No matter where you are or where you go, you can’t escape the incessant ticking of the clock. The hours go by faster and faster and so do the days. You wonder if you have the time to do anything whatsoever. Young as you are, you have many interests. Apart from the tight daily schedule, you must also have fun because “you only live once”. Going out with friends, going out for a drink, hanging out at the mall and in the end you can say “how fast time flew by!”
As you know time has been and still is man’s worst enemy, but it also can be his best ally. A priest said that for the industrious time seems to dilate and they have time to do everything they have to do, while for the lazy, time constricts and they feel like they have no time to do anything.
It steals minutes, hours from our lives, time during which we could do much more useful things for our soul. Many of us waste time on useless things. We give them more of our time but we actually forget about ourselves. We forget about our soul, about what we should be doing as His children. We make time for work, sleep, family, shopping, travelling, restaurants, for everything except for our soul. Do any of these bring any use to us?
Shall we have eternal life in our worldly pursuit? We don’t have time for Him, but He always has time for us. In return we have replaced prayer with mere homage. The Sunday liturgy is set aside in favor of going out with friends to the mall or any other entertaining spot. We are always preoccupied with ourselves, with our interests, with our worldly duties, with spending time in other manners than with God and in other places than in church. Here is what Fr. Calistrat from Barnova tells us about the time for prayer: I constantly meet people who say: “I don’t have time”; and my answer was the following: “How many minutes have you created in the universe so that you can make them yours and say that it is your time? Time belongs to God alone. Even so, from all that He has given you, you must give Him at least the tenth part, as the Pharisee in the Gospel said, a minute every hour, if not ten minutes every hour, during which your efforts to make your communication with God real should be obvious.”
Man is used to worship as a routine. He is used to say “God help me!” hastily, no matter what he is doing – stealing, working or travelling. He resorts to that short prayer “God help me succeed to…” and he thinks that he said it all.
In addition, the priest’s catechesis should explain clearly to people what the connection between man and God through prayer means, what communication with God through prayer means. The Christian regards prayer as an obligation, as just another law in the criminal or civil code. Like a lady once asked me: “But why twelve oikoi and why must I repeat the last one?” And I told her: “If you want you can repeat it twice!”
Another reason for the lack of prayer is the clergy’s habit to communicate believers those short symbolic canons we frequently meet in parochial churches: instead of telling the Christian to read a kathisma from the Psalter, to say “Our Father” or the 50th Psalm a number of times, an Akathistos to a saint, a Canon of Repentance or that to the Guardian Angel for the sins the believer confessed, the priest tells him to light a few candles, buy a few prosphora or tells him: “Go home, I’ll mention you in the church’s prayers, it will all work out, don’t worry…”
So we have time for everything except for prayer. But prayer is the air of the soul. Consequently when we don’t have time to pray, we don’t have time to breathe, we don’t have time to live spiritually.
We breathe air into our body easily, we don’t forget to do this because it has become a reflex. But the reflex we lost by falling into sin is the reflex to live spiritually. And in order to be alive in a spiritual manner, we must regain this reflex: prayer.
Translated by Claudia
– Geronda, how do you pray about a certain matter?
– The main thing is to feel compassion. If one is not compassionate, he may sit for hours with the komboschoini and his prayer will have no result whatsoever. If there is pain in his heart about what he is praying for, even with a single sigh he will have prayed from the heart. Many, who when asked to pray have no time, will sigh for the other’s problem and that in itself is a prayer. I’m not saying prayer needn’t be done, but if there is no time, a sigh for the pain of another is a prayer from the heart; it equals hours of prayer. You read, for example, a letter, you realize there is a problem, you sigh over it and then you pray. This is very important! Before you even pick up the telephone receiver, even before you call, God hears you! And how the other person learns of this! You should see how those possessed by demons realize when I am praying for them and cry aut wherever they may be!
Real prayer begins from pain, it is not a pleasant experience, a ‚nirvana’. What kind of pain is it? One is troubled in the good sense. He feels pain, he groans, he suffers when praying for anything whatsoever. Do you know what it means to suffer? Yes, he suffers because he is participating in everyone’s pain or in the pain of one particular person. This participation, this pain is rewarded by God with divine exultation. Of course, he doesn’t ask for this exultation, but it comes as a consequence because he participates in the pain of others.
– Let’s say he learns of an accident and sighs and at that moment God gives him divine consolation for his compassionate sigh. He sees someone who is hurting and immediately feels compassion, and is thus consoled by God with divine consolation, he doesn’t remain with that initial bitterness over the accident. The other person is helped through his prayer. Or he may think to himself: ‚God has given us so many blessings, what have I done for God?’ I was impressed by what one soul said to me: ‚The angels cover their faces when the Mystery of Holy Eucharist is being celebrated, while we commune with the Body and Blood of Christ. What have I done for Christ?’ he suffers in a good sense.
– Geronda, how does one understand that someone has been helped by his prayer?
