A Warning to Those Wishing to Practice Noetic (Mental) Prayer

Venerable elder Macarius of Optina. "A warning to those reading spiritual books of the holy fathers and wishing to practice the noetic Jesus prayer".

St. Macarius of Optina.

This “Warning” was compiled about a century and a half ago by the venerable Optina Elder Macarius (Ivanov). It is addressed to those who wish to practice the noetic Jesus Prayer, but who do not have expert mentors and guides.

However, the creation of the elder Macarius can be equally addressed to all Christians - as advice not to look for high spiritual gifts and conditions in themselves, but to humbly walk by the way of the fulfillment of Christ's commandments, relying on God's will in everything. Citing the testimonies of the great ascetic fathers, the elder convinces: an untimely desire for a "high", "contemplative" life is fraught with delusion, and often not only mental, but also physical death.

At the same time, the venerable Macarius, who himself had experienced the path of noetic prayer, in no way seeks to avert contemporary monks and pious laymen from salvation and the prayer in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ commanded by the holy fathers. He only asserts: the measure for a novice is an oral prayer, not accompanied by any “artistic means”, information about which is contained in patristic works.

A contemporary of the elder Macarius - Saint Ignatius (Brianchaninov) writes very clearly about this in his instructions about Jesus prayer: “Novices should keep the most reverent attention while practicing the Jesus prayer, concentrate the mind on the words of the prayer. (...) Here is my command to you (the novice): do not seek the place of the heart. Do not try in vain to explain to yourself what is meant by the place of the heart; the experience will explain it satisfactorily (in due time). If God wants to give you this knowledge, He will give it when the due time comes. Practice exclusively the prayer of repentance with all diligence; try to perform penance by the prayer” [1].

The venerable Macarius also explains what mental order it is necessary to have while practicing the Jesus prayer, what should be the active life of a Christian, and what kind of spiritual fruits should be aspired by the one praying in the name of Christ. We believe that the “Warning” of the Optina elder will be useful to modern Christians who strive to lead a spiritual life, will help to avoid various schemes of the enemy of the human race and not become a victim of delusion or incorrect “opinion” about themselves.

A warning to those reading spiritual books of the holy fathers and wishing to practice the noetic Jesus prayer

There were two reasons for writing this warning.

The first and the main reason was explained by the translator of the patristic writings from Hellenic to Slavic, an experienced man of prayer, Moldavian elder Paisius Velichkovsky in his letter to Elder Theodosius, archimandrite of the St. Sophronius Hermitage, where he writes:

“I spiritually inform your sanctity that the publication of patristic books in both Greek and Slavic languages fills me with joy and fear. Joy - because they will no longer be completely forgotten, and those who are zealous of their salvation will be able to acquire them more freely. Fear - because I fear and tremble that these books can be offered not only to monks, but to lay people - like any other book available for sale. They (lay people) may become victims of delusion, when undertaking the practice of prayer on their own, without the instructions of those skilled and experienced in the mental prayer. And this delusion may result in an unreasonable denigration of this holy and immaculate practice, testified by many great holy fathers. "

(Having presented an example of occurred denigration of prayer, the elder continues):

“I fear and tremble at something that I have already said before: let not the delusion come over those willfully practicing the noetic prayer, let it not be followed by denigration, and let not the denigration cause doubting the truth of the teachings of our God-bearing fathers.

That is why the God-bearing fathers believe that this (Jesus) prayer, the beginning and foundation of it are in true, genuine obedience. Obedience results in humility. And it keeps the practitioner of the prayer from all sorts of delusion, threatening those who pass this way on their own accord. And how is it possible without obedience, guided only by one’s own mind - it will inevitably lead to delusion, such a terrible and awful thing, that is, this prayer, without any instruction to force oneself and avoid the various delusions of enemies against this prayer and those praying with it? It is by no means possible”[2].

