Tag Archives: Homilies

Homily on Wednesday of the First Week of Great Lent – The Danger of Hypocrisy

From http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english


Beloved brethren! Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who commanded us to forgive our neighbors all their sins before we enter the podvig of fasting, also asked us to vigilantly preserve the fast itself free from hypocrisy. As a worm born within a fruit consumes what is inside, leaving only the outer covering, so does hypocrisy annihilate the whole essence of virtue. Hypocrisy is born of vainglory (cf. Mt. 6:1, 2, 5, 16). Vainglory is the vain desire and search for temporary human praise. Vainglory comes from a deep ignorance of God, or a deep forgetfulness of God, of eternity and heavenly glory. That is why in its blindness it insatiably strives to acquire earthly, temporary glory. It imagines this glory, as it also imagines earthly life, to be an eternal, inalienable possession. Vainglory, which seeks not the virtue itself but only praise for the virtue, labors diligently only that it might exhibit a mask of virtue before human eyes. Thus the hypocrite stands before humanity dressed in an outer garment of extreme deception: virtue—the essence of which he does not have at all—is seen on his exterior, while in his soul can be seen self-satisfaction and pomposity, because he first of all deceived and deluded in himself. He takes a sick delight in the vainglory that is killing him and in the misleading of his neighbor, and sickly and detrimentally delights in his successful hypocrisy. Along with all of this, he makes himself alien to God, for every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord (Prov. 16:5).
Vainglory and its offspring, hypocrisy, are ruinous at their very root—they deprive a person of all heavenly reward, representing the vain human praise he has chosen and desired as the only reward. The Lord condemned vainglorious hypocrites. Teaching His disciples to do good works in secret, the Lord says: Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly (Mt. 6:1, 2, 5, 16, 17, 18).

Vainglory and hypocrisy are terrible when they grow and mature, when they take command of a person, and become the rule of his behavior, a character trait. They shape a pharisee, who strives with frenzied and blind resolve to do all lawlessness and evil. They shape a pharisee, who needs a mask of virtue only in order to more freely and successfully drown in evil acts. The blind and hardened Pharisees committed a most horrible crime in between their human crimes: they committed deicide. And if only a worse crime could exist, they would not have hesitated to commit it as well.

Such is the lamentable picture of moral emptiness and moral calamity created by vainglory and hypocrisy in fallen human nature. Our Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave us the most effective cure against all our infirmities both bodily and spiritual, commands us to cure hypocrisy at its root, at its source—in vainglory. Vainglory hungers and thirsts for human glory. The Lord commands us to mortify it with the hunger that is natural to it. He commands us to take away vainglory’s food and drink: human praise. He commands us to scrupulously hide all our good deeds from human eyes; He commands us to bring all good deeds, even our love of neighbor, wholly as a sacrifice to the One God. The Old Testament, which teaches holy truth to the mystical Israel through foretypes, says: And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt (Lev. 2:13). The salt in every gift and sacrifice to God made by the Israelite is the Christian’s thought and aim of pleasing God in every good deed.

