|John of Shanghai and San Francisco about Prayer|
In order for a Christian to always receive the grace-filled help of God, he must be in constant communion with God and be constantly in touch with the outside world. The means for this is prayer. Prayer is a conversation between man and God, a pious conversation between the human soul and its Creator. Prayer is divided into external and internal. External prayer is expressed in words or signs; With inner prayer, a person prays in his soul. External prayer without internal has no value, because it is a Pharisaic, hypocritical prayer. God hears inner prayer even when it is not expressed in any way. But in most cases, our inner prayer is somehow expressed. All movements of our soul affect our body. And as you can immediately see a person is cheerful or [sad], since the body receives an impression from the soul, [that's right] and a pious mood strives for the body to obey [it]. And also the expression of our religiosity by movements or other signs [is expressed] by the need of our soul. Therefore, those who say that only inner prayer is sufficient are wrong: such people in most cases do not pray at all. We can only pray with inner prayer, but in addition to it, external prayer is needed from time to time. It is necessary to increase our prayerful mood, because every expressed feeling is intensified. Therefore, usually our inner prayer is connected with outer, or public, or private prayer.
Public worship is a prayer that is performed in the name of the cathedral, in the name of the Church. Private prayer is the prayer of one or more people without the intermediary of God's servants. Anyone can perform private prayer. And in his will, whether he will read certain prayers or will pray in the way that his spiritual mood indicates to him. Public prayer, especially prayer in the Church, is more important than private prayer. Christ said, “Where there are two, or three gather together in My Name, there I am in their midst” (Matt. 18:20). God loves that people be saved together and therefore founded the Church, that is, the community of all who believe in God correctly, who have Christ as their head, who have as their goal the regeneration and perfection of members on earth and their blessedness in heaven. For this salvation, one must be a member of the Church and take part in its life. Members of the Church should gather for a common prayer in churches - places dedicated to God, where everything reminds of heaven. In churches we can more easily free ourselves from earthly cares and direct all our attention to prayer. By praying together, we express our love for each other, and therefore, during public Divine Services, it is not necessary to read private prayers, but it is necessary to follow the Divine Service, to express signs of worship together (throwing, bowing, etc.). Such a prayer increases the pious mood and inspiration of those who pray, because it is transmitted from one to another. God, although he hears everyone in every place, is especially present with his grace in churches, which is manifested to people in many visions (St. Andrew the Fool saw the Protection of the Virgin; St. Seraphim of Sarov saw Christ during the Small Entrance; the service of angels with St. Spyridon Trimifuntsky etc.). “Prayer at home is dear to God, but prayer in church is even sweeter,” was revealed to the righteous saint Juliana (she lived in the 17th century). According to church canons (Canon 80 of the Trulsky Cathedral), a Christian who has not come to a church meeting for Liturgy for three Sundays must be excommunicated from the Church, and if a sacred person, then expelled from the clergy. Only those who lived completely secluded in the desert did not gather for a common prayer, but where there were several hermits nearby, they spent Saturday and a week together, gathering for Divine Services. Participation in public worship is proof that we belong to the Church, and withdrawal from worship is a sign of apostasy from the Church. It is necessary to attend divine services in the temple not only on Sundays and holidays, but, if possible, every day.
It is important to be present at public worship, but private prayers do not dare to be omitted because of this. These two types of prayers complement each other. Separate prayer is absolutely necessary, because often, and especially during an abbreviated Divine service, a person cannot be satisfied with prayer alone in church. In addition, individual prayer has some good features that general prayer does not have. A solitary person can better go deeper into prayer. When no one is present, a person thinks that no one sees him, except for the One Who saw Nathanael under the fig tree (John 1:48), and therefore completely surrenders to prayer, telling God everything that is in his heart. Therefore, the saints of God determined a significant part of the time for prayer, not only joint, but also separate. Prayer disposition, says one ascetic, is a thermometer of a person's state of mind. To the extent that a person strives more towards prayer, to that extent he stands spiritually better. To be undisposed and not to have the desire to pray means to be spiritually sleepy and spiritually dead.
