Private Prayer – Thoughts of Met. Anthony of Sourozh

The following is an excerpt from a posting on Orthodox World. It is from the late Met. Anthony Bloom (England). There are many articles of interest on this website.

There was a time when I read with great faithfulness all the prayers which the Church offers us in the morning, in the evening and on other occasions. But I could not always identify with them. They were prayers which were strange to me. I had not grown to that measure of faith or to that measure of love for my neighbour. There were passages in the prayers which I could say sincerely; but there were passages which I could not say; partly because they went against my experience, my feeling, partly because I had not grown to that measure of faith and spiritual experience.

My spiritual father gave me advice on that. He said to me: ‘For a year I forbid you to use any of the prayers of the books of prayer. Before you go to bed, make the sign of the Cross and then lie down and say, “Lord, at the prayers of those who love me, save me,” and begin to ask yourself who are those who love you — who love you so much, so deeply, so truly, that you don’t need even to pray, because their prayers are your shield and your way?’

I tried it. One name after the other came. And every time a name floated up, I stopped one moment and said, ‘How wonderful! He loves me, she loves me! Oh God, bless him, bless her, for the love she can give me as a present. Read more…

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31 Responses to “Private Prayer – Thoughts of Met. Anthony of Sourozh”

  1. uberVU - social comments Says:

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by veronica_dB: Private Prayer Thoughts of Met. Anthony of Sourozh – The following is an excerpt from a posting on Orthodox World…. http://ow.ly/16uaB4

  2. Elizabeth Says:

    Met Anthony Bloom’s books have meant so much to me. I had a lot of misconceptions about Orthodoxy and prayer from my childhood. I’d been Protestant until my parents converted in my early adolescence. It was a fairly traumatic experience for me, and looking back I can see how I felt that God was really taken away from me. I’d believed in a “personal God,” one whom I could pray to at any time and any place, one who was “in my heart.”

    When I became Orthodox I felt a huge space come between God and me. Suddenly Jesus was someone on an iconostasis , someone to worship in very foreign-sounding chants, someone whom, in order to pray to, you had to stand in front of an icon, light a candle and recite certain prayers in a certain order. I was taught that our Protestant conception of God had been too “familiar,” and that God was to be approached with fear and trembling.

    In time I more or less stopped praying- it felt stiff and awkward. And, probably more significant than that, it felt like something that had been imposed on me.

    In time I came to see that my parents and our convert church was having a big reaction to Protestantism- and I was having a big reaction to their reaction.

    I see now that prayer can take on various forms, but has more to do with a state of heart than anything. I guess at this point I think of prayer as an opening of the heart to God. Of course, there are prayers of repentance, supplication etc, but how we arrive at a place of openness and vulnerability before God is not formulaic. There are certain Orthodox prayers that I find very deep. But “Beginning to Pray” etc really showed me a side of Orthodoxy that I had not known.

  3. Selena Says:

    Father, that article was amazing.

    Elizabeth, thank you for your honest comment. I am very interested in your experience because I am a mother of five small children and I wonder about the effect of my conversion on their young lives. Do you have a blog, or could I perhaps send you my email address so I can ask you a couple of questions about it?

  4. Guy (Theodotus) Says:

    Father bless;
    Elizabeth, what a wonderful, utterly honest and heartfelt comment.
    I can identify with you in many ways. My spiritual father (My parish Priest) has counseled me to read books much less and pray more (do not read for more time than you pray). It is and continues to be the hardest thing that I have ever done. I very often ask myself the questions that Metropolitan Anthony asks when standing before a small portable Icon (I too am a convert, the rest of my family is not and I have to take care with the presentation of any Icons) at my desk saying the prayers of the faithful and I too have problems identifying with them.
    This was a new article for me from Met. Anthony, I have his book “Beginning to Pray” before me as I write this. I have read the book several times through…but still dont really understand prayer. But.. there is this deep deep longing to draw near to God and I have had this since I was very young. He states something very similar on page 55 of his book he states:
    “I have said that one of the problems which we must all face and solve is: where should I direct my prayer? The answer I have suggested is that we should direct it at ourselves. Unless the prayer which you intend to offer to God is important and meaningful to you first, you will not be able to present it to the Lord. If you are inattentive to the words you pronounce, if your heart does not respond to them, or if your life is not turned in the same direction of your prayer, it will not reach out Godwards. So the first thing is, as I have said, to choose a prayer which you can say with all your mind (nous?), with all your heart (nous?) and with all your will–a prayer which does not necessarily have to be a great example of liturgical art, but which must be true, something which should not fall short of what you want to express. You must understand this prayer, with all the richness and precision it possesses.”…

    I struggle with this daily. I have been told simply to pray…pray with compunction and attention. Pray the prayers of those who have gone before. Thus I still struggle.
    Why is it…that we who desire God have these problems? It must be that my desire is either not strong enough or misdirected or passion bound (sin).