In the light of Christ, in the light of the Holy Spirit, looking into the depth of the human heart and seeing there an image of the workings of various passions, the holy fathers and teachers of the Church call vainglory a multiform passion, the most subtle and difficult to fathom.[1] All other passions disturb a person’s peace and are quickly reproached by the conscience, while the passion of vainglory, to the contrary, flatters the fallen son of Adam, brings him supposed delight, and appears to be a spiritual consolation—a reward for his good deed. All other passions can be directly counteracted by their opposite virtues: gluttony is counteracted by abstinence, anger by meekness, and love of money by generosity. Vainglory apparently cannot be counteracted by a single virtue. Like a thief, it steals from a person his remembrance of God, His unspeakable magnificence, His unspeakable sanctity, in Whose sight even the heavens are not clean (cf. Job 15:15), and draws fallen man into admiring himself with approval and pleasure. I am not as other men are (Lk. 18:11), it says. In its blindness, from its own self-satisfaction, vainglory thanks God, forgetting that fallen man can only be thankful to God when he sees the multitude of his own sins and weaknesses; a vision united with the vision of the Creator’s inexpressible beneficence for His creation—perishing creation. Vainglory rejoices when it sees that a person is rich in virtues. It hopes to turn every virtue into a sin; it hopes to make every virtue a cause and reason for that person’s condemnation at Christ’s Judgment. It attempts to prophecy! It brazenly strives to work miracles, and dares to temp the Lord! Foreign to spiritual gifts, it seeks to represent itself as having them, or at least to induce the suspicion in other people that it possesses something supernatural. It deleteriously seeks to console itself through this deception. It is near the ascetic when he fasts, when he prays, when he gives alms, when he keeps vigil, and when he kneels, attempting to steal the sacrifice brought to God, and defiling it with man-pleasing, to render it useless. It stalks the slave of Christ in the solitude of his cell, in his reclusion. Not having an opportunity to bring the ascetic soul-destroying praise from onlookers, it brings him praise in his thoughts. It paints human glory delusively in his imagination. Often it acts without thought and fantasy; but it can be recognized only by the heart’s absence of blessed contrition, blessed remembrance of and contrition over sins. “If you do not have heartfelt lamentation,” said one great father, “you have vainglory.”[2]

Let us resolutely and with self-denial withstand the soul-destroying and flattering passion of vainglory! Let us withstand it, establishing on the rock of Christ’s commandments our weak heart, which wavers easily by itself as in the wind from the influence and force of various passions. Having rejected, and continually rejecting vainglory, we will thus be safe from another passion: from the terrible passion of hypocrisy. We shall perform our good deeds and podvigs according to the Savior’s instructions: in secret. When participating in the Church services and rites, we shall be cautious not to show any special flights of piety that might sharply differentiate us from our brothers. “Pay attention,” says St. John Climacus, “that when you are with your brothers, you would not seem more righteous than they are in anything. Otherwise, you will be committing two evils: you will wound the brothers with your spurious zeal, and unfailingly give yourself cause for high-mindedness. Be zealous in your soul, without exposing it by any gesture, look, word, or intimation.”[3] If we are in solitary reclusion, at solitary prayer, or at soul-profiting reading or contemplation, and a vainglorious thought slips in through a closed door, penetrating our very mind and heart, and portrays to us human glory to entice us like a painted harlot—let us quickly raise our thoughts to heaven before God. When the human mind is enlightened by spiritual contemplation of Divine glory and magnificence, and then descends from it to contemplation of its own self, it no longer sees any magnificence of mankind. It sees its poverty, sinfulness, weakness, and fallenness; it sees a death sentence pronounced upon all; it sees the corruption and stench of all, the gradual culmination of the sentence that no one can revoke. It will ascertain a correct understanding of man, foreign to vainglorious delusion, and cry out with St. Job: My Master, Lord! I have heard the report of thee by the ear before; but now mine eye has seen thee. Wherefore I have counted myself vile, and have fainted: and I esteem myself dust and ashes (Job 42:5-6 [Septuagint]). True humility comes from the knowledge of God. Amen.

St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)
Translated by Nun Cornelia (Rees)


[1]St. John Cassian the Roman, On Eight Passionate Thoughts; St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, homily 22, on vainglory.
[2] St. Barsanuphius the Great, as cited by Ksanthopouli, chap. 25, The Philokalia, chap. 2 [Russian].
[3] The Ladder, Homily 4.


Saint John Chrysostom on Fasting


When the fast makes its appearance, like a kind of spiritual summer, let us as soldiers burnish our weapons, and as harvesters sharpen our sickles, and as sailors order our thoughts against the waves of extravagant desires, and as travelers set out on the journey towards heaven. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven, rugged and narrow as it is. Lay hold of it, and journey on.