Another reason for the warning was a manuscript of an unknown writer, which explains various prayer actions and spiritual comforts enjoyed by the Siberian elder Basil. In this manuscript, the writer made an urge to everyone to practice noetic and heart prayers, setting the search for high gifts and spiritual comforts as his main goal in this practice, which can lead to very dangerous consequences with regard to the delusion of the enemy. Although this manuscript is still in few hands and is rare, it is impossible to remain silent about it; it is written convincingly; evidences are taken from patristic books; and the dangerous side of this subject is ignored, so a person who is not completely aware of the teachings of the Holy Fathers can easily be carried away by such conviction, and especially who didn’t happen to see or hear from others about those who were mentally damaged through such a thing. To clarify the truth, let us look at the testimonies of the holy and God-bearing fathers whether the mental Jesus prayer is accessible to many people and whether it is correct and safe to seek for spiritual gifts and comforts with this practice.

Taking into consideration all the teachings of the Holy Fathers, it is clear that those who practice the Jesus prayer in the right and lawful way are sometimes truly blessed by the Lord with great spiritual gifts and revelations of the secrets, and various spiritual comforts, the grace of God providentially acted in the souls of humble and worthy men of prayer; but very few achieve this.

Saint Isaac the Syrian says: Just as there is hardly one out of many thousands who has fulfilled the commandments and everything stipulated by law with a slight flaw and attained spiritual purity, so there is only one out of thousand (of those who have practiced the Jesus prayer) who has been able, with great care, to attain pure prayer, to pass through this limit and accept this sacrament, because many could not attain pure prayer at all; very rarely people were granted this; but he who has attained that sacrament, which is already beyond this prayer, hardly, by the grace of God, is found from generation to generation [3].

From these words of St. Isaac, it is clear that “if according to the presented belief, everyone will take up the practice of the mental prayer with the goal of attaining high gifts and spiritual comforts, then many will inevitably fall into one of two extremes: or they will be caught in the delusion of false sensations and seductive dreams, or will not achieve any success, will be recklessly embarrassed, because the highest spiritual prayer, according to the word of St. Isaac the Syrian, is made by one from countless people”[4].

The holy and God-bearing fathers wrote about the great spiritual gifts, not so that everyone would recklessly strive to receive them, but so that those without them, hearing about such high gifts and revelations received by the worthy, would recognize their profound weakness and great deficiency, and involuntarily come to humility, which more than all deeds and virtues is needed for the seeker of salvation.

Saint John of the Ladder writes: “As the wretched, seeing the royal treasures, even more know their poverty: so the soul, reading the stories of the great virtues of holy fathers, becomes more humble in its thoughts” [5].

And in another place this saint says: “To admire the labours of the saints is good; to emulate them wins salvation; but to wish suddenly to imitate their life in every point is unreasonable and impossible” [6].

And St. Isaac the Syrian said: “If you say that some fathers wrote about what spiritual purity is, what is health, what is passionlessness, what is vision: then they did not write so that we could aspire to it ahead of time; for it is written that the kingdom of God cometh not with observation1) (Luke 17:20). And who appeared to have such an intention, they acquired pride and fall. And we will restore order in the region of the heart by works of repentance and God-pleasing life; but the Lord comes Himself if the place in the heart is clean and not defiled. What we seek "with observation," I mean God's high gifts, is rejected by the Church of God; and those who received it gained pride and fall. And this is not a sign that a person loves God, but a disease of the soul. And how can we solicit God's high gifts when the divine Paul boasts of sorrows and considers participation in the sufferings of Christ as the God's high gift” [7] (that is, endurance of sorrows and sufferings).

