Friday, December 19, 2014

The Joy of the Incarnation – by St. John Kronstadt

And now, since the time of the Incarnation of the Son of God, all the glory of God, the glory of His love towards mankind, as well as the glory of creation, is declared unto us by the Gospel and the Holy Church; by the voices of the preachers of the Gospel; by those who celebrate the Sacraments and prayers; that is, the priests, readers, and singers; by the sound of bells, not excluding also the preaching of the heavens with their luminaries. 

But the preaching of the living voice is more lively, more intelligible and striking. The glory of the Lord is declared by all the earth, and by all earthly beings. In all your works, either at home or at the place of your service, do not forget that all your strength, your light and your success are in Christ and His Cross; therefore, do not fail to call upon the Lord before beginning any work, saying: Jesus, help me! Jesus, enlighten me! Thus your heart will be supported and warmed by lively faith and hope in Christ, for His is the power and glory unto ages of ages.

 


....from .... St John of Kronstadt  - My Life in Christ, or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and of Peace in God 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Connecting to God with the Help of the Natural Environment


A Presentation for the Observance of the Protection of the Environment

 9-28-2014
by Fr Ted Toppses

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

It was morning in the pre-dawn hours and the sun had not yet risen, the beginnings of light were now starting to spill over the horizon.  The water was cold and the air crisp as I entered my kayak and my mind quickly began to calm. The world that I knew in my day to day existence seems to be very far away as I gently rode on the water.  Soon the sun began to peek over the horizon and the water was filled with thousands of dazzling diamonds and I was at peace reaching out in silent prayer to the Lord who flooded my heart in the boundless beauty of what I beheld.

There are many ways to reach to God in our prayers and our lives.  When our physical bodies are calm and quiet the prayer of the spirit can be made more clearly.  From Christ we are given the direction to take time to separate ourselves from the hustle and bustle and go into the wilderness. Christ was led by the Holy Spirit to go into the wilderness and allow Himself to be tempted by the devil.  Christ fasted and through His time in this isolation He demonstrates to us that we can use periodic isolation in nature to combat the temptations of this life.

In Luke 6:12 we learn of Christ taking time apart and praying in the nature of the mountain.
Luke 6:12 reads “Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.”

The natural environment is gift from God for us to have a transformative place to go and pray. The Lord directed His people to the wilderness as recorded in Exodus 5.1:
Afterwards Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.”

St. Porphyrios when inundated by many people visiting him would relive the peacefulness of his youth on Mount Athos by going into the woods and setting up a bed in a tree giving himself a peaceful evening and night calming his mind and connecting his heart to Christ’s.

St. Symeon the New Theologian in his experience of the Uncreated Light of God saw in his vision that the light of God supports all things and touches all things.  St. Symeon saw the natural would as one of the ways to connect with God who shines His light within it.
We cannot underestimate the need for peace during our prayer life, to connect to Christ in a way in order that our Lord becomes truly known to us.  The External peace and magnificence of God found in nature can lead to the internal peace of the heart when we take more and more time to pray while being affected by the Glory of God in nature. 

What happens when we partake of this God given gift? The external peace found in nature, when allowed to penetrate through the experience of peace and prayer, will transform the heart in a calm and miraculous way as we carry the Presence of Christ within us.
St. Nektarios writes about finding God in nature when approaching it with a pure heart.  The following is from the Writtings Of Saint Nectarios Of Aegina
St. Nektarios writes:
When the man of pure heart looks at the World of Nature, that is, at the sky, the earth, and the sea and at all things in them, and observes the systems constituting them, the infinite multitude of stars of heaven, the innumerable multitudes of birds and quadrupeds and every kind of animal of the earth, the variety of plants on it, the abundance of fish in the sea, he is immediately amazed and exclaims with the Prophet David: "How great are Thy works, O Lord! In wisdom Thou made them all." Such a man, impelled by his pure heart, discovers God also in the World of Grace of the Church, from which the evil man is far removed. The man of pure heart believes in the Church, admires her spiritual system, discovers God in the Mysteria, in the heights of the theology, in the light of the Divine revelations, in the truths of the teachings, in the commandments of the Law, in the achievements of the Saints, in the very good deed, in every perfect gift, and in general in the whole of the creation. Justly then did the Lord say in His Beatitudes of those possessing purity of the heart: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." – St. Nektarios
-          From Selected Passages From The Writtings Of Orthodox Saints Compiled by Father Demetrios Serfes

So with our task today of remembering the protection of the Environment we are reminded that protecting the proper use of Nature is protecting a path to God.  This natural path can remove us from the daily grind of the world of man and give us an additional glimpse into the world of God.  We must not only protect our natural environment from improper use or destruction, we must go and immerse ourselves in nature regularly in order to give us a time of peaceful Godly renewal.  In this way we are assisted to be at peace and readily connect with God.