I speak not of such a fast as most persons keep, but of real fasting; not merely abstinence from meats, but from sins as well. For the nature of a fast is such that it does not suffice to deliver those who practice it unless it is done according to a suitable law. So that when we have gone through the labor of fasting we do not lose the crown of fasting, we must understand how and in what manner it is necessary to conduct the business since the Pharisee also fasted, but afterward went away empty and destitute of the fruit of fasting. The Publican did not fast, and yet he was accepted in preference to him who had fasted in order that you may learn that fasting is unprofitable unless all other duties accompany it.

Fasting is a medicine. But like all medicines, though it be very profitable to the person who knows how to use it, it frequently becomes useless (and even harmful) in the hands of him who is unskillful in its use.
For the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices, since he who limits his fasting only to abstinence from meats is one who especially disparages fasting.
Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see an enemy, be reconciled with him. If you see a friend gaining honor, do not be jealous of him. And let not only the mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all members of your bodies.

Let the hands fast by being pure from plundering and avarice. Let the feet fast by ceasing from running to unlawful spectacles. Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely on handsome faces, or to busy themselves with strange beauties. For looking is the food of the eyes, but if it be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast and upsets the whole safety of the soul. But if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting. For it would be among things most absurd to abstain from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to touch even what is forbidden! Do you not eat meat? Feed not upon lasciviousness by means of your eyes! Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies. It is written, “You shall not receive a false report” (Exodus 23:1).

Let the mouth also fast from disgraceful speech. For what does it profit if we abstain from fish and fowl and yet bite and devour the brothers and sisters. The evil speaker eats the flesh of his brother and bites the body of his neighbor. Because of this Paul utters the fearful saying, “If you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal.5:15). You have not fixed your teeth in his flesh, but you have fixed your slander in his soul and inflicted the wound of evil suspicion, and you have harmed in a thousand ways yourself, him and many others, for in slandering your neighbor you have made him who listens to the slander worse, for should he be a wicked person, he becomes more careless when he finds a partner in his wickedness. And should he be a just person, he is tempted to arrogance and gets puffed up, being led on by the sin of others to imagining great things concerning himself. Besides this, you have struck at the common welfare of the Church herself, for all those who hear you will not only accuse the supposed sinner, but the entire Christian community….

And so I desire to fix three precepts in your mind so that you may accomplish them during the fast: to speak ill of no one, to hold no one for an enemy, and to expel from your mouth altogether the evil habit of swearing.
For as the harvester in the fields comes to the end of his labors little by little, so we too if we make this rule for ourselves and in any manner come to the correct practice of these three precepts during the present Fast and commit them to the safe custody of good habit, we shall proceed with greater ease to the summit of spiritual wisdom. And we shall reap the harvest of a favorable hope in this life, and in the life to come we shall stand before Christ with great confidence and enjoy those unspeakable blessings of which, God grant, we may all be found worthy through the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord, with whom be glory to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit unto ages of ages. Amen!

Saint Theophan the Recluse on Fasting


As our Lenten journey is rapidly approaching, let us reflect on the words of Saint Theophan the Recluse regarding fasting.

“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.”(Маt. 15:11)

The Lord did not say this because he did not approve of fasting or because he considered fasting unnecessary – indeed, He Himself fasted, and taught His disciples to do so, and established fasts in His Holy Church. He said this, then, not to discourage fasting. Rather, he says it to teach us that when we fast we should not limit ourselves merely to eating little and avoiding cooked foods, but should also refrain from indulging the appetites and passionate inclinations of the soul. This is, of course the most important thing. Fasting, in its turn, serves a powerful means of accomplishing this.