– He realizes it from the divine consolation which he feels inside after praying from the heart in pain. But first you must make the other person’s pain your own pain and then pray from the heart. Love is a divine attribute and informs the other person. Even in hospitals, when the doctors and nurses feel genuine compassion for their patients, this is the most effective medicine of all medications given to them. The patients feel they are being cared for with love, they have a sense of certainty, security and consolation. You needn’t say much to someone who is suffering, nor to instruct him. He understands that you feel his pain and care about him and he is helped by this. Feeling their pain is everything. If we feel compassion for others, we forget about ourselves and our problems.
(Excerpt from Elder Paisios, ‚Spiritual Awakening’)
It happens often that we make our evening prayer in a sleepy mood when our thoughts are scattered in the little things of the day and also in the worryes of tomorrow. Thus, our prayer is difficult, without strength, without depth, with the sense of obligation to God, that is with “a typical prayer not involving the heart”, as was saying father Arsenie Papacioc.
All these feelings are the effects of neglecting the evening prayer. But from all this negligence of prayer we suffer during the night temptations of all kind: dirty dreams, nightmares, thoughts of blasfemy, vain imaginations and others.
The sleep that brings temptation during the night is a sleep that wearies the soul in its spiritual struggle, a sleep that tires the mind instead of clearing it, a sleep that irritates and creates discomfort for the next day; but a clean sleep, free from temptations, is always a good night’s sleep for the body and especially for the soul. By sleeping, the body restores its reserves of energy necessary for daily activities (work, school, home and children care) and the soul restores its will to resist the temptations of the day. From these points of view the evening prayer is extremely important for our life and and especially for our spiritual growth.
But which are the causes of neglecting the evening prayer? They are the same as those that got us sick of a lukewarm Cristianity, when we are in times of peace and plenty: convenience and life’s pleasures. And life’s pleasures that suppres the evening prayer are as follows:
a) computer and television in excess
b) excess of food (glottony), especially at late hours
c) night outs with our friends until (too) late hours.
All these excesses consume stealthily the resourses needed for our spiritual life so that with the end of the day we also end the vigil of our senses, although senses are tempted including at night. Not for nothing divine Paul urged us to pray whitout ceasing because, among other things, continuously prayer is the constant guard of the senses, so the extemption from falls.
But there are also other kind of temptations from Satan to trick us and to neglect the evening prayer such as reading spiritual books util our exhaustion, to the detriment of prayer. This is a temptation from the right side because when our tempter sees that he cannot overcome us with the life’s pleasures, he overcomes us with the intemperate zeal for the holy things.
Saint Barsanuphius, “Is it well to insist in the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ have pity on me” or is better to read the Holy Scripture and to say Psalms? It must be both done, a liitle bit from the first and a little bit from the second because it is written: “You must make this and not let the other one”.”
There are also other reasons for which the evening prayer is neglected such as hard work or the care for the children, but these reasons, if they are substantiated, are not harmful to the soul, with the condition that the work and the children care to be accompanied by prayer, with all our effort. However, even if we are tired, an evening prayer how small means very much to God.
Here are some tips that can avoid neglecting the evening prayer:
a) an orderly life program, with a sleep hour that doesn’t vary much from day to day;
b) the last meal of the day must not be taken very late, but earlier, so that our thougths will not stop in the stomach and that the body’s drowsiness will not banish the spiritual desire;
c) moderation in household things;
d) beginning the evening prayer before the installation of the first signs of fatigue.
Finally, the evening prayer is the best opportunity to learn the self-examination, by thinking of all the thoughts, the words and the deeds during the day. So we are better aware of what we have done right and wrong, but also what we could have done right and we didn’t done it. As a consequence of this research, the evening prayer is a mean of reconciliation with God for all the evil things of the day, for which we became aware as a result of our research, and also to leave ourselves in the care of God during the night.
Then, the evening prayer is a mean “to counter” to God all men with which we had to do during the day: praying for the lightning and forgivness of those that we have seen in sin, pray for the deliverness of those that we have seen in the need, and pray for the perseverence in good of those who are rightneouss to God. So the evening prayer is also a way of secret communion with all people.
Saint Barsanuphius tells us that: “Who prays for other wins for himself because he makes an act of love and increses within it rising to a higher state. Then he also prays for himself because for the very fact that he prays, he connects with God from Whom come the goodness and the power. So praying continuously for other you are also praying continously for you, and how many are capable to do this? Then who can have them always in mind all continuously? But the accomplished one can have virtually everyone in his mind. In any case the prayer of someone for another unites him with the other in his mind. Thus the prayer is a way of union between the people because it is a mean of union between them.”
It is necessary to realize that by neglecting the evening prayer we are putting a big obstacle in the acquisition of ceaseless prayer. And who feels that is not increasing spiritually , must examine carefully and see if he made a habit from neglecting the prayer and especially the evening prayer.
But who is accustomed with the evening prayer, gets to know in time also the sweetness of the midnight prayer and becomes worthy also of the lightning of its mind through meditation on holy things during the night vigil.