It is also said in another work of St. Isaac: “Every person who before completing the training in the first part (that is, active), goes over to this second (that is, mental), attracted by its sweetness, not to mention his own laziness, faces anger (of God) for not having mortified “his members which are upon the earth” (Col. 3:5), that is, he have not healed the weaknesses of thoughts by patient mortification of the cross, but he dares to dream of glory of the cross in his mind. (...) Whose mind is defiled by shameful passions, and who hastens to fill his mind with dreamy thoughts, his mouth is closed as punishment for not having cleansed the mind by sorrows and not having overcome carnal lust, but relying on what the ear heard and what is written in ink, he rushed straight ahead, to take a path full of darkness, when he himself is blind with his eyes. For those who have healthy eyesight, are full of light and have gained the guides of grace, are in danger day and night, while their eyes are full of tears, and in prayer and weeping they continue their devotion all day, even night due to the horrors that await them along the way and the terrible hindrances they encounter and images of truth that turn out to be mixed with the deceiving ghosts of it. They say: "What is from God comes by itself, but you will not feel it." This is true, but only if the place is clean, not defiled. If the apple of your soul’s eye is unclean, then do not dare to look at the orb of the sun (thought), so as not to lose this small ray, that is, simple faith, humility, and heartfelt confession, and small things you can do, and not to be cast into a single area of spiritual beings, which is outer darkness, that which is outside of God and is a likeness of hell, as was cast out the one who was not ashamed to come to marriage in dirty garments” [8].

Here St. Isaac clearly showed that those who seek for spiritual sweet feelings with aspirations in prayer, and especially seek prematurely to see and contemplate the spiritual, fall into the delusion of the enemy and into the realm of darkness and obscurity of mind, God's help abandons them to be derided by demons because of the proud search beyond measure and worthiness.

After a miserable story of Malpat and Asin deceived by the devil, Saint Isaac says: “I have not said this here in vain, but for us to know the derision of demons longing to kill the saints, and not to aspire prematurely for the heights of mental life (mental visions - note), otherwise, we will be derided by our cunning adversary: for even now I see that young men full of passions fearlessly engage in idle talk and teach about the secrets of dispassion."

Regarding the people who are full of passions, but dare to examine the relations between corporeal and incorporeal, and resemble patients who teach about health, one of the saints says: “Blessed Paul, when he learned about disciples who neglected the commandments and had not overcome passions, but aspired to bliss in contemplation of secrets that can be achieved after the purification, said to them: first put off the old man of passions, and then desire to put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge of secrets after the image of the Creator (Col. 3: 9-10), and do not desire for my vision and the one of the other Apostles, actually accomplished by grace; because God “hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth” (Rom. 9:18). For whoever opposes His face, or opposes His will? God sometimes gives for nothing; sometimes deeds and purification are required, and then He sends the gift; and sometimes even after deeds and purification, He does not give here, but everything is kept in order to grant contemplation in its place ”[9].

Saint Gregory of Sinai, a zealous teacher of the noetic prayer, writes in the chapters on silence: “Demons usually spread networks of thoughts and destructive dreams near and close to novices and willful ones and prepare ditches to fall, since their city is still under the control of barbarians. And there is nothing to be amazed at if one of them is lost, or has gone out of his mind, or has accepted and is accepting a delusion. (...)

There is nothing strange in the fact that novices are mistaken even after many labors. (...) The memory of God, or the mental prayer, is above all works; but one who shamelessly and boldly desires to come to God and confess Him purely, and tries to get Him into himself conveniently will be killed by demons, if he is allowed to do so. (...) The merciful Lord, seeing how quickly we want to go high, often does not allow us to fall into temptation, so that everyone, recognizing his own arrogance, will turn to real action on his own before receiving disparagement and derision from demons, and weeping from people. (...) Because it is always for the strong and the perfect ones to fight with demons alone, and constantly raise the sword of the Spirit against them, “which is the word of God” (Eph.6:17); the weak and novices use, like stronghold, flight, with reverence and fear, refusing the confrontation and not daring to enter into it prematurely, and thus avoid death (of soul)” [10].

This saint also says that not everyone should and can be taught how to practice the mental prayer, as it is written in his 15 chapters.