The passions are rooted in the flesh. When the flesh is weakened through fasting, then it is as if the fortress of the passions has been undermined, and its strength crumbles. On the other hand, to overcome the passions without fasting would be as remarkable as standing in a fire without being burnt. How is it possible for one who continually indulges his flesh with food, sleep and rest to maintain any sort of attention and purpose in spiritual matters? For such a one to turn from the earth, directing his attention to invisible things and striving them, is just as difficult as it is for an enfeebled bird to rise up from the earth.

St. Theophan the Recluse on the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ


[Gal. 4:4–7; Mt. 2:1–12] Glo­ry to Thee, O Lord! Once again we greet the a­wait­ed bright days of Christ’s Na­tiv­i­ty. Let us be glad and re­joice. In or­der to raise our fes­tiv­i­ties to a higher lev­el in these days, the Ho­ly Church has in­ten­tion­al­ly in­sti­tuted a pre­ced­ing fast — a cer­tain a­mount of dif­fi­cul­ty, so that when we en­ter the fes­tive pe­ri­od we might feel as though lib­er­at­ed. Nev­er­the­less, the Church in no way de­sires that we should give our­selves over to pure­ly sen­su­al de­lights and flesh­ly plea­sures. Since the Church has from old­en times call­ed these days sviat­ki, or the “ho­ly days,” these days re­quire that our very fes­tiv­i­ty be ho­ly, as they are ho­ly. So that those who re­joice might not for­get them­selves, the Church has placed a short song up­on our lips to glo­ri­fy the born Christ, by which the flesh is re­strained and the soul is up­lift­ed, show­ing the prop­er oc­cu­pa­tions for these days. It says, “Christ is Born, give ye glo­ry,” and the rest. Glo­ri­fy Christ; glo­ri­fy Him, so that by this glo­ri­fi­ca­tion the heart and soul would de­light, and there­by si­lence any urge for var­i­ous oth­er deeds and oc­cu­pa­tions that might prom­ise cer­tain con­so­la­tions. Glo­ri­fy­ing Christ does not mean de­vis­ing length­y songs of prais­es to Christ. But if when con­tem­plat­ing or hear­ing a­bout the birth of Christ the Sav­ior you in­vol­un­tary shout from the depths of your soul, “Glo­ry to Thee, O Lord, that Christ is born!” — this is suf­fi­cient. This will be a qui­et song of the heart, which nev­er­the­less reach­es the heav­ens and en­ters in to God Him­self. Re­peat a lit­tle more clear­ly to your­self what the Lord has wrought for us, and you will see how nat­u­ral this ex­cla­ma­tion now is. So that this might be easier for us, we shall com­pare it to the fol­low­ing in­ci­dent. A king prom­ised free­dom to a man who was im­pris­on­ed in a dun­geon and bound with fet­ters. The pris­on­er waits a day, then an­oth­er, then months, and years. He sees no ful­fill­ment of the prom­ise, but does not lose hope, and be­lieves in the king’s words. Fi­nal­ly, he sees signs that it is com­ing soon, his at­ten­tion in­creas­es — he hears a noise; some one is ap­proach­ing with cheer­ful words. Now the locks fall and the lib­er­at­or en­ters. “Glo­ry to Thee, O Lord!” the pris­on­er in­vol­un­tar­i­ly cries. “The end of my im­pris­on­ment has ar­rived, and soon I will see God’s world!” Or an­oth­er in­ci­dent: A sick man is cov­er­ed with wounds and par­a­lyzed in all his mem­bers. He has tried all med­i­cines and var­i­ous doc­tors. His en­dur­ance is ex­haust­ed, and he is read­y to give him­self over to de­spair. He is told, “There is one very skilled doc­tor who heals ev­ery­one from those very ill­ness­es that you have. We have ask­ed him to come, and he has prom­ised to do so.” The pa­tient be­lieves them, cries out in hope, and waits for the prom­ised one… One hour pass­es, then an­oth­er, and his soul is tor­ment­ed with anx­i­ety. Fi­nal­ly, at eve­ning, some­one ar­rives… The door o­pens, and the de­sired one en­ters… “Glo­ry to Thee, O Lord!” the sick man shouts. Here is an­oth­er ex­am­ple. A thun­der­cloud hangs over the sky, and the face of the earth cov­er­ed with dark­ness. Thun­der shakes the foun­da­tions of the moun­tains and light­en­ing tears the sky from one end to the oth­er. All are in fear, as if the end of the world had come. When the thun­der pass­es and the sky clears, ev­ery­one breathes free­ly, say­ing, “Glo­ry to Thee, O Lord!” Bring these ex­am­ples clos­er to your­self and you will see our whole his­to­ry in them. The threat­en­ing clouds of God’s wrath were over us. The Lord has come — the peace­mak­er, and has dis­persed that cloud. We were cov­er­ed with wounds of