The Third Kind of Prayer Requires Seclusion with Setting aside the Cares

Letters of Valaam elder schema-hegumen John (Alexeev). Letter 233.

Schema-hegumen John (Alexeev)


Christ is in our midst.

Most God-loving Elena,

I received your letter and will answer it briefly. I can hardly read your illegible handwriting, it is impossible to decipher it at once.

You are writing, ‘I got into the maelstrom of daily routine and cannot set myself up for the prayer’. It is good to speak in person about prayer, but I am going to write briefly with my own words. The prayer has three names, i.e. oral, noetic and noetic-cordial. The oral prayer is spoken by the tongue aloud, when you are alone; and in silence, when you are in the company of the others. The noetic prayer is said by the mind only. The noetic-cordial prayer is the unity of the mind and the heart; do not strive to it, it is unsuitable to your lifestyle. This kind of prayer needs seclusion, it cannot exist without seclusion and the seclusion also cannot exist without the prayer. It is the seclusion in the full sense of the word that I am talking about, the seclusion with setting aside the cares[1] of this swift-passing temporary life. You have an active life, and, as you have said to me, your attentiveness is in your chest, so be satisfied with that. Do not strive to the high stages, everything is good in its time and in its place. If you enclose you mind in the words of the prayer, then, according to St. John of the Ladder, it is the second stage of the prayer (Step 28, chapter 19).

The Holy Fathers ascribe every good deed to the prayer, therefore exercise it more, and keep your conscience pure towards God, people and things. However, you know all this well, there is only one thing left, to control yourself. You also write that ‘I remember the advice of Fr. Sergius and re-read his letters, but there is not much use, as I do not follow them in my life’. There cannot be much use if you do not want to work and to follow his advice. It cannot be otherwise, oh venerable woman! If you keep asking, reading and speaking about the salvation without labour, there will not be any use. But it is enough writing about it, for only spoken words can express everything.

You will find out more about the visit to our place of Metropolitan Gregory, I will tell you shortly. Valamo Brethren have united after 20 years of separation and joined the Russian Orthodox Church, we were celebrating for three days, and now we glorify the Lord with one voice and one heart. Metropolitan Gregory celebrated at our place with 18 more co-celebrants. The service was solemn.

I call God’s blessing upon you and your mother.

God keep you.

From New Valamo archives

[1] Quotation from the Cherubic Hymn "We, who mystically represent the Cherubim, And chant the thrice-holy hymn to the Life-giving Trinity, Let us set aside the cares of life That we may receive the King of all, Who comes invisibly escorted by the Divine Hosts."

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