    Wonderful posting Father, thought provoking and heart rending (at least to me).

    Kissing your right hand
    -unworthy servant of God
    Theodotus

  5. gailbhyatt Says:

    Beautiful picture of what real prayer is and how one can obtain it. Met. Anthony is one of my very favorite authors. I wish I could have met him in this lifetime. For now I will treasure his writings.

  6. anonymousgodblogger Says:

    Thank you for this, Fr. Stephen!

    Elizabeth, thank you for your comment–oh how I identify with what you wrote!

  7. Tim Says:

    Do Protestants pray to Christ in a manner that is “too personal?”

    How personal is “too personal?”

  8. Karen Says:

    Elizabeth, thank you for your post! Since I am a convert, and a mom, the wisdom from your honest experience means a lot to me. I am thankful that God in His faithfulness has helped you to navigate beyond some of the difficulties you were having. My Evangelical family did not become Orthodox with me, and we are still raising our children, so your perspective is relevant to my situation from several angles.

    Father, bless! Thank you for this post–it is helpful to me as well.

  9. Steve Says:

    Tim,

    The problem is more we relate to “personal”.

    In the words of that quintessential Orthodox theologian:

    “A human person cannot realise the fullness to which it has been called, that is to become the perfect (divine) image, if he claims for himself part of the (human) nature, regarding it as his own particular good.” (Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, pp. 120-121)

    There is this underlying unity of nature which is reestablished in the Church (p. 121), not necessarily the Institutional Church but rather, the Church that is raised with Christ.

    Lossky really seems to be in a league of his own when talking of nature, divine and human.

  10. Steve Says:

    Tim, Oops, my typo. Should read: “The problem is more how we relate to ‘personal’.”

  11. fatherstephen Says:

    Tim,
    The problem is not prayer to a “personal” God. Sometimes, there are cultural distortions to what is meant by “personal.” But this should not seem a great shift of experience between Protestant and Orthodox. If we get too “theological” on the level of prayer – we’ll never pray. Just talk to God. He listens.

  12. Steve Says:

    Guy and Elizabeth,

    Thank you for the pointer to Met. Bloom’s book Beginning to Pray. I am reminded of the expression “a theologian is one who prays”, not sure if it is Fr. Stephen’s saying but I most certainly heard it first, on his blog!

    The Orthodox world seems not to have forgotten the prime importance of the prayerful existence, where the boundary between man and God dissolves.

  13. isaac8 Says:

    I’ve recently been reading from Met. Anthony Bloom on the subject of prayer so this thread was very timely. For those who may be interested in some of his writings (articles and homilies) you can find several of them at this site:

    http://www.metropolit-anthony.orc.ru/eng/

    I think Met. Anthony is a great translator to Western converts.

  14. Barbara Says:

    This post reminds me of St. Nikolai’s words, “Love is the deepest prayer of all.” Thank you for sharing it, Fr. Stephen. I also have really appreciated The Courage to Pray and Beginning to Pray.

    When I converted to Orthodoxy just over two years ago, from an Evangelical background, I was so grateful for the prayers and the icons because I had completely stopped praying. I sensed that my prayers were either stuck in my head or sent to an imaginary God of my creation, or used to manipulate others or preach to others and I was very tired of saying, I just, and We just….Even though the words to the Orthodox prayers were unfamiliar and didn’t exactly roll off my tongue, I loved how they positioned my heart before God. They gave me a holy structure to follow and the icons made it possible for me to understand that my prayers were to someone who was completely Other than me, and that I was praying with the church, not just on my own. In a sense our prayers are never private but they are always personal because they are my unique way reaching out to God and the world with all that I am and have. I still struggle a little with the need to direct our prayers within and towards the icons at the same time, but at least it’s better than directing my prayer to my head!

    Our priest often talks about using these prayers as a beginning, to put us in a place where we can hear God calling our name and to stop praying the prayers when we feel our heart responding or warming and to follow that feeling into a more intimate communion. He then says to begin the prayers again when that intimate moment with God is gone. I’ve found that really helpful. They are repetitious, but the repetition is not vain when I paying attention to my heart.

    Another thing that has really helped me is to put the prayers in a blank journal and to add prayers that I find from reading the writings of other Holy people and Saints. I don’t read these other prayers every day, but I love having them all in one place so that they are there when I need them. I almost always carry this personal prayer book with me. It has become a great treasure.