sins and pas­sions; the heal­er of souls and bodies has come and heal­ed us. We were bound by the fet­ters of slav­ery; the lib­er­at­or has come and re­leased our fet­ters. Bring all of these ex­am­ples clos­er to your heart and take them in with your sens­es, and you will not be able to re­frain from ex­claim­ing, “Glo­ry to Thee, O Lord, that Christ is born!” I will not try to con­vey this joy to you in words; it is un­reach­a­ble by any words. The work that the Lord Who is born has wrought touch­es ev­ery one of us. Those who en­ter in­to com­mu­nion with Him re­ceive from Him free­dom, heal­ing, and peace; they pos­sess all of this and taste of its sweet­ness. There is no rea­son to say “re­joice” to those who ex­pe­ri­ence this with­in them­selves, for they can­not help but re­joice; but to those who do not ex­pe­ri­ence it, why say “re­joice”? They can­not re­joice. No mat­ter how much you say “re­joice” to one bound hand and foot, he will not re­joice. From whence can the joy of heal­ing come to one who is cov­er­ed with the wounds of sins? How can one who is threaten­ed by the thun­der of God’s wrath breathe free­ly? You can on­ly say to him, “Go to the In­fant wrapped in swad­dl­ing clothes in the man­ger, and seek de­liv­er­ance by Him from all the e­vils that en­com­pass you, for this In­fant, Christ, is the Sav­ior of the world.” I would like to see ev­ery­one re­joic­ing with this very joy, and not want­ing to know any oth­er joys; but not ev­ery­thing that comes from Is­ra­el is Is­ra­el. Fes­tiv­i­ties will now be­gin that are emp­ty, wild, and in­flam­ing of the pas­sions: the lust of the eyes, smok­ing, cos­tume-wear­ing. [1]My soul hat­eth… your so­lem­ni­ties: they are be­come trou­ble­some to me, I am wea­ry of bear­ing them (Is. 1:14)! Tru­ly, man­y of our so­cial fes­tiv­i­ties are re­al­ly pa­gan abom­i­na­tions; that is, some of them are brought to us straight from the pa­gan world, while oth­ers, though they ap­pear­ed lat­er in time, are pen­e­trated with the spir­it of pa­gan­ism. And they come out as if on pur­pose in great quan­ti­ties for the feasts of Christ­mas and Pas­cha. By get­ting caught up in them we give the prince of this world, our tor­men­tor, the en­e­my of God, an ex­cuse to say to God, “What have You done for me with Your Na­tiv­i­ty and Res­ur­rec­tion? They are all com­ing to me!” But let the words of the fif­tieth Psalm be re­peat­ed more of­ten in the depth of our hearts: That Thou might­est be jus­ti­fied in Thy words, and pre­vail when Thou art judged (Ps. 50:4). No mat­ter how much you tell these peo­ple to stop, they on­ly shut their ears and pay no heed; they bring these bright days of the feast to such an fi­na­le that the Lord is com­pelled to turn His eyes from us and say, We are in­ter­est­ed in en­light­ened Eu­rope. Yes, the abom­i­na­tions of pa­gan­ism that were cast out of the world were first re­stored there; they are pass­ing from there to us. Hav­ing breathed in that hell­ish poi­son, we run a­round like mad­men, for­get­ting our own selves. But let us re­mem­ber the year of 1812 — why did the French come to us then? God sent them to wipe out all the evil that we had learned from them. Rus­sia re­pent­ed then, and God had mer­cy on her. But now it seems that we have for­got­ten that les­son. If we come to our sens­es, of course, noth­ing will hap­pen. But if we do not come to our sens­es, who knows? Per­haps the Lord will again send sim­i­lar teach­ers, so that they would bring us to our sens­es and place us on the path of cor­rec­tion. Such is the law of God’s righ­teous­ness: to cure some­one from sin with the thing that en­ticed him in­to it. These are not emp­ty words, but a mat­ter that has been con­firmed by the voice of the Church. Know, ye Or­tho­dox, that God will not be mock­ed; and know, ye who make glad and re­joice on these days with fear. Il­lu­mine the bright feast with bright deeds, oc­cu­pa­tions, and fes­tiv­i­ties, so that all who look up­on us will say, “They have ho­ly days, and not some wild games with the un­righ­teous rev­el­lers who do not know God.
[1] St. The­o­phan coins the word o­bo­rot­ni­chest­vo, (from the word o­bo­rot­ni, mean­ing “were­wolf”) here, which re­fers to a strange en­ter­tain­ment in Rus­sia dur­ing the Christ­mas hol­i­days that re­sem­bles Amer­i­can Hal­low­een. Young peo­ple dress as fe­ro­cious an­i­mals like wolves and bears, and make pranks. The use of this word al­so im­plies that this prac­tice is some­thing from the realm of witch­es and sor­cer­ers.