“Those who do not sing psalms at all also do well, if they succeed. They do not need to sing psalms, but should remain in silence, unceasing prayer and contemplation, if they have reached enlightenment. For they are united with God and should not distract their mind from Him, and cast it into embarrassment (or into a crowd of thoughts). (...) It is not possible to teach everybody this order (that is, the unceasing Jesus prayer). It can be taught to obedient novices [11], simpletons and illiterates; because obedience is capable of all virtue for the sake of humility. This science is not taught to disobedient, whether they are simpletons or scientists, so as they do not fall into delusion; for the self-righteous cannot escape self-conceit, which is usually accompanied by delusion, as St. Isaac says. Some, not thinking of the harm that may be caused, teach anyone to keep the memory of God (that is, the Jesus prayer) by their own efforts, so that the mind can get accustomed to this memory and love it, which is impossible, especially for those who are used to live according to their own order. For since their minds are unclean because of negligence and arrogance and are not cleansed with tears, they see shameful images of thoughts more than prayer, while unclean spirits nesting in their hearts, disturbed by the terrible name (of God), gnash, wishing to destroy the offender" [12].

Moreover, we should know that the mental prayer requires quite great attention, deed and labor. For those who want to do this in their mind, Saint Symeon the New Theologian prescribes the following: “After (establishing in the heart) perfect obedience, which, as we said, you should have towards your spiritual father, and do all your other work with a clear conscience, as you would do it in the presence of God: for without obedience, it is impossible to have a clear conscience. You must keep your conscience pure in three ways: in relation to God, in relation to your spiritual father and in relation to other people, as well as to the things and objects of the world (worldly).

In relation to God, you have a duty to keep your conscience clear, not allowing yourself to do anything that you know that it does not reassure God and is unpleasant to Him.

In relation to your spiritual father, do only what he commands you, and do not allow yourself to do anything more or less, but act according to his intention and his will.

In relation to other people, keep your conscience clean, not allowing yourself to do anything to them that you yourself hate and do not want them to do to you.

And in relation to things, you have a duty to keep your conscience clean, always using them as you should, namely food, drink, clothes.

And in short, do everything as if you were before God, and in no matter do not allow yourself to act in such a way that your conscience accuses and reproves you that you did not do it well” [13].

Who has the opportunity and the will to live according to this instruction of St. Symeon the Theologian, he, undoubtedly, with humility and hope for the help of God, can start learning the practice of the prayer of the heart, using other counsel from the holy fathers in this way, that is, combining the prayer with the memory of death, the memory of his former life and the memory of his sins in appearance (except carnal, it is not recommended to remember them), and by all these means he will obtain and keep the contrition of the spirit and humility, and tears, “for we struggle with proud demons” [14], says St. Philotheus of Sinai. This practitioner must also bear in mind the true purpose of the prayer, and not the one presented by the mentioned writer, that is, the search for spiritual gifts and comforts. Verily, the righteous ascetics did not seek gifts, but, on the contrary, some of them prayed to God that the given gifts would be taken away from them. “If some of them,” says St. Isaac the Syrian, “received gifts, then they received them out of necessity (for the common good) or in their simplicity” [15].

Venerable Callistus and Ignatius write: “Do not look ahead of time for what will be in its time” [16]. And in another place, these saints, citing testimony from the book of St. Isaac about the Divine manifestation in us and substantial graceful enlightenment, warn the inexperienced, saying the following:

“This is Jerusalem and the kingdom of God hidden within us, according to the word of the Lord (Luke 17:21). This area is a cloud of God's glory, through which only the pure in heart will see the face of their Lord. Only he himself shall not seek the appearance of God in himself, so as not to accept the one who truly is darkness - and falsely pretends to be light” [17].

What is the true purpose of prayer? Saint Cassian the Roman, in a letter to Leontin the hegumen, writing about his conversation with Abba Moses, says that this saint considers the purity of heart, that is cleansing it of passions, to be the purpose of the spiritual life.

How is this goal achieved?

By keeping the commandments of God; and through this, when anyone puts off the old man, that is, passions, he is granted pure and spiritual prayer, according to what was said by St. Isaac the Syrian: “The person is granted it (i.e., the spiritual prayer), when by keeping the commandments of the Lord that oppose sin, both internally and outwardly escapes sin. Whoever loves these commandments and uses them at their best, for him it will become necessary to free oneself from many human affairs, that is, to get rid of the body and be outside of it, so to speak, not by nature, but by need. Whoever leads his life following the Lawgiver (that is, after his example), and is guided by His commandments, it is impossible for the sin to remain in him. Therefore, the Lord promised in the Gospel to make the abode with the one who kept the commandments” (John 14:23) [18].