Take time to immerse yourself in the beauty and magnificence of God’s creation in nature.  Allow yourself to reach to our Lord in prayer while experiencing this awe inspiring beauty. 

Amen.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Enormous Debt Forgiven

The Enormous Debt Forgiven by Fr. Ted Toppses
Sermon Sunday 8-24-2014
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
How much do you think your salvation is worth?  We value different things in life and make our choices of how to spend our time, effort or money.  In today’s Gospel, Christ makes a comparison to explain what the kingdom of heaven is like using the parable of the ten thousand talents.
Christ starts off saying "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents;”   The first thing we should understand is that Christ in today’s Gospel just said something shocking to the people who were listening.  The amount the first man owed in the parable today is actually astronomical and shocking.  Just one talent at the time of Christ was an extremely great deal of money and approximately 15 years of wages for the average person.  3 or 4 Talents would be a lifetime worth of money.  Scholars differ on the exact amount, however by today’s valuation Christ could have said “The king brought to him someone who owed 6 billion dollars”.
Not only were the people stunned by Christ mentioning that the man owed an inconceivable amount, but also that Christ was making a comparison of this story with the kingdom of God.  What could he mean?
The man could not conceivably pay, and the king ordered him and his family to be sold.  The king represents God, and the debt our sin which separates us from God.  The wages of sin is death.  So the man alone could not save himself and his family.
The man then fell on his knees, saying “have patience with me and I will pay you everything”.  The idea that the man could pay back this debt was almost laughable, considering it was an astronomically huge debt.
Because the man appealed to the mercy of the King, falling humbly on his knees before him, the king amazingly forgave him his entire massive debt.
We cannot save ourselves alone from the massive debt that sin can bring upon us.  Christ however lovingly offered and offers himself for us to remove our sin when we repent.  God removes all obstacles between us and Him in the kingdom of God when we approach with a humble heart.
If the story ended there it would teach us a great lesson, however it does not end there and teaches us even more.  That same servant went out and came upon a fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii which by today’s standards is about $15,000 dollars.  He was not merciful nor kind even though he was forgiven his massive debt which was incomparably larger than what he was owed.  The king found out what happened and realized that the man wanted mercy from him and then chose not to give it to his fellow servant; refusing to forgive even a minor debt.
The Gospel ends by saying …
“Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailors, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."
When we have sin, and our Lord forgives us so that we may enter the kingdom of God we must also forgive all others who sin against us, otherwise we are not deserving or grateful for God’s mercy.
God is gracious and kind, and we owe extreme gratitude to Christ our Lord and Savior. Christ has freed us from the bondage of sin and loves us more than we know how to love.
There is a fictional story that can be used to teach us about God and how kind and gracious he is to have us enter His Heavenly Kingdom,
Mr. Jones was a kind man who felt that he deserved to go to heaven.  God had a plan for him to understand that Heaven is a gracious gift for those who follow Christ.
Mr. Jones lived a long life and when he died he stood outside the pearly gates of Heaven and St. Peter was there on the other side.  St Peter said “we have been expecting you”.  Mr. Jones smiled and said proudly “of course you have”.  St. Peter said ”We have something special planned for you, you will tell us about your life and for the things you did that were Godly we will assign points, if you get to 1000 points, you will be allowed to enter the kingdom of God.”  Mr. Jones smiled very confidently waiting to begin.  St. Peter said ok, tell me something you did that was good.  Mr. Jones said “I went to Church every Sunday from my youth and rarely missed”.  St. Peter said, “very good, for that we will give you 100 points”.   “100 points?” Mr. Jones said, “100 points?, St. Peter are you sure that’s only going to give me 100 points?” St. Peter said “Yes Mr. Jones 100 points”.  Mr. Jones muttered to himself, I thought that would be worth more”.  Mr. Jones then said to St. Peter, “Well, I was an altar boy and later a parish council member”.  Saint Peter said very good, 50 points.  Mr. Jones now was getting nervous.  He then said  “ I prayed every day and even helped the poor.”  St. Peter said “very good Mr. Jones, that’s another 50 points”.  Mr. Jones was at a loss and confused, he was not understanding, looking at his life he thought he would deserve to go to heaven, and he did not expect what was happening now. He looked at St. Peter and said “St. Peter, I thought I would have more things to say and would easily get to 1000 points, but now I realize I will never get to 1000 points, I suppose I realize now that the only way I will enter the Kingdom of God will be by God’s love and grace”.  Saint Peter looked at him lovingly and said “ Very good Mr. Jones , 1000 points you may enter”
This story illustrates the point that we are not deserving of God’s love or his mercy but as a parent receiving a child we receive God’s grace through the action of our faith and our love for our Lord.  The parable of the talents teaches us about the unending love and mercy that God gives to those that follow Him.  When we follow Christ we be not be unforgiving as the servant was in today’s Gospel parable, but we will forgive all sin against us and realize with true gratitude how much God has done for us.
May we realize that the kingdom of God is not earned but given to the people who follow and serve our Lord, living our faith in Christ, our Lord and God.
Amen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Prayer from the heart is sincere prayer