What should you pray for? Prayers are divided into glorifying, thanksgiving and supplication. In the first place is the prayer of praise, when we praise God and magnify Him for His perfection like heavenly angels. Then a person does not think about himself and his needs at all, but directs his entire spiritual gaze towards God. Prayer of thanksgiving is a need of the human soul, which feels Divine care for itself. In it, a person recognizes God for his virtue and, not looking for anything else for himself, expresses before God his feelings of gratitude for the received favors. Christ praised the Samaritan who returned to give thanks for the healing and censured his friends who did not (Luke 17:12-19). “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus in you,” writes the Apostle Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The intercessory prayer differs from the first two prayers in that in it a person asks for something from God. They often pray not only out of pure love for God, but also in anticipation of the good that they hope to receive from Him. But even this prayer is pleasing to God and very useful to man, elevating his spirit to God. By praying such a prayer, a person feels his dependence on God and strengthens his hope in Him. By this he learns to ask for help from the almighty God, from a person or from his mind and strength. The Lord commanded that we turn to Him not only with praise or gratitude, but also with a request for our needs: “seek, and you will find” (Matthew 7:7); “Until now ask nothing in My Name: ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be filled” (John 16:24). The Lord Himself gave us a model of private prayer, and He Himself prayed such a prayer to God the Father. God does not wait for us to present our needs to Him, for He knows them Himself. But it is necessary for us ourselves that we remember God more often and see more clearly that all the good that we have comes from Him. Therefore, often God gives us His blessings only after our warm prayer. And about the expulsion of evil spirits from a person, Christ definitely said: “But this kind does not proceed, except by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21). It is necessary to pray to God for all our needs, both spiritual and bodily. Prayer is much better when we pray for spiritual good. Every Christian should first of all pray for his own salvation and for the salvation of his loved ones. His love for his neighbors should embrace the whole world, and he should pray for all people. This should be done especially by the shepherd, who is obliged to take care of human souls, because the shepherd is connected with the priesthood, mediation between God and people. The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy: “I beg you, first of all, to make prayers, supplications, petitions, thanksgiving for all men” (1 Timothy 2:1). The priest should especially pray for his flock, so that God would help him lead them along the right path. To God, these prayers are the sweetest. When Solomon prayed to God that God would give him wisdom to rule the people, the Lord gave him, in addition to wisdom, earthly glory and wealth. And Christians are commanded not to worry about earthly things, but “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Therefore, the first prayer should be about spiritual needs. When a shepherd prays to God for help in his work, the Lord - the Supreme Shepherd - will very soon fulfill this prayer. But it must be with complete faith and love for God and the people for whom we pray.
Prayer must always end with surrender to the will of God. Often we make a mistake in choosing what is harmful and what is beneficial for us, and we ask God for what is harmful both for us and for another. Therefore, we sometimes do not receive from God what we ask for. But this does not mean that God does not hear us. God hears us and will give us something else, more useful, instead of what we prayed for. Having received this, we are filled with peace of mind and feel in our hearts that this is the answer to our request. It happened that even the great saints did not receive what they asked for in their prayers, and God revealed to the Apostle Paul himself in a vision that it was beneficial for him that his prayer would not be fulfilled (2 Corinthians 12:9). Sometimes the Lord grants our prayer later so that we increase our zeal for prayer and show our faith. We must not weaken in prayer even when it seems to us that God has turned His face away from us and does not hear our prayer. Christ ended His parable of the unrighteous judge with the words: “Does God not have to do vengeance on His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night, and longsuffer for them? I say to you, that he will bring about their vengeance soon” (Luke 18:7-8). The Lord praised the Canaanite woman, who persistently asked Him, and fulfilled her request (Mt. 15:21-28; Mk. 7:24-30). So we should never lose hope that God will fulfill our request: we will pray until we receive or feel that our prayer is not in the will of God.
We must pray not only when we feel the need for something, but the whole life of a Christian should be prayer, especially the life of a shepherd. The Apostle Paul says: "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17). This does not mean that a person should only pray and do nothing else. But this means that a person must always have a prayerful mood and at every moment have in mind that he is in front of God and in his soul is talking with Him. Therefore, uninterrupted inner prayer is commanded. This state cannot be entered immediately. Those who say that there is no need for any other prayer besides inner prayer, since only one who is trained in outer prayer can be in constant prayer.
