On inner prayer
The purpose of prayer is to unite man with God, to bring Christ into man’s heart. Wherever prayer is active, there Christ abides with the Father and the Holy Spirit – the one-in-essence and indivisible Holy Trinity. Where you find Christ – the Light of the world – there you find eternal light for the world, there you find peace and joy, the angels and the saints, the bliss of the Heavenly Kingdom.
Blessed are those who have clothed themselves in the Light of the world – in Christ – still in this present life, because they have already begun to wear incorruptible garments.
Thus, inner prayer is aimed at bringing Christ into man’s heart, ridding it of the evil spirit and destroying all his deeds, which have been committed through sin. It is for this reason that the Son of God has come, in order to destroy the deeds of the devil, – says the beloved Disciple. Wherever the devil becomes aware of the power of inner prayer, there he opposes it with frenzied fury, battles against this prayer.
Many times the demons, from out of the mouths of those possessed, confessed to being burned by the effect of this prayer. There was a certain monk who became so indolent that he left off his prayer rule and returned to the world. He went back to his native land in Cephalinia, where people possessed by demons come to Saint Gerasimus to be healed. This monk also went to venerate the saint, and on the way he met a possessed woman who cried out: “Do you know what you are holding in your hands? O wretched man, if only you knew what you have in your hand! If only you knew how your rosary burns me. And you are holding it only from habit, as a custom!” The monk was dumbfounded. God’s providence made the demon speak out thus. The monk came to his senses. God enlightened him, and he said to himself: “What am I doing! I am holding a mighty weapon in my hand, and I have been unable to vanquish the devil. And not only have I been unable to vanquish him, but he has taken me captive and is dragging me wherever he wants. I have sinned, O my God!” And in that same hour, having repented, he made a new beginning and so excelled in prayer and monastic life, that he became an instructive example for many. And to think only that the importance of prayer and the rosary was revealed – albeit quite unwillingly – by a demon, in accordance with the impenetrable will of the Almighty.
If Christ is the Light of the world, then those who do not see Him, who do not believe in Him, are undoubtedly blind. On the contrary, those who labor to fulfill His commandments, enter the light; they confess Christ and worship Him as God. Moreover, whoever confesses Christ and worships Him as the Lord and God, calling upon His name, receives also the power to do His will. But if he does not do so, then it is clear that such a one confesses Christ only superficially, while his heart is far away from Him…
The prayer is on your lips? Then grace will follow it. But besides the lips, the prayer should also pass into the mind, descend into the heart. This, however, requires a lot of time and effort
The difficulty of prayer lies in the beginning, as with all other good deeds. The tongue has to make a great effort, as recompense for all its idle talk and vanity. A habit has to be formed, for without effort and spiritual labor it is impossible to get into the habit of prayer. Humility is also required, in order to attract grace. Only then does the path open up before the spiritual laborer. The prayer is then united with breathing. The mind wakes up and follows the path of prayer. With time all passions calm down. Desires become restrained, the heart becomes tranquil.
Constantly rein in your mind, no matter how much it becomes distracted. Seeing your effort and your labor, God will send you His grace, to enable you to collect your mind. With grace everything is done joyously and effortlessly.
With prayer one goes from joy to joy. Without prayer – there is one fall after another, sorrow after sorrow, poor control over one’s conscience. Spiritual fruits are attained slowly: some effort and abstinence together with prayer, some beneficial sorrow and tears, and then comes the sweetness of God’s presence, the immaculate fear of God, which rectifies and cleanses the mind and the heart.
Be as temperate as possible in sleeping and eating, in order to be able to restrain also your tongue and eyes. And if you happen to eat or sleep in excess, then apply more effort in doing God’s work. Thus the demons will be frustrated, seeing that although they were successful in wounding you in one area, they were vanquished in another.
Be alert and act with sobriety. Not only effort is needed, but also sobriety, and the latter even more so, according to the Holy Fathers. The mind becomes quickly sullied, but is quickly cleansed. The heart is cleansed with great difficulty, but becomes sullied more slowly, being impeded by the grace of God residing in it. For this reason the heart must be cleansed, in order to help the mind become enlightened with the pure thoughts that are reflected in it from above.
Just as it is impossible for the one who walks at night not to stumble, so is it impossible for the one who has not yet seen the divine light not to sin…
Watch your imagination most attentively. Do not take in any external images. A wandering mind draws more and more grotesque images, trying to enter into a forbidden consciousness, trying to depict the hidden and private life of others. Prayer destroys such images as soon as they are created.
No one among mortals can remain uninvolved in the battle with the demons. Everyone experiences these enemy attacks, in order for the will to act and to freely make a choice. Greatly honored is the person who – by the grace of God – acquires the ability to restrain the devil in the initial stage of temptation – the suggestion. (According to the Holy Fathers’ teaching on thoughts, suggestion is the first stage in the development of a thought, when the devil presents a tempting image to a person’s imagination. This stage is not yet considered to be a sin.) Do not wish to unite yourself with those who, while living in a state of captivity, do not agree and say: ‘But I can no longer withstand it – at this moment I cannot do anything.’ Yes, at this moment you cannot, but you could have done so before, just as you will be able to do so again if you make a new beginning.
It is not unrepentant sinners who enter the Heavenly Kingdom, but the sinners who have been cleansed through penitence. Nothing helps a person as much in his spiritual warfare, in his triumph over passions, as constant inner prayer. In the midst of temptations, when the mind and the tongue flag, do not leave off your praying. Try just a little bit more, so that God sees your good intention and fortifies you. The Lord wants even greater things from you, and for this reason leaves you in temptation for a while, in order for you to attain these greater things which He knows you can do. And you know it, too.
From time to time you may receive grace without any effort on your part, as though the Lord were saying to you: All that you have is good, but do not think that it all depends on you alone. I am the One to judge when to come and when to leave, and in this way I will teach you patience and rejection of your own will, so that you will learn the lesson of humility well.
Attention should be united with prayer and remain inseparable from it, just as the body is inseparably united with the soul. The mind should guard the heart while it prays, and should pray to God from within the heart, saying constantly: O Lord Jesus Christ, save me! And then, when the mind, being within the heart, gets a taste of how good is the Lord, and delights in it, afterwards it will never wish to leave its place within the heart.
God is light, and the contemplation of Him is also Light. Fortunate are those who have approached the Divine Light, who have entered It, who have united with It, and who have themselves become part of this Light, because they have completely taken off the soiled garments of their sins and no longer wish to shed bitter tears. Fortunate are those who have come to know the Light of the Lord while still living on earth, as though they have already seen Him in person, and thus they have hopes of also standing before Him in the eternal life. Fortunate are those who have accepted Christ, Who has appeared as Light to those who have been in darkness up to now, for they have become sons of Light and the unending day…
Archimandrite Ephraim the Athonite