    I also love having a place to pray and the meditative rituals of lighting candles, burning incense, prostrations and kissing icons. To worship God with every aspect of my being is also a gift that orthodoxy has given me.

    For me Orthodoxy is prayer…even this blog.

    Certain thoughts are prayers. These are moments, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees.”
    Victor Hugo

  15. Steve Says:

    Barbara,

    What a wonderful summation of the Orthodox Tradition. Orthodoxy rightly understands the centrality of the human creature in God’s plan of salvation for all of creation.

    Christ is in our midst!

  16. Elizabeth Says:

    Hi Selina, Yes if you’d like send me your email. I can tell you about my experience, but in the end it’s just that- my experience. If you have any luck your children won’t be half as stubborn as I was!

    AnonymousGodblogger- I’m glad I’m not the only one!

    Tim- What I shared was really just a personal experience and a misinterpretation of prayer on my part. Read Met. Anthony’s book- this isn’t at all what he has to say.

    Father, perhaps you went to the cathedral where St John’s relics are while in SF? It’s interesting because today I was in a Romanian church and his icon was there. Apparently he had served the Serbian community in the chapel of this church because they did not have a priest. I love the idea of a Russian priest serving the Serbs in the Romanian church in France. St. John Maxamovitch (sp?) really made the rounds! It’s nice to have these cross-cultural and cross-continental connections.

  17. fatherstephen Says:

    Thank you for your comments. May God bless your priest – he is obviously giving you good and godly advice.

  18. fatherstephen Says:

    It is easy to miss the universal character of Orthodoxy – but it is truly alive and well. One of my favorite historical tidbits is the fact that the Serbian bishop and saint, Nikolai Velimirovich (who ended his days at St. Tikhon’s in Pennsylvania) knew St. Silouan on Mt. Athos (a Russian), and also ordained (I think to the diaconate) the Elder Sophrony ( of Russia, France, France, and England). Sometimes it’s a very small world, despite being the second largest group of Christians in the world. I know priests who served with St. John of San Francisco – as well as others who have known saints. It is not theoretical in the least.

  19. NW Juliana Says:

    How neat to read this, Fr. Stephen (your last comment). My husband was recently named Nikolai and my oldest son Silouan at our baptism, not knowing this — it’s interesting to now know they knew each other IRL.

  20. fatherstephen Says:

    Fr. Sophrony writes about this in one of his books. I’ll see if I can locate the passage. In the passage, St. Nikolai indicates that he thinks of St. Silouan as an equal of St. Isaac. That their paths even crossed, much less that they knew one another amazes me. There are many other such serendipities.

  21. NW Juliana Says:

    Would that be St. Isaac the Syrian? Because one of our sons has this for a saint name. Thank you, Father.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    What an insightful post about prayer. One thing I have learned to do since coming to Orthodoxy is to pray/say the psalms (I am not musical and cannot chant, but I would if I could). Their Christological content is tremendous, and they keep in mind for me the sufferings of Christ and all that He did for us on the Cross. I still do offer up personal prayer, but I have really tried to focus on the psalms and being in the presence of God. Some of the many formal prayers in my prayer book are still are for me to pray because I, too, cannot identify with them. So I do what I can each day.

  23. Thursday Highlights | Pseudo-Polymath Says:

    […] Advice for prayer. […]

  24. Stones Cry Out - If they keep silent… » Things Heard: e103v4 Says:

    […] Advice for prayer. […]

  25. Karen Says:

    Barbara, thanks for your comments. Your experience parallels mine in many ways–especially about the Orthodox prayers helping to position your heart before God.

    Anonymous, I have really enjoyed praying the Psalms, too. Your comments about not being able to sing reminded me of a favorite joke of my grandfather’s. He was tone deaf and would often claim there was one song he *could* sing. Then he would ask one of the grandkids to go plunk a middle-C on the piano, and he would sing out in a monotone C, “Anybody seen my cat? Anybody seen my cat? . . . ” I guess the lesson I learned is that even if you can only sing on one note, you can sing! That’s all it takes to chant (that, and being able to read aloud clearly at the same time).

  26. Patty Joanna Says:

    NW Juliana, with your large and lovely family, it is going to be difficult to find a saint whose name is not borne by one of you!

    I have often wondered how much of my life has been “made” by the prayers of my faithful friends and family.

    Thank you for this post.