We read in the book of Seven Opuscula (Works) by Macarius of Egypt: “And if someone, not having the prayer, compels himself only to pray to receive the grace-filled prayer, but does not compel himself to humility, love, and fulfillment of other Lord’s commandments, then sometimes, on his request, the grace-filled prayer is given to him, even partly in repose and joy, but he has the same temper as before. For he has no meekness, because he has not searched for it with labours, and has not prepared himself to be meek; he does not have humility, because he has not asked and has not forced himself to this; he does not have love for everyone, because he has not cared about it, and has not searched for this hard in his prayers. For everyone who is forcing and compelling himself, even against the desire of his heart, to prayer, must also compel himself to love, and meekness, and to all patience, and generosity, as written, with joy; (...) and in the same way, one must force oneself to be humiliated, to consider oneself as the worst and lowest of all” [19].

In the same book and in that work it is also said that such is always close to a fall: “If someone compels himself to prayer until he receives gifts from God, but does not force and compel himself to other virtues, that is, to humility, to love, to meekness, to the same extent, sometimes God's grace comes to him through his praying and asking; because God is generous and merciful, and to those who ask Him he gives what is requested. But, without having prepared and accustomed himself to the above virtues, either he loses grace, or he accepts and falls, or does not succeed due to arrogance; because he does not give himself to the commandments of the Lord with a good will. The abode or repose of the Spirit is humility, love, meekness and other commandments of the Lord” [20].

And again this saint says: “If humility and love, simplicity and goodness are not closely connected with the prayer in us, then the prayer itself, it is better to say, this mask of prayer, can do us very little good” [21].

The aforementioned author, convincing to practice the mental prayer, takes into consideration the mental organization and lifestyle of selected ascetics only who have already cleansed themselves of passions, but he says nothing of how the spiritual struggle with passions is conducted through prayer in the beginning. The foreword to the book of St. Nilus of Sora said: "Put on one side the commandments of Christ, on the other - the unceasing prayer: "... forgive us our debts." And take an immutable rule: do not violate a single commandment. That is: not to indulge in lust, not to be angry, not to condemn, not to slander, not to lie, not to engage in idle talk, love enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who do evil; also - to refrain from voluptuousness, greed, fornication, despondency, vanity and contempt, and just all the sins and thoughts of evil. And with that, start learning the mental prayer, paying careful attention to how many times each day, regardless of the accepted rule, you break the commandments, what sins, passions and evil thoughts attack you” [22].

This extract, firstly, shows how the mental prayer should be associated with the keeping of the commandments of God, about which the mentioned writer does not affirmatively say anywhere, but only narrates little at the end of his epistle. Secondly, it shows that the man of prayer does not immediately enjoy the desired fruits, although the mentioned persuader promises quick success in this. It can be seen from the teachings of the Holy Fathers that it takes not only much labour, but also time to learn the practice of the mental prayer. St. John Chrysostom writes: “This is not a matter of one or two days, but many years and a long time, and endeavor, and considerable work is necessary before the enemy is cast out and Christ is settled” [23].