Prayer has different degrees. Most often it happens that we have no desire to pray, despite the fact that the time for prayer has come. In this case, you need to overcome yourself and read certain prayers, pronouncing or reading every word with attention. In the beginning it will be only mechanical labor, and prayer will be only external. But this is not the prayer of a hypocrite and a Pharisee, about whom Christ said that they honor him only with their lips, but that their heart is far from Him (Matt. 15:8). The Pharisees did not try to approach spiritually to God, and prayed only in order to appear pious before people. But here a person wants to pray without thinking about people's praise, but prays only with external prayer, because his spirit at that hour is not prepared for prayer. During this outward prayer comes the mood for sincere prayer. You just need to wish for this and follow the prayers that we read. In this case, it is not necessary to force yourself to feel something or to evoke a feeling in yourself: it would be insincere. If we carefully read the prayers, then we will prepare for prayer. First we get an interest in what we read, and we no longer have to force ourselves to be attentive. After that, we get a desire for prayer, we find spiritual satisfaction in it. Then we give ourselves over to prayer, forget about everything earthly, transferring our thoughts to God. Finally, we reach the highest degree of prayer, when our mind is always directed to heaven, and when our spirit is in continuous conversation with God. A person is conscious of everything: he can do everything and think about everything, but at the same time his mind prays to God and asks for guidance from Him. This is already an uninterrupted prayer, to which everyone should strive, but only great prayer books and zealots of piety can have it. Sometimes, when they devote themselves not only to inner, but also to outer prayer, they feel such bliss that they forget everything worldly and foresee the bliss of eternal life with God. This state does not last long. “Take away from me the waves of Your grace, so that I do not die from the fullness of bliss,” one ascetic prayed. But in the rest of the time, such ascetics are so animated that no hardships of this worldly life are able to overcome the peace and bliss that reigns in their souls. They joyfully endure everything for the sake of the name of Christ. Faith is their stronghold. They are in constant communion with the heavenly light. Once people from his region came to St. Seraphim of Sarov (June 2, 1833) and asked him what to give to his relatives. The monk then looked at the icons and said: “These are my relatives.” These were not only words, but constant communication with the saints became the reason that they actually became the best and dearest friends of the great prayer book. Of course, only a few can achieve this state. But every Christian must work himself and lead his neighbors to prayer; should work himself, as much as he can, in order to receive the grace-filled gifts that are received through prayer.
Fortress of faith, spiritual peace, strengthening of spiritual abilities, a feeling of the immediate proximity of God and His saints - this accompanies prayer. In addition, numerous gifts are received through prayer for our spiritual and earthly needs, especially for the first. When we pray for something that is useful to us or our loved ones, the Lord often fulfills our requests so quickly that we do not have time to say the prayer in words or mentally, and the mind receives what we prayed for. This should convince us that God cares for us even when we do not immediately receive what we ask for. God gives us in prayer and many gifts for which we did not pray, since the power of prayer does not consist in spoken words or thoughts, but the power of prayer is communication with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit helps us in our weaknesses, because we do not know what to pray for, as it should be, "but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us, groaning unspeakable" (Rom. 8:26). Prayer is also a means to strengthen love and reconciliation with enemies. When we pray for someone, we create a disposition towards him, and he, not knowing this, feels the love shown to him, and his heart becomes softer. Therefore, one must always pray not only for oneself, but also for other living and dead ones. Especially the shepherd should pray for his flock, since this is one of his main duties towards them. If he starts this duty of his, then he cannot successfully fulfill the rest. In prayer he draws strength for his work.
Every Christian should pray at least three times a day: in the evening, in the morning and at noon, especially if he is a clergyman. He must determine for himself a certain time for prayer every day and not leave it without special need. When he wakes up in the morning, his first thought should be turned to God; when he gets up, he must spend as much time in silence as circumstances allow him. Also, before going to bed, every Christian should pray to God, repenting of sins and praying to God so that the coming day will more prosper in a good life and God's law. If, apart from a certain time, a Christian feels a desire to pray, there is no need to refrain. Let him pray only with inner prayer, if [there is a need, and he] is in society. If free, must leave other worries [and continue] prayer as long as the mood continues. St. John Chrysostom [says: “If you] wake up at night and feel the desire to pray, get on [knees] and the guardian angel will pray with you. But if [you fall asleep] and do not get up, the angel will depart from you, and the devil will come [?].” The [ancient] fathers advise that if during prayer any [word] or expression especially attracts our attention and causes a feeling, we should not read longer while it continues. It is better to read less with feeling than more without feeling. We must also determine [the share] of which prayers we will read, but this should not be just a formal fulfillment of the rule and without a goal. You must first calm down a little and then carefully read the prayers, and then give the soul some time to remain under the influence of the perfect prayer. And then, with faith in God's help, begin your studies. Amen. Prepared for publication by Archpriest Alexander Monich, candidate of theology, scientific secretary of the Theological and Historical Research Center named after Archimandrite Vasily (Pronin)