On Private Prayer
Friends, the following are a few words from St John of Kronstadt’s well-known My Life in Christ on private prayer. As many of us struggle with prayer I thought St John’s advice might be helpful.
-With Love in Christ,
The sign of the Lord’s mercy or of that of His most pure Mother to us, after or during prayer, is peace of heart, especially after the action of some passion, whose property is the absence of spiritual peace. By this peace of heart and a kind of holy tenderness of heart we can also easily recognize that our prayer has been heard, and that the grace asked in it has been granted to us. The success of the prayer is also recognized by the spiritual power, which we inwardly obtain for the fulfillment of the duties of our calling, and by the inward light manifestly entering into our soul.
Prayer refreshes and enlivens the soul, as outer air refreshes the body. When praying we feel braver and brighter, similarly as we feel physically and spiritually braver and fresher while walking in the fresh air.
Sometimes during a long-continued prayer only a few minutes are really pleasing to God and constitute true prayer and true service to God. The chief thing in prayer is the nearness of the heart to God, as proved by the sweetness of God’s presence in the soul….
Sometimes we stand praying in church or at home, in a state of spiritual and bodily prostration; then powerless, cold, unfruitful is our soul, like some heathen, unfruitful temple; but as soon as we make an effort, and force our heart to sincere prayer to God, turn our thoughts and heart towards Him with living faith, our soul immediately becomes vivified, warm, and fruitful. What sudden tranquility, what lightness, what emotion, what inward holy fire, what tears for our sins, what a sincere feeling of sorrow that by them we have displeased the Most Merciful Master; what light in the heart and mind, what an abundant stream of living water is diffused in the heart, flowing freely from the tongue, or from the pen and pencil, if we are writing, upon the paper! The wilderness of the soul blossoms like a lily at the coming of the Lord into the heart. Oh, why do we not turn our hearts oftener towards the Lord? How much peace and comfort ever lie concealed in Him for us! “Oh, how great is the multitude of Thy sweetness, which Thou hast hidden for them that fear Thee!”
It is sometimes well during prayer to say a few words of our own, breathing fervent faith and love to the Lord. Yes, let us not always converse with God in the words of others, not always remain children in faith and hope; we must also show our own mind, indite a good matter from our own heart also. Moreover, we grow too much accustomed to the words of others and grow cold in prayer. And how pleasing to the Lord this lisping of our own is, coming directly from a believing, loving, and thankful heart. It is impossible to explain this: it is only needful to say that when you are praying to God with your own words the soul trembles with joy, it becomes wholly inflamed, vivified, and beatified. You will utter few words, but you will experience such blessedness as you would not have obtained from saying the longest and most touching prayers of others pronounced out of habit and insincerely.
Wherever I am, as soon as I raise the eyes of my heart in my affliction to God, the Lover of men immediately answers my faith and prayer, and the sorrow immediately departs. He is at every time and every hour near me, only I do not see it, but I feel it vividly in my heart. Sorrow is the death of the heart, and it is a falling away from God. The expansion, the peace of heart through lively faith in Him, prove more clearly than the day that God is constantly present near me, and that He dwells within me. What intercessor or angel can set us free from our sins or sorrows? None, but God alone. This is from experience.
(Excerpt from A Treasury of Russian Spirituality by GP Fedotov)