The works of venerable Hesychius and Nikephoros the monk present many details like how to begin the learning of the mental prayer; but those who have not yet experienced it should mainly adhere to the instructions of the venerable Callistus and Ignatius, because they gradually set out a guide to practice the mental prayer with many preparations before it. Firstly, these saints say that the beginning of all work according to God’s will is to live according to the commandments of the Savior and that those who want to live according to God’s will should strive to fulfill all the commandments of God, especially to keep peace with their neighbors and have love for everyone. They further write that, first of all, one must choose a spiritual guide and have perfect obedience to him and cut off one’s own will before him. Having presented the signs of true obedience, they also explain that this practitioner, besides the Orthodox faith, should be full of good deeds, avoid rumor and confusion, despondency and care, be silent and speechless, and thank God for everything; to know one’s weakness, and to endure temptation with virtue, with hope in God and expectation of spiritual benefit from Him; during the changes that take place, do not despair, but with faith and patience expect a change for the better, and especially plunge into the depths of humility, sincerely considering yourself to be the most sinful and indecent than all people, because humility covers many of our weaknesses and propitiates God for us more than other virtues. Besides, these venerable fathers advise to be careful about spiritual comforts. They also wrote a chapter on Divine and false consolation, which exposed the appearance of how a cunning enemy maliciously and subtly tries to seduce with false comforts not only inexperienced, but also skillful ascetics, cast them into some subtlest sleep so that they cannot distinguish between false consolations and true ones. The main sign of the delusion lies in the fact that a person accepts false sensations of joy or comfort from the enemy as given by the grace, or accepts false advice as true. Why, in order to avoid harm, these saints advise, in this case, to ask advice from the man who can teach not only from the Divine Scripture, but also from the Divine enlightenment he experienced himself. If there is no such man, then it is better not to accept consolation, but to resort to God with humility from a pure heart, considering oneself to be unworthy of such dignity and vision.

Although Paul the Apostle, among other fruits, also mentions joy (Gal. 5:22), one must be very careful not to get carried away by a false sense of joy, as Saint John Climacus writes about this: “Drive away with the hand of humility every transitory joy, as being unworthy of it, lest by readily admitting it you receive a wolf instead of a shepherd” [24]. True and imperishable joy, as can be seen from the very list of the spiritual fruits by the Apostle, belongs to a great spiritual measure. Like the gifts of the Holy Spirit begin from the lesser, that is, from the fear of God, and ascend gradually; in the same way, the spiritual fruits begin not with higher, but with lower, that is, temperance in everything and meekness, which will be followed by living faith, gentleness to one's neighbor; then the goodness spoken of by the Prophet Habakkuk and St. Isaac the Syrian: “The eye of good does not see evil” [25]. Further, longsuffering in sorrows and temptations, internal and external, and the peace from thoughts and all passion. If someone combines his prayer with these virtues, which are called fruits by the Apostle, and attains spiritual joy in due time, he can enjoy it worthily and righteously, being filled with humility and love, which, according to the Apostle, “never ceases” (1 Cor. 13: 8).

By the way, let's talk about delusion in general; St. Gregory of Sinai writes: “But if you keep silence hoping to be with God, never accept it, if you see something sensual or spiritual, inside or outside, even if it was the image of Christ, or an Angel, or a saint, or if the light would dream or appear in the mind. The mind, in itself, has the natural power to dream and can easily build illusive images of what it longs for, for those who do not heed this dangerous thing, and thus do harm to themselves. (...) Then take heed that you won’t believe anything or be carried away by that, even if it was something good, before asking the experienced ones and completing investigation of the case, so as not to suffer harm; but be always unsatisfied with that, keeping your mind from colors and images. Often, what was sent by God as a test to grant the crown turned to harm for many. Our Lord wants to test our arbitrary will, where it goes. But having seen something with mind or senses and accepting something without asking experienced ones, he is easily seduced - although it is from God, - or has to be seduced, as he is quick to accept thoughts. God does not resent the one, who carefully takes heed of himself if, out of fear of seduction, he does not accept what is from Him, without questioning and due testing, but more often praises him as wise. Because it is considerable work to comprehend the truth clearly and be pure from what is contrary to grace; since it is the devil’s habit, especially for the novices, to present his delusion under the guise of truth, passing his evil off as the spiritual” [26]. And the work of Symeon the New Theologian said: “On this path, those who see the light with their bodily eyes, smell incense with their nose, hear voices with their ears, and the like are deluded. Some of them rave about and go from place to place like a madman. Others were seduced by accepting the devil, who appeared to them in the form of an angel of light, but they did not detect it, and remained incorrigible to the end, not wishing to hear advice from any brother. Some of them took their own lives, being moved by the devil; others rushed into the abyss; others strangled themselves. And who can retell the various forms of delusion, with which the devil seduces them, when they are innumerable?” [27].

