicate Him to abide in us. Do you long for that day?


Of course, we ask the Holy Spirit to "save our souls" We ask it many times, by calling Him King, and Comforter, and Spirit of Truth. All these things are not just titles, but supplications to be saved.


Say this prayer with attention and desire, and the Holy Spirit will come to you, and abide in you and comfort you.


I gave or sent you a homily about listening to your heart and the Holy Spirit[1]. Please read in again, in the context of my comments above.


I will talk about the Trisagion and the Our Father in other letters.


The Jesus Prayer.


I will add one more thing, from the book I am reading. It is hard to understand in the beginning but I think that if I teach you to pray even a little, I will have fulfilled my pastoral duty. This is about the "Jesus prayer": "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner". I will be getting prayer ropes for you, and I want you to learn to say this prayer many times each day.


And who does know, who has not heard, of the Prayer of the who Holy Mountain? It consists of a short phrase, a small number of words.


By means of its initial cry "Lord": we glorify God in his glorious majesty, for he is the king of Israel, the creator of all things visible and invisible" before whom the seraphim and the cherubim tremble.


By the most sweet invocation and vocalization of the name "Jesus" we bear witness to the fact that Christ, our savior, is present, and in gratitude we thank him for granting us eternal life.


With the third word "Christ" we speak theologically confessing Christ as the Son of God and God. It was not a mere man who saved us, neither was it an angel, but Jesus Christ, the true God (cf Heb 1-2)


 Through the inward petition, "have mercy on me" we fall down and implore God to be merciful, to answer our pleas for salvation, and fulfill the desires and needs of our hearts.


And that one little word: "me"! What a breadth of meaning it contains! It designates not only myself but all those who have been naturalized into the state of Christ, into the Holy Church; all those, that is, who are members of his body (cf. Ep 5.25)


Finally, and so that our prayer will be complete, we end with the words: "the sinner" thereby confessing our sinfulness -- for we are a sinners -- as did the saints, who through such confession became sons of light and sons of the day.


From this we realize that prayer consists of praise, thanksgiving, theology, petition, and confession.


What can we say, my beloved, concerning the Prayer of the Heart when nowadays, thank God, it is spoken of everywhere, and innumerable books about it are published? Now even small children know it and say it; old and young alike are saved by it.  (Archiamandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, "The Church at Prayer", Talk entitled "THE PRAYER OF THE HOLY MOUNTAIN", page 38)


Priest Seraphim Holland 2015     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


This article is at: https://www.orthodox.net//articles/prison-ministry_2015-06-23+letter-to-prisoners+most-important-life-skill-o-heavenly-king-the-jesus-prayer.html



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[1] https://www.orthodox.net//sermons/pentecost-sunday-00_2015-05-31+exegesis-on-the-holy-spirit+how-to-listen-to-your-heart.doc  https://www.orthodox.net//sermons/pentecost-sunday-00_2015-05-31+exegesis-on-the-holy-spirit+how-to-listen-to-your-heart.mp3 SYNOPSIS:A short catechesis on the Holy Spirit, covering His procession fro the Father, the various symbols for the Holy Spirit, and the important scripture text which tells us not to "quench the Spirit", and about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit it. Then we get to the best part, the best a pastor has to give his flock. We discuss how the Holy Spirit communicates with us, and how to listen to and "feel" our heart, and this "understanding that is within us" will teach us all things, and guide and help us in everything. We must learn to know when our heart is cold, or warm, enlarged or shriveled up, soft or hard. This is a skill which we must learn; we can speak a little bit about it, but only God can teach us.