To pray for someone else means that, because of the good disposition of our heart towards him, we help him to resist the negative thoughts that he may have, and not without cause, about us. On the contrary, not to pray for someone else means that we justify by our lack of love the negative thoughts he may have against us. Let us preserve unity in prayer around Christ’s chalice, and we will see that it is easy to love.
The Elder Sophrony
Generally speaking, our minds experience a torrent of thoughts. Finding the means to quiet the mind, to allow the mind to be united to the heart, is quite difficult. The Fathers have much to say on that matter – far more than I can begin to offer in such a setting as this. But the torrent of thoughts that flow within us are of little to no use in the spiritual life. They are a distraction and frequently have the character of sin.
On Wednesday morning of this week I took part in a Synodal Liturgy – a celebration of the Eucharist in which the entire Holy Synod of Bishops was present. There were people gathered from many places. The Cathedral in Dallas was crowded. The Cathedral was not only crowded, but the very altar and appended sacristies were overflowing with Bishops and priests. A full Hierarchical Liturgy, particularly with so many Bishops present, is a long, complicated service (even by Orthodox standards). The distractions which attend such a gathering are beyond number.
There are priests to look at and judge, bishops to look at and judge, people in various distracted states to be looked at and judged, and all of that is only if you have managed to keep the torrent of thoughts within the confines of the Church’s walls. Of course, what I have described would be sin. We are to judge no one. But the temptation is ever present.
I found myself reaching for my prayer rope and struggling to bring my mind back to the Jesus Prayer – to offer up the prayer for others. As a priest, I also followed the service in my prayer book (something priests are always to do) and sought to bring my heart to the words and keep them there.
I saw a man in the service whose heart was visibly present to the words of the service and to God. I felt an inward rebuke – a recognition of how scattered and disordered is my own interior life – and I prayed that God would keep him ever in such prayer for the rest of us.
Elder Sophrony’s words a very simple – we should pray and seek to avoid negative thoughts about others. Of course, there is much more to be said about our corporate prayer life. But the elder offers a simple beginning. Seek to pray and do not judge others. I share my experience from this week only to say this is not an easy thing. But I take the holy elder at his word. Strive to preserve unity in prayer around the chalice of Christ and we will see that it is easy to love.
It is good to remember, that in the chalice is not only the Body and Blood of Christ, but also the body of Christ, the Church. The one whom I have judged earlier is presented to me for communion. The approach to the Holy Cup is never an invitation to a “me and Jesus” event. It is a true participation in the fullness of the Body of Christ – a participation in Christ which is always a participation of all who are in Him.
O wondrous cup! O treacherous heart of mine! May God have mercy on us and bring us to know His perfect love.