This is the 20th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.” The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Praying (VII).
One word frequently associated with prayer in the Orthodox Tradition is fervent. Even in some liturgical books one of the litanies of the services is called the Fervent Litany or the Litany of Fervent Supplication.
St. Theophan the Recluse (d. 1894AD) says:
“You must never regard any spiritual work as firmly established, and this is especially true of prayer; but always pray as if beginning for the first time. When we do a thing for the first time, we come to it fresh and with a new-born enthusiasm. If, when starting to pray, you always approach it as though you had never yet prayed properly, and only now for the first time wished to do so, you will always pray with a fresh and lively zeal. And all will go well. If you are not successful in your prayer, do not expect success in anything. It is the root of all.” (in THE ART OF PRAYER, p 74)
St. John Cassian (d. 435AD) writes
“Prayer, if it is to be fervent and pure, demands that the following be observed.
First, there must be a complete removal of all concern for bodily things. Then not just the worry but even the memory of any business or worldly affair must be banished from within ourselves. Calumny, empty talk, nattering, low-grade clowning – suchlike must be cut out. Anger and the disturbance caused by gloominess are especially to be eradicated. The poisonous tinder of carnal desire and avarice must be pulled out by the roots. …
So therefore before we pray we must hasten to drive from our heart’s sanctuary anything we would not wish to intrude on our prayers, and all this so that we might do as the apostle bids us: ‘Pray ceaselessly’ (1 Thess 5:17). But we will not be able to fulfill this injunction unless the mind within us is cleansed of the contagion of sin, is devoted to virtue as its natural good, and feeds continuously on the contemplation of the all-powerful God.” (Conferences, pp 102-103)
Father Yelchaninov (d. 1934AD) said:
“To pray fervently is given by God. To pray as well as we can is within our own power. So let us offer to God this weak, insufficient, dry prayer, as the only one we are capable of, like the mite of the widow in the Gospel. And ‘God’s strength will flood thy impotence; and the prayer that is dry and distracted but frequent and resolute, having become a habit, having grown to be thy second nature, will turn into a prayer meritorious, luminous, full of flame.’ (Mark the Ascetic)” (in TREASURY OF RUSSIAN SPIRITUALITY, p 479)
St. John of Kronstadt (d. 1908) writes:
“Thus prayer may become either a house built on sand or a house built on a rock. Those build on sand who pray without faith, absently, coldly; such prayer is scattered of itself, and does not bring any profit to him who prays; those build on a rock who, during the whole time of their prayer, have their eyes fixed upon God, and pray to Him as to a living person, conversing face to face with them.” (MY LIFE IN CHRIST, p 12)
A final thought about praying with zeal which also issues a challenge to us when we pray in time of adversity and our zeal for prayer wanes:
“Be careful not to let your prayer become weaker than the pain of the cancer.” (Archimandrite Zacharias, REMEMBER THY FIRST LOVE, p 351)
There indeed are many forces at work in the world and many experiences that can overwhelm us. Prayer can be a strength against those forces which would destroy us. In prayer we place ourselves back in the presence of God, no matter what storms may be raging against us. We need only remember the lesson of Peter at one moment glorious walking on water toward Christ, and the next sinking in total fear beneath the waves saved only by the presence of Christ (Matthew 14:22-33).
Next: Praying (IX)
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“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man (Elijah)’’ availed much: the rains came and the earth produced a bountiful harvest after a three and half-year drought. The prayer had all the vital ingredients. It was effective because it was fervent, and it was offered up by a righteous man who “prayed earnestly”.