  27. Natalia Says:

    Dear all,

    I work for the website “Orthodoxy and the World” and I am glad you find some of our articles useful and helpful. Forgive my comment being a little bit off-topic. But having read your warm words about Met. Anthony of Sourozh, I can’t help but recommend you read one more of his articles translated into English by our site http://www.pravmir.com/article_450.html. It’s one of his most powerful sermons, to my opinion. It’s not about prayer. St.Theophan the Recluse said that prayer is the test of everything. According to him prayer is a barometer of our spiritual life. If prayer is the test then what we read in the article is probably the highest exam. What is our prayer life worth if we are not able to make such a choice like this young lady did in Met. Anthony’s sermon…?

    I hope you’ll like the article!

    Thank you for this post, Fr. Stephen!

  28. tiffaniv Says:

    Father Bless,

    Having been Roman Catholic all my life (who now attends an Eastern Catholic parish, and who also has a beautiful strain of Russian Orthodoxy within my family), I have never experienced a difficulty that some of my convert pals (either to Orthodoxy or RC) have experieced with Liturgical prayers. I have seen that difficulty mentioned here on comments to this post and to some in the past. I mention it only because as a Catholic, I find the prayers of the Church to be the ones that come flowing out of my mouth when I cannot find the words of my own. I have always been thankful for these prayers. They make me feel immediately closer to Our Lord. Most especially prayers within the Divine Liturgy itself. Once they leave human lips they come immediately into the heart and mind. They appear at the least expected, but most needed times in life. In emergencies, sickness, stress, and rest. The prayers of the Church are always being prayed somewhere – literally – and I feel them often in my heart when I am even simply washing the dishes.

    I feel far more “personally” connected to the Trinity through the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Doxology/Glory Be, the Jesus Prayer than I do with any prayer I come up with on my own.

    I say all this for no other reason that I just find it interesting that different Christians view prayer in so many different ways, and each way is personal to them. For me, the difficulty comes more in making up the words than having them simply return to me from my prayer book. And I am writer, so this should not be;)

    God is, as Dostoyevsky calls Him – The Sum of the Universe – in that He can listen to every word spoken to Him and make us feel as though we are the only ones He ever speaks to. Prayer is truly is a matter of the heart, a window to the heart where the Sum of the Universe wants to live.

    Fr. Stephen, would you agree that maybe God has “wired” different people to speak to Him in different ways? That maybe some people will always feel much more connected to Him if they are having a spontaneous dialogue, and others through familiar prayers? I realize this may be off topic, but this is the thought that came to me as I read this post.

    “Before you speak it is neccessary for you to listen, for God speaks in the silence of the heart,” Blessed Mother Teresa

  29. fatherstephen Says:

    tiffaniv,
    I doubt that we are “wired.” It seems far more cultural. Spontaneous prayers as used by Evangelicals are relatively new for any human culture. Most prayer has been memorized and sung through most of the ages in most places based on most of the evidence.

  30. Micah Says:

    What an interesting line of thought you have picked up on, TiffanyV. Fr. Stephen, if I might pick up where you left off here.

    The idea of being “wired” has currency only in the context of modern man, who sees himself and is seen by others, primarily as a biological creature that responds to chemical and metaphysical stimuli, in some anthropological setting.

    Wiring has much to do with communication, but nothing or very little to do with who we really are, except in the context of modernity and delusion. Man was created to commune with God, not as one mode of the means of production.

    The philosopher poets of east and west have spent much time and energy trying to reduce the “components” of man to “core elements”, in the hope that a better definition might be arrived at. The consensus seems to be this. Take away his core and man is left empty. This obviously, presents a new set of problems:

    “We fashion clay into a pitcher, but it’s use comes from the void within. The doors and windows we make into a house function because of their emptiness.”

    (Lao Tzu)

    I am not yet born; provide me
    with water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk
    to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light
    in the back of my mind to guide me

    (From Prayer before birth by Louis MacNeice)

    In a sense, the problems really begin when man, in the sum of his parts, is wired up to a purpose he does not entirely agree with. Analytical psychology attributes this as the root cause of the disintegration of the self:

    The need for a containing object would seem, in the infantile unitegrated state, to produce a frantic search for an object…which can hold the attention and thereby be experienced momentarily at least, as holding the parts of the personality together.

    (Bick 1968, p.484)

    St. Gregory of Nyssa is right when he tells us that the mind of fallen man is a mirror that has turned in on itself; instead of reflecting God, it reflects the formless void within. But fallen man ceases to be fallen when he sees in the mirror, Christ, and Who He Is.

  31. tiffaniv Says:

    Father Bless,

    Thank you for your response. That makes perfect sense. The Jews have been singing memorized prayers for more than 5,000 years. This is a topic that probably requires a lot more conversation. I will save this for another time;)

    Thank you,

    TiffaniV.

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