About Attention During Prayer

Letters of Valaam Elder Hegumen John (Alexeev). Letter 303.


Schema-hegumen John (Alexeev)

Most God-loving M.N.!

Christ is in our midst.

Sorry for my silence, for although I do not write to you, I always keep you and H. in my prayers. May God help you to lead your life in peace and agreement, as the Holy Apostle said: “Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”[1] Both patience and humility are needed to live together in peace: and, as we do not have these virtues, we think that other people are to blame, not ourselves. But we should at least take care not to bear grudges against people, otherwise the prayer will not succeed.

You have mentioned Philokalia, volume 5, page 370. It seems that it is clearly explained, one must only read with attention; in other words, one can say: enclose your mind in the words of the prayer, and, if your thoughts become distracted, do not slow down, but continue praying, trying to ward the thoughts off. You know already from your own experience not to keep the attention in your head. To your knowledge, the Holy Fathers did not write by mind but by feeling; what they had experienced, the same things they wrote down in their books, and, therefore, it is only by experience that we can understand their writings. As the rope of our life is too short, we cannot get this living spiritual water directly from the deep well from which they drew. One has to use their books in this way: put into the treasury of your heart the things that you understand, omit the things we do not understand.

Here we are in the time of the Lent, congratulations on the Holy Quadragesima, may Lord help you to live it in Christian piety and to reach the Bright Resurrection of Christ.

Lord in His mercy may help you in your works, may Lord keep you.

Wishing you all that is good, your partner in prayer,

Most sinful Schema-Hegumen John

[1] Gal 6:2

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