Prayer from the heart is sincere prayer. Always pray to the Lord from your heart. The Lord does not require philosophy from us. We should pray from the heart, as to our Father: “O Lord, help every soul, and do not forget me, either. Help everyone to find peace and to love Thee, as the angels love Thee. Give us, too, the strength to love Thee as Thy Most Holy Mother loves Thee and Thy holy angels. Give me, too, the strength to love Thee boundlessly!” – Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica  (Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: the Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica , St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Palm Sunday Message

Palm Sunday Sermon 2014 by Fr Ted Toppses at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Lewiston Maine

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

St. Elder Porphyrios’ Advice to a Pediatrician

St. Elder Porphyrios’ Advice to a Pediatrician

He asked the same pediatrician, “How do you examine the children?” “In this manner... the pediatrician replied” “Listen to what I have to say to you. Every time you examine a child you should offer a fervent prayer with love: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on your servant’. 


As he said these things he took a deep breath while he opened his hands. “It is in this way that you should pray for every child. God has sent a precious little soul into your hands. “As you place your hand on their little heads pray fervently within yourself that the grace of God will be transfused into the soul of the child. “Do all these things spiritually and in secret. The others who are present won’t understand anything. “You will prescribe to them medicines which science dictates, but in the final analysis Christ will heal the child. You and the parents desire this. Do you believe this?” 

Another time he said to the same pediatrician. “I don’t see you examining the children the way I had told you. The routine is getting to you and you are forgetting. My dear man, give yourself to Christ and offer these little creatures to Christ with your prayer so that you can sanctify them! “Did you see, Christ healed by using the sense of touch? He either touched their hands, or touched their eyes, or the tongue. You will do the same thing. “You will embrace the little child or you will hold the hand of the older one. 

And with the intense and fervent prayer to Christ you will infuse the grace of God in them. Doesn’t the priest also do the same thing in every sacrament? “In order for the grace of the Holy Spirit to come, he places his hand on the head of the person who seeks penance. He does the same thing for a person getting married or a person who is getting baptized etc. “Prayer is spiritual power that is imparted spiritually to the other person’s soul.”
 by Agapios, Monk - The Divine Flame , The Holy Convent of the Transfiguration of the Savior, Milessi.

A Profound Miracle by the Holy Mother of God

(From - A Monks's Life)
FATHER LAZARUS OF SAINT ANTHONY’S MONASTERY

IN THE EGYPTIAN DESERT

This is a story of an Australian academic atheist who found faith in the reality

of God through the direct intervention of the Theotokos, the Mother of God. Since we are in

the midst of the Great and Holy Lent when we chant the Akathist Hymn to the Holy Mother

of God, I thought it would appropriate for me to share this wonderful real life story. It is

about the direct intervention of the Holy Mother of God in the life of an atheist from

Australia who was born into a Christian family. His father was a Methodist and his mother

was a Roman Catholic. As a young man he attended Church School at the Methodist Church

and up until his early teenage years he had a semblance of faith. He was a sickly young man

and was often bullied by his peers. He felt very isolated from the world because of his health

problems and because of his dislike for worldly pursuits. By the age of sixteen he had lost all

faith in the reality of God. One of the reasons that he felt isolated from the world was the

fact that he did not receive any consolation from faith, from the Church or from people

during his developmental struggles. He suffered a lot during his teenage years. In fact, he

appears to have innate monastic tendencies for he had no desire for parties, worldly pursuits

and frivolous things that young people of his age did. He felt very much alone even from God

because he had abandoned any faith in the reality of God.

