The (Ana) Baptists Are Right! - Syndicated by Atom
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to acquire copies of it and distribute them to Christians, that they might benefit spiritually(Letter 78). It is worth noting that in my meeting with him which I describe in Anchored in God, Father Joseph said to me: 'I suggest strongly that you read The Way of a Pilgrim. This book shows the importance of mental prayer, or prayer of the heart, and the manner in which it is to be practiced. The first part of this work is more valuable than the sequel, which seems to have been added by another author.'It should be made clear, however, that Elder Joseph was not stating that the sequel had no value but rather that he found more value in the first part. In fact, the sections I provide further in the article are to found in the sequel, "The Pilgrim Continues His Way".
The Skhimnik. How one is saved? This godly question naturally arises in the mind of every Christian who realizes the injured and enfeebled nature of man, and what is left of its original urge toward truth and righteousness. Everyone who has even some degree of faith in immortality and recompense in the life to come is involuntarily faced by the thought, "How am I to be saved?" when he turns his eyes toward heaven. When he tries to find a solution to this problem, he inquires of the wise and learned. Then under their guidance he reads edifying books by spiritual writers on this subject, and sets himself unswervingly to follow out the truths and the rules he has heard and read. In all these instructions he finds constantly put before him as necessary conditions of salvation a devout life and heroic struggles with himself which are to issue in decisive denial of self. This is to lead him on to the performance of good works, to the constant fulfillment of God's laws, and thus witness to the unshakableness and firmness of his faith. Further, they preach to him that all these conditions of salvation must necessarily be fulfilled with the deepest humility and in combination with one another. For as all good works depend on one another, so they should support one another, complete and encourage one another, just as the rays of the sun only reveal their strength and kindle a flame when they are focused through a glass on to one point. Otherwise, "He that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much."
In addition to this, to implant in him the strongest conviction of the necessity of this complex and unified virtue, he hears the highest praise bestowed upon the beauty of virtue, he listens to censure of the baseness and misery of vice. All this is imprinted upon his mind by truthful promises either of majestic rewards and happiness or of tormenting punishment and misery in the life to come. Such is the special character of preaching in modern times. Guided in this way, one who ardently wishes for salvation sets off in all joy to carry out what he has learned and to apply to experience all he has heard and read. But alas! even at the first step he finds it impossible to achieve his purpose. He foresees and even finds out by trial that his damaged and enfeebled nature will have the upper hand of the convictions of his mind, that his free will is bound, that his propensities are perverted, that his spiritual strength is but weakness. He naturally goes on to the thought: Is there not to be found some kind of means which will enable him to fulfill that which the law of God requires of him, which Christian devotion demands, and which all those who have found salvation and holiness have carried out? As the result of this and in order to reconcile in himself the demands of reason and conscience with the inadequacy of his strength to fulfill them, he applies once more to the preachers of salvation with the question: How am I to be saved? How is this inability to carry out the conditions of salvation to be justified; and are those who have preached all this that he has learned themselves strong enough to carry it out unswervingly?
Ask God. Pray to God. Pray for His help.
ON THE POWER OF PRAYER
The Skhimnik. Prayer is so powerful, so mighty, that "pray, and do what you like." Prayer will guide you to right and just action. In order to please God nothing more is needed than love. "Love, and do what you will," says the Blessed Augustine, "for he who truly loves cannot wish to do anything which is not pleasing to the one he loves." Since prayer is the outpouring and the activity of love, then one can truly say of it similarly, "Nothing more is needed for salvation than continuous prayer." "Pray, and do what you will," and you will reach the goal of prayer. You will gain enlightenment by it.
To draw out our understanding of this matter in more detail, let us take some examples:
1. "Pray, and think what you will." Your thoughts will be purified by prayer. Prayer will give you enlightenment of mind; it will remove and drive away all ill-judged thoughts. This is asserted by St. Gregory the Sinaite. If you wish to drive away thoughts and purify the mind, his counsel is "drive them away by prayer." For nothing can control thoughts as prayer can. St. John of the Ladder also says about this, "Overcome the foes in your mind by the Name of Jesus. You will find no other weapon than this."
2. "Pray, and do what you will." Your acts will be pleasing to God and useful and salutary to yourself. Frequent prayer, whatever it may be about, does not remain fruitless, because in it is the power of grace, "for whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:21). For example a man who had prayed without success and without devotion was granted through this prayer clearness of understanding and a call to repentance. A pleasure-loving girl prayed on her return home, and the prayer showed her the way to the virgin life and obedience to the teaching of Jesus Christ.
3. "Pray, and do not labor much to conquer your passions by your own strength." Prayer will destroy them in you. "For greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4), says Holy Scripture. And St. John Karpathisky teaches that if you have not the gift of self-control, do not be cast down, but know that God requires of you diligence in prayer and the prayer will save you. The Starets about whom we are told in the Otechnik27 that, when he fell into sin, did not give way to depression, but betook himself to prayer and by it recovered his balance, is a case in point.
4. "Pray, and fear nothing." Fear no misfortunes, fear no disasters. Prayer will protect you and ward them off. Remember St. Peter, who had little faith and was sinking; St. Paul, who prayed in prison; the Monk who was delivered by prayer from the onset of temptation; the girl who was saved from the evil purpose of a soldier as the result of prayer; and similar cases, which illustrate the power, the might, the universality of prayer in the Name of Jesus Christ.
5. Pray somehow or other, only pray always and be disturbed by nothing. Be light in spirit and peaceful. Prayer will arrange everything and teach you. Remember what the Saints-John Chrysostom and Mark the Ascetic-say about the power of prayer. The first declares that prayer, even though it be offered by us who are full of sin, yet cleanses us at once. The latter says, "To pray somehow is within our power, but to pray purely is the gift of grace." So offer to God what it is within your power to offer. Bring to Him at first just quantity (which is within your power), and God will pour upon you strength in your weakness. "Prayer, dry and distracted maybe, but continuous, will establish a habit and become second nature and turn itself into prayer that is pure, luminous, flaming, and worthy."
6. It is to be noted, finally, that if the time of your vigilance in prayer is prolonged, then naturally no time will be left not only for doing sinful actions but even for thinking of them.
Now, do you see what profound thoughts are focused in that wise saying, "Love, and do what you will"; "Pray, and do what you will"? How comforting and consoling is all this for the sinner overwhelmed by his weakness, groaning under the burden of his warring passions.
Prayer-there you have the whole of what is given to us as the universal means of salvation and of the growth of the soul into perfection. Just that. But when prayer is named, a condition is added. Pray without ceasing is the command of God's Word. Consequently, prayer shows its most effective power and fruit when it is offered often, ceaselessly; for frequency of prayer undoubtedly belongs to our will, just as purity, zeal and perfection in prayer are the gifts of grace.
And so we will pray as often as we can; we will consecrate our whole life to prayer, even if it be subject to distractions to begin with. Frequent practice of it will teach us attentiveness. Quantity will certainly lead on to quality. "If you want to learn to do anything whatever well you must do it as often as possible," said an experienced spiritual writer.
27Otechnik. Lives of the Fathers with extracts from their writings.