This delusion especially affects those who, without cleansing themselves of passions, raise their minds to heaven and imagine the heavenly goods and the ranks of Angels, etc., as it is written by Symeon the New Theologian in the same chapter above: “When someone standing in prayer and raising his hands to heaven and his eyes, and his mind, holds divine thoughts in his mind, imagines the blessings of heaven, the ranks of the angels and the abode of the saints, and briefly all that is heard in the Divine Scriptures, collects it in his mind, and discusses it then - during the prayer, looking at heaven, and thus moves his soul to longing for love of God, and sometimes even has tears and weeps. At the same time, little by little (one who prays like that) begins to boast in his heart, without realizing it; it seems to him that what he does is from the grace of God to comfort him, and he prays to God to make him always abide in such a work. And this is a sign of delusion: for good is no longer good when it does not happen in a good way and in the way it should happen” [28].

What does it mean when it does not happen in a good way and as it should be? Saint Symeon in his response gives a testimony from the book of the Saint Climacus, which likens images of attention and prayer to the ladder of the four degrees, and says: "Some tame passions and humble themselves; others sing, that is, pray orally; others practice the mental prayer; others ascend to contemplation... Those, - continues St. Symeon, - who undertake to ascend these steps, do not begin from the upper, to descend to the lower, and from the lower go to the upper, - they step on the first, then on the second, then on the third and finally on the fourth. And, firstly, you need to work on your mind and tame passions, and secondly, practice singing of psalms, that is, pray orally, because when passions are weakened, then prayer naturally gives pleasure and sweetness even to the tongue and is considered to be pleasing to God, thirdly, pray in your mind, and fourthly, ascend to contemplation. He who goes through all this in order, each step in its own time, can, after his heart is cleansed of passions, completely go into singing of psalms, and struggle with thoughts, and look up at heaven with sensual eyes or behold it with the spiritual eyes of the soul, and to pray purely truly, as appropriate” [29].

All these testimonies from the teachings of the holy and God-bearing fathers were written out for the benefit of my neighbors and to warn the inexperienced and weak ones, so that they would not rashly and insolently strive beyond their measure to practice the mental prayer, and then would not fall into the delusion of the enemy to receive derision from demons, and weeping from people, as stated above. But it has by no means been written in order to deter and prevent anyone from this practice, who wants to do it according to the teaching of the holy fathers. We rejoice in those who can reasonably and worthily unite with the Lord through this blessed work; those who have not achieved this and who are in need of completing this work, we advise to read themselves the patristic books with due attention, that they may know the truth and the delusion, and the schemes of the enemy, and will keep themselves from undertakings beyond their measure.

It is proper and useful for many to remember the word of St. Isaac the Syrian, who advises to use the way of prayer in accordance with the way of his life and, accordingly, the mental organization, saying: “Your prayer must be consistent with your life” [30]. And in another place: “It is difficult to teach something high to novices and infants by their age (spiritual)” [31]. Even the apostle also commanded first to pray with the oral prayer, as it is written in the epistle to the Hebrews: “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb.13:15).

Also, the venerable Peter of Damascus teaches first to go through an active prayer, explaining that the mental one is granted by the grace of God afterwards, not by the will of the man, but by the will of God, when his heart and mind are considered to be able to accommodate it, as it is said in his second book: “giving the prayer to the one who prays” (Kings 2, 9), that is: God gives the mental prayer to those who pray orally well, and to those who carefully stay in it — without images, from the pure fear of God. And again, for those who do this well, God gives the knowledge of creations and from it, the mind ascends to Theology and the good action of the future, God grants to one who will “be still” (Ps. 45:11) and learns this by word and deed, and not only by hearing” [32].

[1] Seeker of unceasing prayer. The instruction of St. Ignatius on the Jesus prayer for beginners (Искатель непрестанной молитвы. Наставление Св. Игнатия о молитве Иисусовой для новоначальных). - The publication of the Brotherhood “Burning bush” («Неопалимая купина») with the participation of the “Temple” («Храм») publishing house - M, 1991.