As he grew up, he found that some people were good but he also found that most

people were not good. In discovering this, he then understood that being religious did not

make a big difference in the way people lived. Many people who went to Church were still

living bad lives. He also noticed that other people who did not go to Church were kind,

generous and understanding people. Because of these observations, he had no way to

connect faith and Church with personal good human behavior. He came to regard religion as

simply hypocrisy. His intellectual pursuits reinforced this thinking of his. He read Sigmund

Freud and Karl Marx. These two men looked at religion as pure fantasy. Because of these

influences he became an unbelieving rationalist. He also thought the laws of nature were

inviolable. He says that he was always searching while living in the world. He saw that

people generally were searching for material wealth because they thought that this would

bring them peace. People searched for this peace in the Eastern Religions of Buddhism and

Hinduism as he did. They also searched for this peace in drugs, wealth, sex and parties. How

does one find this peace for the soul? Most human beings look for this peace in various

places in life and when they seem to find it, it appears to be simply a mirage; it is further

He says that he began to read a lot and he arrived at a point that he thought was a

reasonable position to explain the purpose of life. Marx and Freud were his guides in life. He

developed his own complete philosophy of life that explained the material origin of man in

the material world. He believed that everything in existence begins and ends in this world.

Remember now that he was an academic and he was teaching at a university in Australia. At

one point he was working in a hospital during the summer months. As part of his job, he

would transfer the dead patients to the hospital morgue. Seeing firsthand the dead and cold

corpses convinced him that there was nothing more beyond physical death and there was no

God. In spite of these thoughts he visited many Churches simply to look at the architecture

and the art in the Churches. But beyond this, he believed that Christianity was a bad thing

and was responsible for many wars. But now that he has faith, he says there is a difference

between the Church and Christianity and the reason he chose the Coptic Orthodox Christian

Church is because it has very little blood on its hands in comparison to other Christian

When the mother of monk Lazarus died it left a huge hole in his life. It suddenly hit

him that he had no mother, no connection with his existence without his mother. He felt that

there was no origin to his being. The reason for his life disappeared with the death of his

mother. The person who gave birth to him had been cut away from him; it had been taken

away from him. With his mother’s death, he felt more lost in the world than ever before. For

twelve months after his mother’s death he was very angry with the world and at religion. At

one point while he was grieving, he went back to the hospital where his mother died. He

wanted to relive the last moments of his mother’s death and to contemplate the mystery of

death. There seemed nothing there but darkness and blackness and he had no way to

understand it. The hospital was a Roman Catholic Hospital attached to a convent. The nuns

at the hospital did not allow him to go to the room for it was occupied. He then went to the

hospital library and found a book about an American monk Thomas Merton. The title of the

book was “The Seven Story Mountain.” It was a biography of Thomas Merton. After reading

the book, he was startled to find that the life of Thomas Merton was a mirror image of his

own life. He too was a philosopher. He too was politically left wing. His mother also died

and left him alone and he finally found peace for himself in a Roman Catholic Monastery.

After reading the book, Monk Lazarus thought that if Thomas Merton found peace in a

Monastery, he also would find peace there. So he then called a Roman Catholic Monastery

and asked if he could become a monk there. The person from the Monastery asked him a

number of questions. He was asked which Church he belonged to. Lazarus responded that

he did not belong to any Church. He was asked which priest had recommended him to the

Monastery. His response was that he had no spiritual father and no priest had recommended

his to the Monastery. At that point, the person from the Monastery hung up on him possibly

thinking that he was a fraud. Lazarus did not give up. He was determined to find a Monastery

and so he looked up another Monastery in the local phone book. He found a Monastery

listed as a Serbian Orthodox Monastery. He called and asked the person who answered the

phone if he could come and visit the Monastery. He found out later that the person who

answered the phone was a Bishop. The Bishop responded to him “come and see.” Of course,

these words are from the New Testament in reference to John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist had sent someone to Jesus asking Him if He was the promised one. His

response was “come and see.”

Lazarus went to the Serbian Orthodox Monastery on a Saturday. Saturday in the

Orthodox Church is when the Orthodox Church commemorates the deceased members of the

Church. When Lazarus arrived at the Monastery, the faithful were filing out of the Church

after the Divine Liturgy. The faithful were then going to the Monastery cemetery. Lazarus

met the Bishop and asked if he could ride in the car with him to the cemetery. The Bishop

indicated to him that he should ride with another couple in their car. It just happened that

this couple had a young daughter who had been killed in an automobile accident near the

Monastery. The couple was very bitter with God about this for they believed that God had

stolen their daughter from them. They were as bitter as I was with the loss of my mother.

We complained to one another that God was the cause of our misery. After we finished with

the service at the cemetery the faithful returned to the Monastery Church for a memorial

service. When Lazarus entered the Church he saw a large icon of the Virgin Mary on the wall

of the Church. Lazarus says that he had seen icons before but he looked upon them simply as

art. He said he had no personal experience with icons. He had no intimate acquaintance with

Mary the Theotokos as the Mother of God. He says that he had no understanding of Mary in

the Orthodox Church. He knew that the Roman Catholics called her the Virgin Mary but she

didn’t mean much to him.

