Saint Theophan

Selected Sayings on Prayer from Saint Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894)

All quotations from The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo. Translated by E. Kadloubovsky and E.M. Palmer. Edited with an introduction by Timothy Ware. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1966.

The practice of the Jesus Prayer is simple. Stand before the Lord with the attention in the heart, and call to Him: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me!" The essential part is not in the words, but in faith, contrition, and self-surrender to the Lord. With these feelings one can stand before the Lord even without any words, and it will still be prayer (p. 89).

Delve deeply into the Jesus Prayer, with all the power that you possess. It will draw you together, giving you a sense of strength in the Lord, and will result in your being with Him constantly whether alone or with other people, when you do housework and when you read or pray (p. 90).

To acquire the habit of the Jesus Prayer, so that it takes root in ourselves, is the easiest way of ascending into the region of unceasing prayer (p. 95).

This short prayer to Jesus has a higher purpose - to deepen your remembrance of God and your feeling towards Him. These callings out of the soul to God are all too easily disrupted by the first incoming impression; and besides, in spite of these callings, thoughts continue to jostle in your head like mosquitoes. To stop this jostling, you must bind the mind with one thought, or the thought of One only. An aid to this is a short prayer, which helps the mind to become simple and united: it develops feeling towards God and is engrafted with it. When this feeling arises within us, the consciousness of the soul becomes established in God, and the soul begins to do everything according to His will. Together with the short prayer, you must keep your thoughts and attention turned towards God. But if you limit your prayers to words only, you are as "sounding brass" (p. 97).

The Jesus Prayer is not some talisman. Its power comes from faith in the Lord, and from a deep union of the mind and heart with Him. With such a disposition, the invocation of the Lord's Name becomes very effective in many ways. But a mere repetition of the words does not signify anything (p. 99).

Do not forget that you must not limit yourself to a mechanical repetition of the words of the Jesus Prayer. This will lead to nothing except a habit of repeating the prayer automatically with the tongue, without even thinking about it. There is of course nothing wrong with this, but it constitutes only the extreme outer limit of the work. The essential thing is to stand consciously in the presence of the Lord with fear, faith and love (pp. 99-100).

What you must seek in prayer is to establish in the heart a quiet but warm and constant feeling towards God, not expecting ecstasy or any extraordinary state. But when God does send such special feelings in prayer, you must be grateful for them and not imagine that they are due to yourself, nor regret their disappearance as if it were a great loss; but always descend from these heights to humility and quietness of feeling towards the Lord (p. 131).

Life is the strength to act. Spiritual life is the strength to act spiritually, according to the will of God. Man has lost this strength; therefore until it is restored to him, he cannot live spiritually, no matter how much he intends to. That is why the flow of grace into the soul of a believer is essential for a true Christian life. True Christian life is the life of grace. A man makes some religious resolution: but in order to be able to act according to it, it is necessary that grace be united with his spirit (pp. 137-138).

It is wrong to become too attached to reading. It leads to no good and builds a wall between the heart and God. It leads to the development of a harmful curiosity and sophistry (p. 168).

You must descend from your head into your heart. At present your thoughts of God are in your head. And God Himself is, as it were, outside you, and so your prayer and other spiritual exercises remain exterior. Whilst you are still in your head, thoughts will not easily be subdued but will always be whirling about, like snow in winter or clouds of mosquitoes in the summer. At this stage solitude and reading ore two swift helpers (p. 183).


In addition to these quotes from The Art of Prayer, the following quotation from St. Theophan is included regarding spiritual reading. The source is The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to It (Wildwood, CA: St. Xenia Skete Press, 1996).

“That you devote a little time in the morning to the reading of spiritual books is a very good thing. . . . This reading with prayer preceding strengthens the soul and gives it strength for the entire day. Doctors say you should not leave the house on an empty stomach. With respect to the soul, this is fulfilled by morning prayer and reading. The soul is fed by them, and sets out on the business of the day nourished. . . . Get a notebook, and in it write down the thoughts that come to you as you read the Gospel and other books in this manner: “The Lord says such and such in the Gospel; from this it is obvious that we must act in such and such a way; for me this is feasible in such and such instances; I will act thus; Lord help me!” This does not require much effort, but how much benefit comes from it! Act in this way. Your thought will come into focus and become inspired. The Spirit, moving in the Scriptures, will enter into your heart and heal it (146).”