by Father Matta El-Meskeen
Christ call upon us to pray before God. He persists in asking us to pray and not lose heart, to pray with persistence and passion. This call points to the source from which we receive the power for conversion, renewal, and growth. This is how Christ explains the need for prayer. For through prayer we gain something that cannot be gained otherwise. This "thing" that can only be granted by prayer belongs to God: "How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him" (Lk. 11:12)!
Prayer is spiritual contact with God. God's purpose in urging us to pray without growing weary is that prayer progressively brings about an essential day-to-day change in us. Prayer must be made with constant zeal in order that we should be changed into something higher than our nature. This is actually realized in us when we feel that we have become something more than ourselves. And this is what summons us to more pleading and urgency until our prayer is answered. For through prayer, we receive what we do not basically deserve.
For this reason, we have to realize that prayer is an essential action through which conversion, renewal, and growth of one's soul take place. This is brought about through God while man remains unconscious of the change.
Neither bliss, nor interior peace, not a feeling that prayer is answered, nor any other feeling is equal to the hidden action of the Holy Spirit in one's soul. Such action qualifies the soul for eternal life.
Prayer is the most powerful effective spiritual work and has its own spontaneous reward without the evidence of feelings. Prayer could not have an end or an aim higher than itself. It is the highest aim of the highest work.
Prayer is opening oneself toward the effective, invisible, and imperceptible power of God. Man can never leave the presence of God without being transformed and renewed in his being, for this is what Christ has promised. However, such transformation will not be in the form of a sudden leap. It will take its time and course as an imperceptible but meticulous build-up.
Whoever persists in surrendering himself to God by praying without growing weary receives in the end more than he desired. He even receives more than he deserves. Everyone who lives by prayer in the end gathers and gains for himself an immense trust in God, so powerful and so certain that it can almost be seen and touched. His soul becomes imbued with God through and through, even to its very depths. Man thus perceives God in a most vivid way. He feels as though his soul has become greater and stronger. Neither ignoring his own weakness nor forgetting his shortcomings, he becomes sure of the existence of another being higher than his own temporal one.
This sure feeling of the existence of God and of his power broadens the scope of the soul's perception of divine realities. It also widens its power of discernment and vision. Thus the soul witnesses within itself a new birth, a new horizon, and a new world. This is its beloved world, the world of Jesus. God, not one's own sense or ego, is the source of this world. Man comes to lay hold of this knowledge, not through his own mind, but through the will of the Holy Spirit, without any intervention of human will, effort, or worldly wisdom.
When the soul ascends to the world of true light, which is within its own self, it begins to feel in harmony with God through constant prayer. It then loses all dichotomy as well as doubt and anxiety when truth pervades all its feelings and movements. Its past and present experiences are melted in the fire of divine love. This excludes all prejudice and fears of the self, as well as the flaws of selfishness and doubt. It leaves no feelings in the soul except total awareness of the sovereignty of the Spirit and absolute obedience to his will.
Orthodox Prayer Life – The Interior Way
Persistence in prayer and worship is one of the signs of effective faith. If faith represents the columns on which the temple of spiritual life stands, perseverance represents the stones by which the whole edifice is constructed. But to assess the value of the spirit of persistence in prayer, we should first consider the spirit of despondency.
Despondency is the folly of pride and stiffness of neck. The desperate man follows his own stubborn counsel and chooses the torment of everlasting hell. He does not wish to yield to God or accept from his hand the sweetness and the bitterness of this life. By doing so, he refuses the crown of eternal life.
The spirit of perseverance, on the other hand, is a sign of humility and surrender. The man who persists in prayer and worship does not think himself worthy of anything; his self is not dear to him. He persists in submission and obedience because he cannot cease from persistence and submission. On what else can he rely if his self is powerless and worthless in his eyes? “Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’” (Jn 6:67-68).
The spirit of persistence springs from an inward conviction that life is but one single way that leads to the kingdom of heaven. Persistence in walking along that way is then the only means of arrival, the only means of overcoming difficulties. Those who stop on the way, for whatever reason, have fallen into Satan’s snares: “Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you” (Jn 12.35). That is, so long as you walk the light attends you and leads you, but if you stop, darkness – that is, the enemy – will overtake you at once. Regression is a kind of miscarriage of the soul, a failure, and a fall into its deadly pride and its strange desire for perdition: “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62).
It is really amazing that for those travelling along the way of prayer and worship, rest lies only in doubling their pace and increasing their struggle!
Most Rewarding Virtue
We have to respect people who are less talented and versatile than we are. They too are God's children. It is not their fault that they do not have great talents. God gives different talents to His children so that all can work together in harmony for the common good.
Father Matta El-Meskeen - Matthew the Poor
Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way
Page 14-15 - Introduction to the Second Edition
(written in the Desert of Wadi El-Rayyan in 1968)
Translation from the Monastery of St Macarius the Great - Egypt
Published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press 2003
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