After we entered the Church he noticed that the people were making μετάνοιες

(genuflections), bowing down to the icon of the Theotokos. He says I was astonished at

seeing the people doing this. I was astonished because I always believed that a man does not

bow down to anyone or anything. I had learned that a handshake should be enough in

greeting another human being. I had not been prepared for μετάνοιες. I did not feel easy

with what the people were doing but I wanted to be polite and so I followed their example. I

said ok let me do what they are doing. So I made the first μετάνοια. Ι had to bend my knees

and bow down putting my forehead on the floor. As I was doing this, I could see the big icon

of Mary on the wall in front of me. This particular icon was well-known throughout Australia

because it had performed miraculous cures. One of the miracles happened to the wife of a

Greek Orthodox priest. At this point, I was not concerned about the icon. I was concerned

about making the μετάνοια properly and joining in with the other faithful. As I said before, I

then had to put my forehead on the floor. When I was in that position, I would ask you to

consider that when making a μετάνοια what position is the body in. You are in a half circle.

You are bent over in much the same way as a fetus is in the womb of his mother. I felt that I

was in a kind of fetal position. It felt like I was becoming small, weak and helpless. All these

emotions overwhelmed me as I made the μετάνοια. Μετάνοια is a physical action. You are

weak; you are small and you are as if you are nothing. It is a statement that says that I am

not worthy to even lift up my eyes and look at you.

Μετάνοιες is a very eloquent statement of humility. So when I was bending down like

this suddenly all of the sadness of my mother’s death started to overflow within me and I

started to cry. I was saying within myself: “I lost my mother, I am sad, I need a mother.” I

was pouring out my feelings about being motherless. At this point I stood up. When I stood

up I thought that would be the end of it. Then I realized that the Orthodox Christians do

everything in threes. Knowing this, I thought that the second μετάνοια would be much

easier. I proceeded to make the second μετάνοια and then the third μετάνοια and then

repeated the same prayer that I said the first time. This time when I complained about being

motherless, I heard a voice behind my head saying: “I will be your mother.” I clearly heard

the voice. It was a beautiful soft voice but it was clear. I thought that maybe one of the

Serbian women was speaking to me who heard me crying and had come over to comfort me.

I looked to the right and to the left to see if any woman was nearby but there was no one. I

was all alone. I repeated the words of my sadness and the voice came to me again; “I will be

your mother.” On hearing the voice again, this time I was determined to find out where it

was coming from. I lifted up my eyes and looked at the icon of the Holy Mother who was in

front of me. And then when I lifted up my eyes to look at the Holy Mother she moved out of

the icon and seemed to stand in front of me. She appeared to me from the waist up and she

was holding Jesus. She appeared as a real presence in front of me. She bent toward me and

looked at me right in my eyes. She smiled and said: “I will be your mother” for the third

time. When she smiled at me she appeared so loving that she took all the pain out of me.

She gave me a sense of hope and faith. At that very moment I was made new again, I was

reborn by her love. It was an electrifying experience that just filled me up with her presence.

And then she started to give off a bright light that was so bright that I had to lower my eyes.

As I stood up the Holy Mother moved back into the icon and appeared as she was before but

her presence was very real to me. I saw and felt her love. That encounter made me

dependent upon her for the rest of my life. When I stood up I knew my life was now

dedicated only to her. All my pain, all my doubts, all my fears, all my needs for help were

I left that Church knowing now that I had a mother who is beautiful, sweet, kind, and

generous. All this knowledge about her I got through her love for me. Every time I see her

it is the same thing all over again. I have seen her several times since then. The encounter

was so powerful that I could not bring myself to leave the Church. I couldn’t even leave

the Monastery. I had to stay near her. I then told the Bishop that I did not want to leave

the Monastery. I then abandoned everything in my life. I did not go back to work at the

university. I abandoned everything in the world for her. My whole monastic commitment fell

on me that day with that encounter with the love of the Theotokos. This is how I became a

Christian. Where else in the world would I find a loving mother?

Transliterated from the video by:

+Fr. Constantine (Charles) J. Simones, Waterford, CT, USA,

cjsimones300@gmail.com

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Mystery of Salvation Revealed Through Ceaseless Prayer

The Mystery of Salvation Revealed Through Ceaseless Prayer  - from the book The Way of a Pilgrim 
this is an article that was shared with the Pilgrim and is replicated in the book

How does one attain salvation? This pious question comes naturally to the mind of every Christian as a result of two things: man’s innate longing for truth and righteousness and his awareness of his tainted and weakened human nature. Everyone, even the man with little faith in immortality and the rewards of afterlife, finds himself thinking about salvation when he turns his glance toward heaven. But being unable to come up with any answers, he questions the wise and the experienced; he follows their advice and reads inspiring books of spiritual writers, and he tries resolutely to apply the truths and directives which he has learned. In one way or another all of these instructions show him the necessary conditions for salvation: a devout life, heroic actions, and complete self-renunciation. The practice of virtue and a wholehearted fulfillment of God’s commandments are to bear witness to his firm and vibrant faith. Further, he learns that all of these conditions of salvation are to be fulfilled with deep humility and concurrently, because virtuous acts depend on one another, support one another, perfect and inspire one another.

