It is not necessary to mention the many spiritual gifts one receives when talking to spiritual elders. It is self evident… We are talking about treasures whose huge benefit will only be revealed with the passing of time. At times like these, when we demolish rather than build spiritual values, all the more people recognize these assets and do not hesitate to seek spiritual fare derived from the experience of revered hermits. Thus we hear mellifluous words which truly ‘stick’ to the soul, calm and revive it. Nevertheless, whoever truly wishes to find such elders, may find them next to him. ‘Whoever seeks…shall find’… Then it is certain that he will gain a lot… What follows is a story of a disciple who visits his elder in order to receive the benefits from prayer.
Going to my elder’s cell today, I wanted him to speak to me about prayer, which is at the centre of a Christian’s spiritual life.
– ‘Bless me, my elder’.
– ‘May you have the blessing of our Lord Jesus Christ…. Come… We will walk in the forest. Listen to the birds… how nicely they sing…Getting in touch with nature gives a different meaning to one’s life… You get in touch with God’s creation. You feel an immense peace in your heart and you think that the Lord is walking there beside you, just as in the Old Testament, where God was walking with Adam in Paradise. Everything here gives off the fragrance of the Lord’s presence. You may abandon yourself in the peaceful surroundings and begin looking for the Lord inside of you and all around you. You cannot resist praying passionately’.
‘Look how wonderful it is here! Come; let’s sit at this tree trunk. As you can see, I have made a small seat out of this trunk and I often use it to pray to the Lord. This tree is huge. It seems that it is touching the Heavens. I have named this place ‘Gethsemane’ to remind me of the garden where Jesus Christ prayed so fervently before His willing Passion. He was asking His Father to strengthen Him, in order to accomplish His mission on earth. Jesus Christ was always praying to His Father for the salvation of mankind’.
‘Come; free yourself from all your worries. This place is fit for prayer and silence. Wherever you are in the world, you ought to pray so that our Lord strengthens your life with the Holy Spirit. Let’s us pray to our Lord and thank Him for all the goods He has given to us’.
Some time passed… I was feeling utterly peaceful in body and soul. Everything inside me was shouting that this place was holy; that it was God’s place. I felt as if I was in a church. Everything was filled with divine grace. I felt that a kind of supernatural peace was touching everything inside me and outside of me; it was different from the peace of the forest. Our silence was covered by God’s presence.
Indeed how many spiritual gifts was the elder experiencing inside his own silence, having left the world? Indeed he was living in the light of the Lord and I was receiving illuminations from his prayer. I cannot remember how much time had passed… I did not dare break his silence.
He had closed his eyes and his face was perfectly peaceful. It was reflecting calmness, and peace, which was very striking. I tried to copy his posture. I closed my eyes and was reciting the prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, the sinner’.
Some time had passed. The elder nudged me and I opened my eyes. I saw his face illuminated and I experienced something with my entire being which I have never experienced before in my whole life. Then I heard his soft voice:
-‘I can see that you like it here!’
– ‘Elder, I noticed how easy it was for us to concentrate in prayer and abandoning ourselves to it’.
-‘Indeed, I am careful to keep my mind free from any care. When reverence descends on me my mind is forever thinking about the Lord and cannot live without Him. I do not feel right, when I am not praying to the Lord. I feel like the fish out of the water when I am not praying. That’s why I hurry to dive into the spring of prayer as soon as possible, in order to be able to breathe the Lord instead of air. I am craving for the Lord all the time and begging Him not to leave me alone ever. It is wonderful to be able to pray with our entire being and our prayer to be scented with thankfulness and supplication’.
-‘Elder, please, tell me. What is prayer to you?’
-‘A man without prayer, is lifeless. Prayer enables us to be near the Lord. Prayer is a humble deed in the face of the Lord; we are kneeling in front of Him in order to receive His mercy. Unless prayer becomes the centre of our existence, the arrogance of knowledge will carry us away and we will become poorer because divine grace will depart from us. As for me, prayer is the epicenter of my spirituality and I am in awe every time I prepare myself for prayer. I am praying to receive strength from His strength. We ought to be very warm towards the Lord at the time of prayer, since it ought to be regarded as the most important task of our entire lives. No time is more precious to me than the time I stand before the Lord with my eyes closed and wholeheartedly plead for His mercy. This is the time I talk with the Lord and His divine presence is something which my entire existence feels as real. This is the kind of prayer which sets our heart ablaze with divine passion and fills our soul with His wonderful peace; we are abandoning ourselves to a world without end’.
