In the previous five volumes of the series, The Spiritual Counsels of Elder Paisios, there are many references to the subject of prayer, since the Elder held prayer to be his primary work throughout the course of his perfection as a monk. However, even in his communication with people, both monks and laity, he always aimed at helping them to entrust their life to God through prayer. This volume, published with the blessing of our Chief-Shepherd, His Eminence Nicodemos, Metropolitan of Kassandreia, comprises councels of the Elder which are specifically on the subject of prayer.
For Elder Paisios, prayer is the immeasurable potential which God has given us in order to communicate with Him, and ask for His help. The Elder actually felt pain when he observed people suffering as they struggled "with their limited human capabilitis", when they could have asked for help from God, Who "would have sent not simply divine help, but a whole variety of divine assistance; and then, of course, His help would not be called simply divine help, but a miracle of God". It was why he had insisted that we understand prayer to be a necessity and earnestly sought to help those who had not learned to pray "to make a start in order to get their heart working on prayer". He also strengthened those who had acquired the good habit of praying to pray with even more philotimo and greater fervour. To everyone, however, he emphasised repentance and humility as the main prerequisites for communication with God.
This book contains seven parts. The first part refers generally to prayer, which the Elder experienced to be a necessity of the soul for constant and ceaseless communication with God. He always said, "We must be in constant touch with God and continuously hear Him, in order to feel assurance; praying is assurance". If we comprehend this, then we will feel the need to communicate constantly with God and reach the state of ceaseless prayer. Elder Paisios takes us by the hand and leads us to authentic and pure prayer, by presenting the preconditions that are necessary for it, and by indicating that, along with prayer, the corresponding spiritual struggle must also take place. To communicate with God, we need to work "on the same frequency upon which God works", which is that of humility and love. The passions, and especially pride and the absence of spiritual nobility, that is, the absence of sacrifice, are parasites which hinder divine communication. It is why, before we begin praying, which is divine communication, we need to make preparations similar to those we make before the reception of Holy Communion. With repentance and humble confession before God, "the barrier is broken, or, rather, God opens the door", and we can then receive "the Grace of divine communication".
The second part of the book discusses hindrances we come across during prayer: negligence, acedia, and distraction. Still, the devil himself attempts to tear us away from any communication with God "by striking up a little conversation" with us. The Elder had practical advice on how "to warm up the heart and get it started on prayer". A short but intense study before prayer warms up the heart. Psalmody (the chanting of psalms and hymns) helps in combating acedia and creates the best preconditions for one to say the Prayer earnestly. The komboschoini (prayer rope) is a weapon against the devil. Prostrations are helpful in getting our spiritual engine started.
The third part of the book focuses on Panaghia, our affectionate Mother, our Guardian Angels, and the Saints, all of whom are our intercessors before God, as well as our protectors. Panaghia, with her perfect obedience to God and with her humility, contributed to the fulfilment of the preeternal will of God for the salvation of mankind. It is why she hears our prayer and presents our requests to her Son and God. In parallel, when we live according to the will of God, our Guardian Angel does not withdraw from us; he protects us and rescues us from dangers. Even all of the Saints, when we call upon them with faith and reverence, will hasten and come to our aid.
The fourth part of the book addresses requests made during prayer, which, as the Elder instructed, should be properly separated into three parts: one for ourselves, one for the people of the world, and one for those who have reposed. The final chapter of the fourth part discusses prayer with the Book of Psalms, which the Elder used in order to pray according to the "circumstances" determined for each Psalm by Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian. The "circumstances" of Saint Arsenios are all listed in the Appendix at the end of the book.
The fifth part of this book contains counsels related to the saying of the Jesus Prayer (the Prayer) and on nepsis, that is, the watchfulness which is essential for the gathering of the mind into the heart. The mind is like "an anarchic child, who constantly wants to wander here and there". The Elder counselled that the mind "be instructed spiritually and taught to become accustomed to staying at its own home, in Paradise, near his Father, that is God". In relation to the concentration of the mind on the Prayer, the Elder, without disregarding the various practical methods, underscored that they are simply auxiliary means. He considered the necessary prerequisites to be repentance and heartfelt anguish, which comes naturally when people become aware of their immense sinfulness and ingratitude before the many benefactions of God, but also when they overlook their own self, and enter the place of those who are suffering.
In the sixth part of the book, reference is made to the life of worship in the Church. The counsels hereing are related to our participation in the ecclesiastical Services and to the proper preparation for our participation in the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist. The final chapter of this part refers to psalmody, which is not only a form of prayer, but also "the gushing of the heart, an overflowing of one's inner spiritual condition".
The seventh and final part of the book discusses the doxology offered to God. The Elder counselled that we carry out "a heartfelt doxology with joy and thanksgiving", upon the fulfilment of each of our prayerful requests. He emphasised that if every person reflects on the multitude of divine benefactions, he will then glorify God day and night. Indeed, the philotimo-filled children of God even glorify God during sorrows and trials. Within constant doxology and thanksgiving toward God, one senses "the fullness of divine abundance". And the more one glorifies and thanks God, the more God grants even more blessings. The final chapter refers to the divine gifts which are granted to humble and philotimo-filled people, who labour in repentance and sacrifice everything out of love for God. Having tasted the abundant sweetness and ineffable delight granted to the soul when it is visited by divine Grace, the Elder had said that it is precisely then that "the mind ceases due to the presence of God; the brain stops functioning, and the soul senses only the sweetness of divine love, divine affection and divine assurance".
In all the parts of this book, reference is made repeatedly to humility and to the intuition of our sinfulness, as well as to noble behaviour and participation in the suffering of others. For the Elder, these constitute the basic principles of the spiritual life and the necessary prerequisites for heartfelt prayer. The Elder also often referred to examples from his personal struggle, or revealed divine states that he himself had experienced. That, too, was "spiritual charity" which he offered out of a great deal of love, in order to assist us.
We heartily thank all those who read the manuscript of this volume before its publication and thus contributed, with the thoughts they expressed, to its more complete formation.
With the help of God, may we love prayer and work humbly and in a philotimo filled way in order to cultivate it, "so as to commune in the Kingdom of Christ and praise Him as God unto the ages". Amen.
Friday of Bright Week in 2012
The Feast of the Life-Giving Spring
The Abbess of the Holy Hesychasterion
and the Sisters in Christ with me