This process is similar to the rays of the sun, which only show their power and light when they are concentrated through a glass into one point. Scripture confirms this when it says that he who is unfaithful in little things is also unfaithful in bigger ones. In addition to this, to convince him even more completely of the need to practice moral integrity, he hears of the tragedy of sin and of the excellence of virtue. All of this is strongly impressed on his mind with a promise of either a great reward of heavenly bliss or unspeakable punishment in eternity.

This is the special character of modern preaching. After hearing such instruction, the man who earnestly seeks salvation approaches the fulfillment of these directives with great joy and tries to apply and to experience all that he has read and heard. But alas!  Even in the first step of his attempt he seems incapable of reaching his goal. He sees and experiences his weakened nature taking the upper hand over the convictions of his mind, and he finds that his free will is constrained, his inclinations are sinful, and the power of his spirit is exhausted.

In this awareness of his weakness he naturally wonders whether there is a method which would facilitate his striving for the perfection which the law of God enjoins on him, which Christian devotion demands, and which was fulfilled by those who were found worthy to attain salvation and holiness. And so, to reconcile within himself the demands of reason and conscience with his infirmity and his lack of strength, he once again turns to the preachers of salvation with the question, How can I be saved? How can I justify my inability to fulfill the conditions of salvation? And how about those who instruct—have they the strength resolutely to accomplish what they teach? “Ask God; pray to God that He would help you!”

So the questioner concludes: Would it not have been more fruitful to have learned first of all that prayer is the source of all which Christian devotion demands and by which salvation is attained? And so he begins to study prayer. He reads, meditates, and analyzes the teachings of spiritual writers on this subject. And without a doubt he finds in them many clear thoughts, profound insights, and forceful expressions. One writer eloquently discourses on the necessity of prayer, another about its power and its benefits; also man’s obligation to pray and the necessary conditions of prayer: fervor, attention, warmth of the spirit, purity of thought, reconciliation with enemies, humility, contrition, etc. But what is the essence of prayer? And how does one actually pray?

To this first and fundamental question one seldom finds a comprehensive and clear explanation, and consequently the man who seeks to learn the art of prayer finds himself once again under the veil of mystery. From general reading he gets ideas about the external acts of piety and concludes that to pray it is necessary to go to church, to make the sign of the cross, make prostrations, kneel, read the psalter, or recite the canons or akathists. This is a common understanding of prayer of those who are not familiar with the writings of the Fathers about interior prayer and contemplation. At last the aspirant encounters the book called Philokalia, in which twenty-five holy Fathers clearly explain the essence and the truth about prayer of the heart.

Here the curtain is raised before the mystery of salvation and prayer, and he sees that really to pray means to direct the mind and heart to constant remembrance of God, to walk in His divine presence, to arouse in oneself the love of God by means of meditation, and to say the name of Jesus in harmony with one’s breathing and the beating of one’s heart. He begins this process by vocally calling on the holy name of Jesus Christ at all times, in all places, and in all occupations, without interruption.
But while these lucid truths enlighten his mind, open to him a path of learning and achievement in prayer, and convince him to apply himself to these wise directives without delay, he continues to encounter periodic difficulties until such time as an experienced director clarifies the mystery of prayer from the Philokalia completely and shows him that it is constancy in prayer which is the single most powerful means for attaining perfection of interior prayer and salvation. Constancy in prayer is the foundation or basis which supports a whole range of spiritual activity.

As St. Simeon the New Theologian says, “He who prays ceaselessly by this one good joins all good.” And so in order to present the truth of this revelation in its fullness, the director develops it in the following way: The first condition necessary for salvation is true faith. Holy Scripture says, “Now it is impossible to please God without faith” (Heb. 11:6). He who has no faith will be judged. But it is clear from Holy Scripture that man of himself cannot give birth to faith even as small as the mustard seed; faith does not originate in us but is the gift of God; and as a spiritual gift it is given by the Holy Spirit.

What must one do then? How does man reconcile his need of faith with the impossibility of acquiring it by himself? Again Holy Scripture points to the means and also gives us examples: “Ask and you will receive.” The Apostles could not of themselves bring their faith to perfection, and so they prayed to Jesus Christ, “Lord, increase our faith.” This is an example of obtaining faith, and from this we can see that faith is attained through prayer. Other conditions necessary for salvation in addition to faith are good deeds or virtues, because “faith is dead if it is separated from good deeds.”