Homily of Pentecost Sunday by St. Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria

Light, Radiance and Grace Are

in the Trinity and from the Trinity

(from the Synaxarion

of the Lenten Triodion and Pentecostarion)


It will not be out of place to consider the ancient Tradition, teaching and faith of the catholic Church, which was revealed by the Lord, proclaimed by the Apostles and guarded by the Fathers.  For upon this faith of the Church is built, and if anyone were to lapse from it, he would no longer be a Christian either in fact or in name.

We acknowledge the Trinity, holy and perfect, to consider, to consist of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  In this Trinity there is no intrusion of any alien element or of anything from outside, nor is the Trinity a blend of creative and created being.  It is wholly creative and energizing reality, self-consistent and undivided in Its active power, for the Father makes all things through the Word and in the Holy Spirit, and in this way the unity of the Holy Trinity is preserved.  Accordingly, in the Church, one God is preached, one God who is “above all things and through all things and in all things.” God is “above all things” as Father, for He is principal and source; He is “through all things” through the Word; and He is “in all things” in the Holy Spirit.

Writings to the Corinthians about spiritual matters, the holy Apostle Paul traces all reality back to one God, the Father, saying,  “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and varieties of Service, but the same Lord – and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone.”

Even the gifts that the Spirit dispenses to individuals are given by the Father through the Word.  For all that belongs to the Father belongs also to the Son, and so the graces given by the Son in the Spirit are true gifts of the Father.  Similarly, when the Spirit dwells in us, the Word who bestows the Spirit is in us too, and the Father is present in the Word.  This is the meaning of the text, “My Father and I will come to him and make Our home with him.”  For where the light is, there also is the radiance: and where the radiance is, there too are its powers and its resplendent grace.

This is also St. Paul’s teaching in his second letter to the Corinthians, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  For grace and the gift of the Trinity are given by the Father through the Son, so there could be no communication of the gift to us except in the Holy Spirit.  But when we share in the Spirit, we possess the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the fellowship of the Spirit Himself.

