When I wrote this post it was my name’s day old calendar!
“Those who only hear about spiritual meditation and prayer and have no direct knowledge of it are like a man blind from birth, who hears about the sunshine without ever knowing what it really is.” St. Dimitri of Rostov
Please join Veronica Hughes, St. Dimitri of Rostov, and Elder Zacharias for the first of several podcasts on the art of prayer and finding one’s deep heart.
Today we will begin our deeper exploration into the art of prayer. Yes, prayer is an art, which like any other art requires diligence and practice for us to master…
My resources for this podcast are:
The Art of Prayer
by Igumen Chariton of Valamo
1. Quoting St. Dimitri of Rostov (1651–1709): one of the most celebrated preachers in the history of the Russian Church. His chief literary work was a great collection of the Lives of the Saints.
2. Remember Thy First Love, Elder Zacharias
So let’s pick up where we left off in our last podcast about levels of knowledge and the way we can deepen our faith, transforming worldly knowledge into spiritual knowledge by following our Lord’s words…
“Enter into thy closet and shut the door” (Matt. 6:6)
“…Those who only hear about spiritual meditation and prayer and have no direct knowledge of it are like a man blind from birth, who hears about the sunshine without ever knowing what it really is. Inner spiritual training begins with the words of Christ, ‘When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret’.(Matt. 6:6)
Man is dual: exterior and interior, flesh and spirit. The outer man is visible, of the flesh; but the inner man is invisible, spiritual– what the Apostle Peter terms… ‘the hidden man of the heart, which is not corruptible,… a meek and quiet spirit’ (1 Pet. 3:4)… the works of the outer man are visible, but those of the inner man are invisible, according to the Psalmist: ‘The inner man and the heart are very deep’…
This is my first mention of what some elders call one’s deep heart – finding Jesus in our heart is one of the primary goals of our prayer life.
Here is what Elder Zacharias says about our finding our heart in Christ:
“…God may well seek man’s heart. But because man uses his freedom wrongly and has become enslaved by so many attachments, God’s grace is prevented from entering man’s heart and dwelling there….”
Part of the purpose of prayer is to draw us away from that first degree of knowledge – worldly attachments and thoughts, then to help us find the strength to turn our will to God and develope a healthy fear of God.
Back to Elder Zacharias
“…And once the fear of God lays hold of our heart, we begin to see how unable we are to pursue a relationship with God.” Veronica again… Why? Until our development of a healthy fear of God moves out of fear of condemnation or punishment and into wanting to please and then love God – there is no possibility for intimacy with God. Intimacy with God is accomplished by means of prayer and love…. Back to Elder Z…
“It is by His grace alone that we are rendered able to pursue a relationship with God… How do we attract the grace of God to help us? Contrition humbles the heart of man and humility opens the heart to receive the Holy Spirit, the grace of the Comforter, which is man’s only true consolation…. (Vs worldly consolation, which is temporary and part of the first degree of knowledge we spoke of in our last 2 podcasts) …the Holy Spirit then provokes man’s heart to contrition… It melts the mountains of impurity that sit upon the heart. It breaks the rocks of the hardness of man’s inner being, and helps him to find his ‘deep heart’.
How might this finding of one’s deep heart come about? So man undergoes a primordial ‘earthquake’ when he suffers such trials as are necessary to teach him that one thing alone is needful–the discovery of his heart.” And I will add – for in the heart we find God. Elder Zacharias, Remember Thy First Love.
In continuation of our study about our regeneration by grace, here we see again repeated the necessity of the fear of God – not just for discovering faith, but for finding our heart in Christ, as well as contrition, which melts our heart and makes it receptive to God. When entering our closet to pray, the awareness of both help to focus our minds in our heart.
Back to St. Dimitri…
“Training, then, must be twofold, outer and inner: outer in reading books, inner in thoughts of God; outer in love of wisdom, inner in love of God; outer in words, inner in prayer; outer in keenness of intellect, inner in warmth of spirit; outer in technique, inner in vision…
Both internal and external have a place when used to support our relationship with God vs the acquisition of worldly knowledge. Our strivings for attracting the grace of the Holy Spirit come through acquiring the virtues. St. Seraphim of Sarov said that the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit is the most important striving we must have.
Prayer is likewise twofold, exterior and interior. There is prayer made openly, and there is secret prayer; I will add that the secret prayer most recommended is the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.’… prayer with others and solitary prayer; prayer undertaken as a duty and prayers that are voluntarily offered. Prayer as a duty, performed openly according to Church rules, in company with others, has its own times: the Midnight Office, Matins, the Hours, the Liturgy, Vespers and Compline.
Voluntary prayer, which is in secret on the other hand, has no fixed time, being made whenever you wish, without bidding, simply when the spirit moves you… Though I will add that most elders recommend a structure for our inner prayer during specific times of the day to start to develop the practice of unceasing prayer mentioned by St. Paul.
The first kind is performed aloud by the lips and voice, the second only in spirit. Once more I will also add here that many elders recommend beginning our practice of the Jesus Prayer aloud at first. The first is performed standing, the second, not only standing or walking, but also lying down, and in a word, always–whenever you happen to raise your mind to God.
This is very good news for those of us with infirmities or age related challenges. What do we do when we cannot go to Church as often as we would like or stand to do our prayers… we do them however we can and whenever we can. My internal prayer life has replaced my external attendance in Church, which has turned out to be such a blessing!
The first, made in the company with others … but the second is performed when you are alone in the shut closet, according to the word of the Lord.
The closet is twofold, outer and inner, material and spiritual: the material place is of wood or stone, the spiritual closet is the heart or mind…. Therefore the material closet remains always fixed in the same place, but the spiritual one you carry with you and you wherever you go. Wherever a man is, his heart is always with him, so having collected his thoughts inside his heart, he can shut himself in and pray to God in secret, whether he be talking or listening, whether among few people or many… All that is necessary is to raise your mind to God, and descend deep into yourself, and this can be done everywhere… according to the Gospel words of Christ himself: ‘The kingdom of God is within you.’ (Luke 17:21). Explaining this text, St. Markarios of Egypt writes: ‘The heart is a small vessel, but all things are contained in it; God is there, the angels are there, and there also is life in the kingdom, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace.’
Our new frontier in our regeneration by grace is the discovery of our deep heart! How inspiring!
Man needs to enclose himself in the inner closet of his heart more often than he need go to church: and collecting all his thoughts there, he must place his mind before God, praying to Him in secret with all warmth of spirit and with living faith.”
I want to add that many of us must first do our prayers more externally – those of us that are converts or returning to the Church – for that is where we begin our work in reestablishing our communion with God through confession and Holy Communion. Once a solid foundation of regular church attendance has been formed, the Lord will call us to a deeper level of prayer.
Thank you St. Dimitri and Elder Zacharias! Our next podcast will focus on practical steps to take to anchor our prayer life in the loving union with God.