Man is justified by his deeds and not by faith alone. “But if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments and You must not kill. You must not commit adultery. You must not bring false witness. Honor your father and mother, and you must love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 19:17-19). And it is necessary to observe these commandments together, as the Apostle James teaches: “You see, if a man keeps the whole of the Law, except for one small point at which he fails, he is still guilty of breaking it all” (Jas. 2:10).

And Paul the Apostle says the following about human weakness: “No one can be justified in the sight of God by keeping the Law” (Rom. 3:20). “The Law, of course, as we all know, is spiritual; but I am unspiritual; I have been sold as a slave to sin. I cannot understand my own behavior. I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and I find myself doing the very things I hate. In my inmost self I dearly love God’s Law, but I can see that my body follows a different law that battles against the law which my reason dictates” (Rom. 7:14—15, 22—23). How then is it possible to do the works of the law when man in his weakness cannot be justified by observing the law?

Man finds this impossible only until such time as he asks for it, until he prays for it. “You don’t have what you want because you don’t pray for it” (Jas. 4:2). And Jesus Christ Himself says, “Cut off from me you can do nothing.” And in regard to acting through Him He says, “Make your home in me as I make  mine in you. He who abides in me bears much fruit” (John 15:4 and 5). Now to abide in Him means to be continuously aware of His presence, ceaselessly to ask in His name: “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14).

Thus the possibility of doing good works is realized through prayer! An example of this is seen in St. Paul himself, who prayed three times that a temptation be taken away from him; he got down on his knees before God the Father, begging for strength of the inner man, and he was directed to pray ceaselessly about all his needs. From what has been said above, it follows that the salvation of man depends on prayer, and therefore prayer is of primary importance; it is more necessary than anything else, for it animates man’s faith and is the source of all virtues.

In a word, with prayer all goes well and without it no good deed of Christian devotion can be accomplished. For this reason constancy and regularity apply to prayer exclusively; other virtues have their own time, but we are commanded to practice prayer without interruption; to pray constantly. It behooves us to pray always, at all times, and in all places.

True prayer must have its conditions; it is to be offered with a pure mind and heart, with ardent zeal, with undivided attention, with reverence and deepest humility. But who in good conscience does not admit that he is far from fulfilling these conditions for prayer, that he prays more out of necessity, by forcing himself, than by natural inclination, joyfully, and out of love of prayer? Sacred Scripture testifies to the fact that man does not have the strength to keep his spirit steadfast and to purify his mind from unseemly thoughts: “Man’s heart contrives evil from his infancy.”

It is God alone who gives us a pure heart and a steadfast spirit, for “both the will and the action” are of God. And the Apostle Paul says, “My spirit may be praying but my mind is left barren” (1 Cor. 14:14). And, “We cannot choose words in order to pray properly” (Rom. 8:26). From this we can see that of ourselves we cannot fulfill the essential conditions of prayer.

What then can man do toward his salvation when his weakness is so great? He can acquire neither faith nor good works without prayer, and by his own power he cannot pray properly. What then is to be his contribution toward salvation, what is within the range of his freedom and his ability? Is there anything he can do so that he will not perish but be saved? Every act has its perfection, but the Lord reserved this gift to His own will.

So that man would see clearly his dependence on God’s will and would learn real humility, God left to man’s freedom and ability only the constant flow of prayer. God commands us to pray ceaselessly, at all times, and in all places. This is where the secret of true prayer, of faith, of keeping the commandments, and of salvation is found. Man has the ability to pray regularly and frequently.

The Fathers of the Church clearly confirm this. St. Macarius the Great says, “To pray often is in our will, but to pray truly is a gift of grace.” And Venerable Hesychius says that constancy in prayer becomes a habit which then turns into a natural state; he also says that without frequent calling on the name of Jesus Christ it is not possible to purify the heart. Venerable Callistus and Ignatius recommended frequent, uninterrupted prayer in the name of Jesus Christ before all actions and good works because constancy can bring even careless prayer to perfection.

And Blessed Diadoch says emphatically that, if man would call on the name of the Lord as frequently as possible, then he would not fall into sin. How full of wisdom and experience these directives of the Fathers are, and how they warm the heart; their simplicity is the result of experience, and they shed light on the ways and methods of perfection. What great contrast there is between their teaching and the moral directives of theoretical reason!