‘The person who prays is the one who hands himself over to the Lord and does not think about anything else but Him. The Lord is everything to him. He has dissociated himself from reasoning and has been attached to the Light of the Lord. The Lord’s Heavens will never open up to receive us unless we learn to pray more. Wishy-washy Christians are described by the insufficient time they devote to prayer. We are pitiful without prayer, even if we are the best orators in the world. With the silence of prayer we say more than with the best sermon. If our sermon is dead, i.e. devoid of prayer, it does not reach peoples’ hearts. If however, enough prayer precedes preaching then not only it will strengthen the speaker but it will also entrust spiritual gifts to the listeners’.
‘See? Many people wish to talk about God while they themselves have not managed to speak to Him. They talk about the Lord without experiencing the Lord’s love inside their hearts. They preach about spirituality without being bearers of the Holy Spirit. They are spiritually dead; their sermons are lifeless and do not touch peoples’ hearts. Never abandon prayer; preserve prayer in your heart if the Lord’s peace is to spread to the others around you…’
-‘Elder why is prayer so important for a Christian’s life?’
-‘My child, prayer ought not to be seen as a habit but as a force which warms your relationship with the Lord, since the Holy Spirit descends on us and rekindles our faith in Him. The more we pray the more we abandon our selfishness and abstain from the temptations of the flesh and from vanity. Strive to become a man of prayer. This is your only source of enlightenment and will enable you to attract the knowledge of God. Do not forget that St Paul was praying day and night; Daniel the prophet was praying three times a day despite his many duties. David the prophet was praying several times especially at night. Similarly Jesus, when He was on earth, He was constantly praying to His Heavenly Father. All Saints have devoted most of their lives to prayer because they knew that it was the strongest weapon in their spiritual life. During prayer, all our senses are concentrating on the Lord and are sanctified through the Grace of the Holy Spirit. You must use every means to increase the duration of your prayer. Do not regard this time as immaterial, because this is an indication that you are lukewarm. The time for prayer should exceed four hours a day. This ought to be your ‘me-time’, inside your room. You should bow when you pray to the Lord. The more prayer increases the more you will feel the divine flame encircle you and you become all on fire. You will live inside God’s Light. Those who pray this long and even more recognize the true value of prayer and will not part from it even for the sake of the whole world. Prayer is so sweet that it charms the mind and the soul’.
-‘Elder, how should I pray?’
-‘You should wake up early and pray to the Lord. The Lord ought to be the first One you will want to meet through your prayer as soon as you wake up. This desire should accompany you for the rest of your life if you wish to become special to the Lord and find favor in His eyes. You ought to look for Him day and night and never hesitate begging Him. You will then feel the freshness of prayer very strongly and you will not wish to part from it. Do you realize my child that these days Christians, as well as priests, do not get results in their everyday tasks because they have lost touch with prayer and are spiritually weak? They all preoccupy themselves with everyone else forgetting the Lord and their minds are forever preoccupied with worldly affairs. Priests have also lost Jesus’ simplicity and humility. The world is spinning away from God because the number of people who pray has decreased. The devil moves everywhere freely and has thousands of followers because people follow him. There are no models of praying people- men and women who will be preoccupied with the task of prayer without any hesitation. Prayer is what creates piousness in people. The devout person turns to prayer and devotes all his might to this task. He teaches people with his life. He wants the Lord to be near him to receive His blessings. We cannot live without prayer if we wish to live like true Christians. Jesus’ prayer creates saints. I beg you, do not be lazy. You ought to pray extensively to the Lord because prayer teaches love, patience, faith, goodness, silence, politeness and so many other virtues. Can you see how great the results of prayer for mankind are? Reduce your other duties and practice prayer. Do not find excuses to reduce the time of prayer because this comes from the devil. He finds myriad ways to prevent you from praying. You ought to prove how brave you are in this task. You will gain a lot spiritually. Become a man of God with your prayer. Very soon you will be transformed; at the same time you will be able to help many others who experience your way of life’.
