Where I Fail in Prayer

What does it mean to pray?  In what sense is prayer “doing something”?  While I was convinced of this long ago, I’ve been learning (painfully) that prayer is an activity that encompasses all parts of who we are.  In other words, prayer is not just mental, it’s physical.  Prayer is not just where we are, it’s where we’ve been and where we’re going.  It’s not just what we say, it’s what we mean – and that is not divorced from what we do.  Says the Blessed Sophrony in his book On Prayer:

In our prayer we try to stand as a whole, uniting all our being, heart and mind most of all.  In order to achieve this blessed union of the two most important components of our personality we do not have recourse to any artificial means (psychotechnics).  To begin with we train the mind to continue attentive in prayer, as the Fathers teach – that is, carefully pronounce the Divine Name of Jesus Christ and the rest of the prayer.  Concentrated invocation of the Divine name together with unremitting effort to live one’s life in accordance with the Gospel commandments leads to a state where both mind and heart actually function together.

“Unremitting effort to live one’s life in accordance with the Gospel commandments” is where I fail in prayer.  I cannot pray always, as St. Paul commands, because of my hypocrisy.  Even on my knees, on my face, or in Church – when I am praying with the utmost of my capacity – to I fall short.  The rest of my life is suspect, so I my prayer life is handicapped.

It is not all bad news; progress can be made.  I hope that I am becoming a little less hypocritical, able to live the Gospel a little more each day.  I can also help my prayer life by working on other aspects of my life.  A friend once advised me to keep cans of food in my car, and hand them out to the homeless I drive past.  This, he said, was greatly influential in his prayer life.  

Progress is possible, but does not often come quickly.  This struggle, long and tedious, is precisely what the Christian life is.

It is essential to dismiss the idea of achieving the maximum result in the shortest time.  Experience down the centuries shows that fusion of mind and heart achieved psychotechnically never lasts long; and, more importantly, does not unite our spirit with the Spirit of the Living God.  Eternal salvation in the most profound sense is the question that lies before us.  For this our whole nature must be reborn, the carnal to become spiritual.  And when the Lord finds us able to take in His grace He is not slow to respond to our humble invocations.  His coming is sometimes so all-consuming that heart and mind are both completely occupied by Him only.  This visible world gives place to a reality of another, higher order.  The mind ceases to think discursively: it becomes all attention.  And the heart finds itself in a state difficult to describe: it is filled with fear but a reverent, life-giving fear.  Breathing is restrained: God is seen both within and without.  He fills all things, all of man: mind-spirit, heart-feeling and even the body, all together, live only through God.

“Oh Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy upon us and upon Thy world.” (On Prayer, 153-4)

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The New OCA Metropolitan

Two weeks ago Fr. Jonah was terrified at the thought of being consecrated bishop.  Yesterday he was elected Metropolitan  – the most important and honorable position in the OCA – by the same group of men that less than a fortnight ago laid their hands upon him and by the Holy Spirit raised him up as bishop. The election of this Metropolitan was not just historic, but monumental.   Mark Stokoe called this “the most important choice the OCA will make, since receiving the Tomos of Autocephaly in 1970.”  Fr. Thomas Hopko said this election is a singular one in American history.  

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Personally, I share Dreher’s bittersweet reaction.  This is what the OCA needs, and bespeaks of a distinct new direction of the hierarchy, but I am horrified by the prospect of my new bishop leaving. 

Dreher and I are not the only people with this reaction: I’ve received several texts and emails asking me if this means the end of our proximity with the bishop of Fort Worth.  One of the priests here said in an email to the parish “I am in shock. Ever since Bishop Jonah’s name was announced as Metropolitan I have been repeating the words of Holy Scripture ‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.’ God’s will be done.”

I too believe that this is God’s will and that it is what this country needs: but I don’t like it. 

I know some are anxious that having been newly consecrated as bishop, he was not ready to be Metropolitan.  I very much disagree, and I think that his address to the assembly before the election can quell these doubts.  In this speech (which many believe is the reason that he was elected) the damage done by the complete and utter failure of the past two primates of the OCA is exposed for what it is: as is the way that ecclesiological hierarchy is supposed to be. It seems apparent that God has raised up this man for this exact time.

I want to talk about what it means that the OCA has elected their first convert Metropolitan, I want to gush about how fantastic it is to have a young, new bishop elected, and I want to talk about the glorious new direction the winds of change are taking us, but I just don’t have the heart.  I’ve had just a few short weeks with this man, and I regard him as massively influential in my spiritual life.  I look at 2008-1112-jonah2the picture of him as our new Metropolitan and I can’t help but remember him, standing in  a kitchen exhorting a couple young men to to serve the Kingdom.  What kindness in his tone, what dreadful stillness in his voice, what fire in his eyes!  I remember him, on a couple of Sunday mornings before liturgy, in front of the altar of the Church confessing to Christ, Vladyka DMITRI by his side.  How child-like, how unashamed, how delightfully ignorant of the men around him, preparing for the services.  I remember him, not even two weeks ago, walking into the altar for his consecration and looking completely terrified and utterly in awe – something he was not ashamed to admit.  I remember him one Saturday night after a long vigil, when everyone else had left or was leaving, calling me over to the altar just to give me fatherly hug: it was less than a month ago.

This the right man for the job, but I really wish it didn’t have to be this way.  Theoretically I am stoked, but inside I’m a whimpering, whining, self-pitying man.  I guess there’s just one thing left to say: “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”