St. Theophan the Recluse, On Prayer, Homily 1


Delivered 21 November, 1864

On the feast day of the Entrance into the Temple of the Most-holy Theotokos, I find it timely to give you instruction in prayer – the main work of the temple. A temple is a place of prayer and arena of prayer’s development. For us, entry into the temple is entry into a prayerful spirit. The Lord has the kindness to call our hearts His temple, where we enter mentally and stand before Him, ascending to Him like the fragrant smoke of incense. We are going to study how to attain this state.

Gathering in the temple, you pray, of course. And in praying here, you surely ought not abandon prayer at home. Therefore, it would be extraneous to speak to you about our duty to pray, when you already pray. But I do not think that it is extraneous in any way to give you two or three rules about how to pray, if not in the way of teaching, then simply as a reminder. The work of prayer is the first work in Christian life. If in everyday affairs the saying: “live and learn” is true, then so much more it applies to prayer, which never stops and which has no limit.

Let me recall a wise custom of the ancient Holy Fathers: when greeting each other, they did not ask about health or anything else, but rather about prayer, saying “How is your prayer?” The activity of prayer was considered by them to a be a sign of the spiritual life, and they called it the breath of the spirit. If the body has breath, it lives; if breathing stops, life comes to an end. So it is with the spirit. If there is prayer, the soul lives; without prayer, there is no spiritual life.

However, not every act of prayer is prayer. Standing at home before your icons, or here in church, and venerating them is not yet prayer, but the “equipment” of prayer. Reading prayers either by heart or from a book, or hearing someone else read them is not yet prayer, but only a tool or method for obtaining and awakening prayer. Prayer itself is the piercing of our hearts by pious feelings towards God, one after another – feelings of humility, submission, gratitude, doxology, forgiveness, heart-felt prostration, brokenness, conformity to the will of God, etc. All of our effort should be directed so that during our prayers, these feelings and feelings like them should fill our souls, so that the heart would not be empty when the lips are reading the prayers, or when the ears hear and the body bows in prostrations, but that there would be some qualitative feeling, some striving toward God. When these feelings are present, our praying is prayer, and when they are absent, it is not yet prayer.

It seems that nothing should be simpler and more natural for us than prayer and our hearts’ striving for God. But in fact it is not always like this for everyone. One must awaken and strengthen a prayerful spirit in oneself, that is one must bring up a prayerful spirit. The first means to this is to read or to hear prayers said. Pray as you should, and you will certainly awaken and strengthen the ascent of your heart to God and you will come into a spirit of prayer.

In our prayer books, there are prayers of the Holy Fathers – Ephraim the Syrian, Makarios the Egyptian, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, and other great men of prayer. Being filled with the spirit of prayer, they were able to up that living spirit into words, and handed it down to us. When one enters into these prayers with attention and effort, then that great and prayerful spirit will in turn enter into him. He will taste the power of prayer. We must pray so that our mind and heart receive the content of the prayers that we read. In this way the act of praying becomes a font of true prayer in us. I will give here three very simple instructions: 1. always begin praying with at least a little preparation; 2. do not pray carelessly, but with attention and feeling; and 3. do not go on to ordinary work immediately after prayer.

Even if prayer is common for us, it always demands preparation. What is more common for those who can read and write than reading and writing? However, sitting down to read or write, we do not immediately begin, but we calm ourselves before beginning, at least to the point that we can read or write in a peaceful state. Even more so preparation for the work of prayer is necessary before praying, especially when what we have been doing before praying is of a totally different nature from prayer.

Thus, going to pray, in the morning or in the evening, stand for a moment, or sit, or walk, and strive in this time to focus your thoughts, casting off from them all earthly activities and objects. Then call to mind the One to Whom you are praying, Who He is and who you are, as you begin this prayerful petition to Him. From this, awaken in your soul the feeling of humility and reverent awe of standing before God in your heart. As you stand piously before God, all of this preparation may seem small and insignificant, but it is not small in meaning. This is the beginning of prayer and a good beginning is half the work.

