Orthodox America

  Pray From the Heart!

    When met Lord's disciples proved unable to deliver the possessed youth, the Master said to them: "This kind goeth not out except by prayer and fasting." Cannot the same be said of the scourge of communism which lies heavily upon so many of our brothers and sisters in the Faith? If we sincerely desire to contribute in some measure to relieve their surfing, should we not devote ourselves more wholeheartedly to prayer and fasting--not only during this lenten season but throughout this Millennial year. Indeed, this has been the principal message of our Chief Hierarch as reflected in the following exhortation which he delivered on the day of his enthronement as Metropolitan, January 13/26, 1986.


     Prayer is what we need more than anything else--genuine, true, fervent prayer. And this is where we sin most grievously. Often we pray merely with our lips; this is our ultimate downfall. Or we pray only with our mind, we limit ourselves to an intellectual understanding of prayer. And this is the extent of our prayerful struggle.

    We forget that the last great man of prayer of the Russian land, Fr. John of Kronstadt, left us his book, My Life in Christ. This book is not just a description of certain spiritual states; it is his teaching about heartfelt prayer.

     When we pray without our heart, we are not really praying at all. On the other hand, to pray with the heart is not something of which we are automatically capable. We can raise our hands, walk, stand up, sit down, think of whatever we wish. In a moment we can even be transported in our thought s to any point on the earth's surface. All this lies within our power, but we are not capable-whenever we wish--of praying from the heart.

     We must, therefore, acquire this heartfelt prayer, for, as one great elder said, it was by neglecting it that Russia began her downward course. She began to feel weighed down by outward prayer; she did not put her heart into the prostrations or into the candles which she offered before the icons, or into any externals, so that these outward forms became a great burden for her, and she threw off this burden, threw off the truth, and so cast aside the Church. The real cause, the profound inner cause of the fall of any individual Church, arise s when the people of this Church, the children of this Church, no longer join their hearts in the prayers and prostrations, but bear them as a purely outward burden.

     So now we, the Russian people of the diaspora, who enjoy complete freedom-which is a great gift of God--must make every effort to acquire this heartfelt prayer, remembering that when we stand to pray, when we say the words of a prayer, when we understand the prayer, we are still just knocking, knocking at the door of the heart. The Lord will see this struggle, this podvig of ours, and will Himself touch our hearts with His mighty right hand, and He will enter into the prayer. When our prayer enters the heart, then the Lord will hearken to us because we are wholly immersed in prayer; there is nothing left in us which is not Praying: the mind is praying, it dues not soar away; all is silent, all the senses are silent, but the heart is praying to God, the body is praying, everything in it is praying. Is it possible that God will not hearken to a man who is praying in this manner? The Lord will hear such a man and avenge him, as the Holy Scripture says (Luke 18:7-8). When He sees such a man He will defend him and will protect him.

     So, we have a task before us. a great task, one which appears to be simple but is really very great--to acquire heartfelt prayer. With all our strength we must entreat the Lord, entreat our great men of prayer--St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Sergius of Radonezh, St. John of Kronstadt, and all those whom we know. We must ask our Guardian Angel to lift us up to prayer, to wake us up to pray, for this is, one might say, his duty. We can have such boldness before God as to ask our Guardian Angel to rouse us, to give us vigilance in prayer and to remind us of the whole body of Scripture; we ought to be bold in asking the help of the great saints and men of prayer, such as ~t. Elijah the Prophet who brought down fir e that consumed the wood which was covered in water. We ought to ask all whom we remember and to whom our hearts are drawn, to ask all the saints that the Lord grant us heartfelt prayer. If we pray in this way, the heavens will be opened, the Lord will answer our prayer and will save our Homeland. Herein lies the whole key to the mystery of prayer.

    Brothers and sisters ! This is the greatest school of all schools. Prayer is the science of sciences. But prayer does not have its own special school. The Church is the school of prayer. Someone once asked an elder how to pray, how to learn to pray. The elder told him: Pray, and you will learn how to pray. 

    And so, my beloved brothers and sisters, on my first day as Metropolitan I invite you, I ask you, I beg you and will constantly repeat: we must acquire heartfelt prayer. In it you will find everything--both your own personal happiness, and unselfishness, and all manner of good: the illiterate acquires knowledge, the poor man become s rich, each person is transformed, each in his own way. In prayer all are equal, and each can obtain from God, depending on the gifts of his spirit.

    This is my wish for you, from the bottom of my heart, on my first day as Chief Hierarch. And I myself, a weak man, ask also for your prayers, that the Lord fill me with this heartfelt prayer. Then we will indeed be as strong as adamant: nothing will destroy us, no one will divide us, and we shall truly be servants of the Lord.

    Let us remember the two thieves on either side of the crucified Christ: they represent the entire human race; everyone suffers, But all sufferings are not the same, May God grant that our sufferings be like those of the wise thief .... when he confessed the true faith, he acquired heartfelt prayer and said to the Lord: "Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom."

    God grant that to each repenting servant the Lord should answer likewise, that each repenting soul should hear:

    Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise 

Metropolitan Vitaly
Chief Hierarch of Russian Orthodox Church Abroad 

(Translated from "Tserkovnaya Zhizn ," No. 1, 1986)

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