-‘Elder, is it possible for those who live in the world to pray so much?’
-‘Yes, my blessed child, it is. As soon as we succeed loving the Lord with all our heart, everything becomes easy in our lives. We ought to live in order to pray and work for the Lord. We must not pay attention to secular matters but feel the strength of God’s love through our prayer. We ought to be captivated by prayer if we are to shine in our everyday lives. Its spiritual might removes every obstacle in our path, since prayer works for our salvation and for the salvation of those for whom we pray. Prayer works best when we practice it inside our heart. Love Jesus with your heart. When you pray give Him more love. Do not forget that God is love and communicates through love. The more you love Him, the more your heart opens up to Him and He blesses you. Try to show your love with your heart and not your brain. The Lord says: ‘Give me your heart’. The heart may cry but not the brain. Do not use your brain when you pray but your heart; the tears of your heart will reveal your love for Jesus. He, Himself cried during praying and His tears became like drops of blood; man cannot easily imitate this kind of prayer. You ought to try to entice your mind inside your heart before you start praying. You ought to prepare for this with total concentration and your mind ought to turn towards the Crucified Jesus. Ask for His mercy like the thief. Humiliate yourself with your prayer. Cry. Set your heart ablaze with love for the Lord. Crash your heart. Feel how wretched you are. Acquire spiritual zeal. Do not cease praying unless you have tears in your eyes. Then your heart will be flooded with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Know that the Lord is glorified and worshipped by His holy angels through pure prayer. Pure prayer is spiritual and not fleshly. How many people pray routinely, without love! Such prayers are not acceptable to the Lord’.
-‘Elder, what must we do to acquire pure and fervent prayer?’
-‘My child, pure prayer needs self denial. He who wishes to really pray ought to relinquish a lot of things surrounding him and replenish himself with God. He ought to abandon worldly affairs and anything which tarnishes his mind and soul. Fervent prayer only loves the Lord and detests anything else. It becomes a man’s breath. He regards the lack of prayer as damaging because he sees his soul wither without it. The soul weakens without the Lord’s strength and becomes lazy for spiritual matters. That’s why I insist that you ought to pray even more, in order to feel this strength inside you. You ought to devote more time for praying and get up early in the morning for it. Do not be in a hurry but devote this time to the Lord. You ought to be calm when you pray. You must devote a lot of time, several times a day, to practice careful praying. Learn that he who prays while still young and has cleansed his mind, receives many blessings from the Lord; the spiritual world opens up to him to such an extent that human reason cannot comprehend. He constantly lives inside the Lord and he is given spiritual authority to save lives, even those in Hell. His prayer is very effective and possesses divine power which destroys the demonic designs. He comes to know the spiritual state of other people and is informed about anything that is bothering him. But the most important fact is that the Lord is constantly talking to him and tells him anything relevant to his spiritual condition and reveals to him where he will be in Heaven. He is given divine protection which teaches him how to guard himself in order to advance spiritually and is told about his spiritual condition and how pleased the Lord is with him. He lives in a spiritual world which has nothing to do with the world as we know it. His spiritual state extends to territories blessed by the Lord. The Lord shows him Paradise and Hell and how one is pleased in Paradise and suffers in Hell. His prayer is pure; the Lord wishes him to pray even more because this prayer saves many people. He sometimes becomes the Lord’s counselor for human decisions. He pleases the Lord because the Lord loves him a lot and he loves the Lord a lot. His prayer attracts the angels and archangels who serve him; he tastes the fragrance of Paradise and of the heavenly realms’.
‘My blessed child, do not abandon prayer but seek it with all your might, body and soul. Learn how to pray with your heart so that you are set ablaze by the Holy Spirit. Come! Let’s pray to the Lord with our heart and let’s leave our soul to His divine bosom, so that He can protect us from all evil and sweeten us with His divine presence… Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us!’
Translated into English by: Olga Konnaris-Kokkinos