Having stood up in your heart, now stand before your icons, make a few prostrations, and begin with the usual prayers: “Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee. O Heavenly King…”, and so on. Do not read hurriedly; pay attention to every word and let the meaning of each word enter into your heart. Accompany your words with prostrations. With this effort, the reading of prayers becomes pleasant to God and fruit-bearing. Pay attention to every word, and let the sense of each word enter into your heart; understand what you are reading and feel what you are understanding. No other rules are necessary. These two – understanding and feeling – have the effect of making prayer fitting, and fruitful. For example, you read: “cleanse us from every stain” – feel your stain, desire cleanliness, and ask it from the Lord with hope. You read: “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” – forgive all in your soul, and having forgiven everyone everything in your heart, ask for forgiveness for yourself from the Lord. You read: “Thy will be done” – completely give up your own will to the Lord in your heart, and honestly be prepared to meet everything that the Lord is well-pleased to send to to you with a good heart. If you read each verse of your prayers in this way, then you will be truly praying.

In order to facilitate the development of true prayer, take these steps: 1) keep a prayer rule according to the blessing of your spiritual father – not more than you can read unhurriedly on a normal day; 2) before you pray, in your free time become familiar with the prayer in your rule, fully take in each word and feel it, so that you would know in advance what should be in your soul as you read. It will be even better if you learn the prayers by heart. When you do this, then all of your prayers will be easy for you to remember and feel. There is only one final difficulty: your thoughts will always stray to other subjects, therefore: 3) you must struggle to keep your attention focused on the words of your prayer, knowing in advance that your mind will wander.

When your mind does wander during prayer, bring it back. When it wanders again, bring it back again. Each and every time that you read a prayer while your thoughts are wandering (and consequently you read it without attention and feeling,) then do not fail to read it again. Even if your mind wanders several times in the same place, read it again and again until you read it all the way through with understanding and feeling. In this way, you will overcome this difficulty so that the next time, perhaps, it will not come up again, or if it does return, it will be weaker. This is how one must act when the mind wanders. On the other hand it may happen that a particular word or phrase might act so strongly on the soul, that the soul no longer wants to continue with the prayer, and even though the lips continue praying, the mind keeps wandering back to that place which first acted on it. In this case: 4) stop, do not read further, but stand with attention and feeling in that place, and use the prayer in that place and the feelings engendered by it to feed your soul. Do not hurry to get yourself out of this state. If time cannot wait, it is better to leave your rule unfinished than to disturb this prayerful state. Maybe this feeling will stay with you all day like your guardian Angel! This sort of grace-filled action on the soul during prayer means that the spirit of prayer is becoming internalized, and consequently, maintaining this state is the most hopeful means of raising up and strengthening a spirit of prayer in your heart.

Finally, when you finish your prayers, do not immediately go off to any sort of work, but remain and think at least a little about what you have just finished and what now lies before you. If some feeling was given to you during prayer, keep it after you pray. If you completed your prayer rule in the true spirit of prayer, then you will not wish to quickly go about other work; this is a property of prayer. Thus our ancestors said when they returned from Constantinople: “he who has tasted sweet things does not desire bitter things”. So it is with each person who has prayed well during his prayers. One should recognize that tasting this sweetness of prayer is the very goal of praying, and if praying leads to a prayerful spirit, then it is exactly through such a tasting.

If you will follow these few rules, then you will quickly see the fruit of prayerful labor. And he who fulfills them already without this instruction, of course, is already tasting this fruit. All praying leaves prayer in the soul – continual prayer in this manner gives it root, and patience in this work establishes a prayerful spirit. May God grant this to you by the prayers of our All-pure Mistress, the Theotokos!

I have given you initial basic instruction in the ways of raising up in yourselves a prayerful spirit, that is, how to pray in a way appropriate to the meaning of prayer – at home in the morning and the evening, and here in the temple. But this is not yet everything. Tomorrow, if God helps, I will teach you a second method. Amen.