The following is an excerpt concerning how to pray from the book “Unseen Warfare”, edited by Nicodemous of the Holy Mountain and revised by Theophan the Recluse. This book is highly recommended as a good choice for Lenten reading as it addresses many aspects of the spiritual life in a manner that is easily understood and implemented.
One should pray not only in words, but also in mind, and not only in mind, but also in the heart, so that the mind sees and understands clearly what is said in words, and the heart feels what the mind thinks. All this yoked together is real prayer, and if something of this is lacking in prayer, it is either imperfect prayer or not prayer at all.
You are sure to have heard these expressions: pray with words, prayer with the mind, prayer with the heart, and maybe you have heard explanations of each of them separately. What is the reason for this division of prayer into its component parts? The reason is that owing to our negligence it sometimes happens that the tongue says the holy words of prayer, while the mind wanders away somewhere: or the mind understands the words of the prayer, but the heart does not respond to them with feeling. In the first case, prayer is merely words, and is not prayer at all; in the second – prayer with words is connected with mental prayer, and this is imperfect, incomplete prayer. Full and real prayer is when praying words and praying thoughts are combined with praying feelings.
How to learn to pray in this way:
- Try to ponder over and feel the prayers you have to read, not at the hour of prayer, but at some other free time. If you do this, then, at the time set for prayer, you will have no difficulty in reproducing in yourself the whole content of the prayer you read. As soon as you begin some prayer, the thoughts and feelings contained in it will at once present themselves to your consciousness, and you will utter the words as though they were your own, born in your own heart and pouring out of it, instead of having been brought into it.
- Having thought about and felt the prayers, take care to learn them by heart. When you have done this, you will carry the prayers in yourself. While they are in the prayer-book they are outside you; but when you have learnt them by heart, they become within you, so that, whatever the circumstances, you will always have your prayer-book with you. Besides, by memorizing the prayers, you engrave the praying thoughts and feelings more deeply in yourself, than if you have merely pondered over and felt their meaning.
- When the time comes for the recital of prayers, do not begin to say them as soon as you have torn yourself from your ordinary occupations, but first prepare yourself: ‘stand for a while in silence, until your feelings calm down’ as the prayerbook teaches and remember what you are about to approach and to perform, who you are, who are about to pray, and Who is he before Whom you are about to recite your prayers, what exactly you are to say and how. Try to sweep all (these worldly impressions) out of your consciousness, so that the work of prayer occupies your whole attention.
- Just before you begin to recite prayers, bring yourself to consciousness and feeling of standing in the presence of God with reverent awe, and bring to life in your heart the faith that God sees and hears you.
- Having brought yourself to this state, say your prayers with the deepest attention, taking every care to make them come from the heart, as though they were your own. Do not let your attention wander off, nor your thoughts slip away. As soon as you notice this happening, bring your thoughts back within, and resume your prayers from the point, at which your attention strayed to something else.
- If while saying prayers, observing this method and attitude, some subject of prayer especially touches your heart, captures your attention as something very akin to your own circumstances, and incites your to pray with your own words, do not let this occasion slip by, but pause and pray in your own words.
- (Having finished your rule) do not at once throw yourself into daily affairs, and never think that, having performed your rule of prayer, you have finished with your duty to God and can now give rein to your thoughts and feelings. For the rest of the day you must also try to keep yourself as during your prayer rule - never forget that you are walking before God. Keeping this in mind, do everything, both great and small, as God wishes it, asking His blessing and turning everything to the glory of His name.