Reason dictates: Do this and that good, arm yourself with manliness, use your will power, let the fruits of virtue persuade you, that is, purify your mind and heart of vain dreams, fill their place with instructive thoughts, do good, and you will be respected and at peace; live as your reason and conscience direct you. But alas! All this reasoning power will not reach its purpose without frequent prayer and its saving help.
 Let us look again at the teachings of the Fathers and see what they say, for example, about the cleansing of the soul. St. John Climacus writes that “when the soul is darkened by impure thoughts, you can overcome them by frequently calling on the name of Jesus. You will not find a more powerful and successful tool than this either in heaven or on earth.”

And St. Gregory says the following: “Know that no man can control his thoughts; therefore when impure thoughts come to the mind, call on the name of Jesus Christ frequently and the thoughts will of themselves quiet down.” What a simple and practical method and born of experience! And what contrast with the theoretical directive, which attempts to reach purity by its own efforts. After considering these directives of the holy Fathers, tried by experience, we come to the conclusion that the primary and most conducive method for performing actions leading to salvation and spiritual perfection is constant, uninterrupted prayer, no matter how weak it is.

O Christian soul! If you do not find in yourself the strength to worship God in spirit and in truth; if your heart does not yet feel the warmth and sweetness of mental interior prayer, then bring to prayer that sacrifice which you can, which is in the power of your will and your strength. Let your lips first become familiar with frequent, uninterrupted prayerful calling; let them constantly, without interruption call on the powerful name of Jesus Christ. This does not require great effort and is possible for everyone.

St. Paul, from his abundant experience, advocates this: “Through him, let us offer God an unending sacrifice of praise, a verbal sacrifice that is offered every time we acknowledge his name” (Heb. 13:15). Constancy in prayer will certainly become a habit and then second nature, and in time it will bring the mind and heart to a wholesome attitude.

Imagine this: if a man would steadfastly observe this one precept of the Lord regarding prayer then by this one he would fulfill all the other precepts; because if he would pray in all places and at all times and in all occupations, if he would secretly call on the divine name of Jesus Christ, even if at the beginning without much fervor so that he had to force himself, he would then not have time for sinful sensual pleasures.
Every sinful thought of his would meet opposition before it had a chance to develop; every sinful act would be considered less attractive than in an empty mind; useless talking would either be diminished or be completely eradicated, and every offense would immediately be purified by grace from the frequent calling on the name of the Lord.

Constant exercise in prayer would draw the soul away from sinful actions and would bring it to essential knowledge and to union with God! Now do you see how important and necessary is constancy in prayer? It is the sole method of acquiring pure and true prayer, the best preparation for it, and the easiest way of reaching the goal in prayer and salvation!

To convince yourself even more of the necessity and fruitfulness of frequent prayer, (1) note carefully that every aspiration, every thought in prayer is the act of the Holy Spirit and the voice of your guardian angel, and (2) that the name of Jesus Christ called on in prayer contains within itself real, self-activating salutary power, and therefore (3) do not be disturbed by the impurity or dryness of your prayer, but with patience await the fruit resulting from frequent calling on the name of the Lord.

Do not listen to the inexperienced, foolish suggestion of the world that though constant such prayer is only so many empty words. No! The power of the name of the Lord, if frequently called on, will bring its fruit in due time! One spiritual writer describes this beautifully. “I know,” he says, “that for many seemingly spiritual but pseudo wise philosophers, seeking false grandeur and actions which seem noble in the eyes of reason and pride, the simple, vocal, and frequent exercise in prayer seems insignificant or useless.

But they are unhappily mistaken in forgetting the precept of Jesus Christ: “I tell you solemnly, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). They fabricate for themselves a knowledge of prayer based on the unstable foundation of natural reason.
Does it require much education, brains, or knowledge to say earnestly, “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me”? Was not this the kind of frequent prayer that the divine Teacher Himself praised? Was it not by such short but frequent words that miracles were performed? Ah, Christian soul! Take courage, and do not cease to call on the name of the Lord!

Even if this cry comes from a heart which is distracted and filled with worldly concerns, do not worry! only continue to recite the Prayer; do not become silent and do not lose your peace, for prayer will purify itself by repetition. Do not ever forget that “you have in you one who is greater than anyone in this world” (1 John 4:4).

“God is greater than our conscience and knows everything,” says the Apostle. And so, after all these convincing reasons why constancy of prayer, despite human weakness, is so very powerful and is surely within the range of man’s ability and his will, decide to experience it at least for one day in the beginning.

Observe the constancy of your prayer so that calling on the name of Jesus Christ will receive more time than any other occupation; and this preference for prayer over worldly concerns will show you in time that this day was not lost but brought you closer to salvation; that on the scales of divine justice frequent prayer outweighs your weaknesses and actions and expiates the sins of that day in the book of life, places you on the path of righteousness, and gives you hope for attaining holiness and life eternal.

From - The Way of a Pilgrim (pp. 134-143). Random House, Inc.