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 on 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).