[2] The letter of the venerable elder Paisius was cited by us in the modern Russian translation: the original language might not be equally understood by everybody. (This letter was printed in the book of the life and writings of elder Paisius in the first edition of 1847, on pages 265, 266, 267. – Note of the venerable elder Macarius.)

[3] Abba Isaac the Syrian “Ascetic Words”, Word 16. - “The Rule of Faith” («Правило веры») Publishing House M., 1993.

[4] Ibid., Word 21.

[5] Venerable John, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 26, ch. 211. SPb. 1995.

[6] Ibid., Word 4, ch. 42.

[7] Abba Isaac the Syrian “Ascetic Words”, Word 55. - “The Rule of Faith” («Правило веры») Publishing House М., 1993.

[8] Abba Isaac the Syrian “Ascetic Words”, Word 2. - “The Rule of Faith” («Правило веры») Publishing House М., 1993.

[9] Abba Isaac the Syrian “Ascetic Words”, Word 55. - “The Rule of Faith” («Правило веры») Publishing House М., 1993.

[10] “Philokalia”, v. 5. Chapters of St. Gregory of Sinai. “Instruction for Those Who Keep Silence” ch. 7. - Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. Sergiyev Posad, 1993.

[11] Who are called so not according to the custom, but who are in obedience to their spiritual father, cutting off of their will. – Note of the venerable elder Macarius.

[12] “Philokalia”, v. 5. The chapters of St. Gregory of Sinai. “On Prayer and Silence”, ch. 8. - Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. Sergiyev Posad, 1993.

[13] Ven. Symeon the New Theologian. “Works”, vol. 2, word 68. - Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. Sergiyev Posad, 1993.

[14] “Philokalia”, v. 3. The chapters of St. Philotheus of Sinai, “On Sobriety”, ch. 13. Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. Sergiyev Posad, 1993.

[15] Abba Isaac the Syrian “Ascetic Words”, Word 36. - “The Rule of Faith” («Правило веры») Publishing House М., 1993.

[16] “Philokalia”, v. 5. chapters of Callistus the Patriarch and his associate Ignatius of Xanthopoulos, ch. 59. - Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. Sergiyev Posad, 1993.

[17] Ibid., Ch. 60.

[18] Abba Isaac the Syrian “Ascetic Words”, Word 21. - “The Rule of Faith” («Правило веры») Publishing House М., 1993.

[19] Ven. Macarius of Egypt. “The Seven Opuscula (Words)”, Word 13. - “Spiritual Conversations” («Духовные беседы») - Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. Sergiyev Posad, 1994.

[20] Ibid., Ch. 14.

[21] Ven. Macarius of Egypt. “The Seven Opuscula (Words)”, Word 3, ch. 5. - “Spiritual Conversations” («Духовные беседы») - Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. Sergiyev Posad, 1994.

[22] These words of the venerable Nilus of Sora are given here in translation into modern Russian.

[23] These words are from "The Word to the Monks" of St. John Chrysostom are also given here in translation into modern Russian.

[24] The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Word 7, ch. 57. - St. Petersburg. 1995.

[25] Abba Isaac the Syrian “Ascetic Words”, Word 21. - “The Rule of Faith” («Правило веры») Publishing House М., 1993.

[26] “Philokalia”, v. 5. Chapters of St. Gregory of Sinai. “Instruction for Those Who Keep Silence”, ch. 7. - Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. Sergiyev Posad, 1993.

[27] Ven. Symeon the New Theologian. “Works”, vol. 2, word 68. - Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. Sergiyev Posad, 1993.

[28] Ven. Symeon the New Theologian. “Works”, vol. 2, word 68. - Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. Sergiyev Posad, 1993.

[29] Ven. Symeon the New Theologian. “Works”, vol. 2, word 68. - Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. Sergiyev Posad, 1993.

[30] Abba Isaac the Syrian “Ascetic Words”, Word 5. - “The Rule of Faith” («Правило веры») Publishing House М., 1993.

[31] Ibid., Word 74.

[32] Peter of Damascus. “Works”, Word 24. - M., 1993.

1) Option: “... with expectation”.

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