Regardless of our place or vocation in the church, we all have questions about how to lead a truly spiritual life. The Holy Fathers and priests give us instructions, and all of us find the answers that seem to be meant directly for us.
Our spiritual father, Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok, answers some of the most common questions on prayer.
How do we build a relationship with God in prayer? What should I pay attention to?
In order to learn to pray, you need to try and hear the words you read with your mind and heart. You should remember God as often as possible, keep in mind that He sees us, and ask for the Lord’s blessing before doing anything. If you force yourself, if you make persistent efforts, then in time you’ll develop a habit of prayer and won’t be able to do anything without prayer. When Divine grace leaves you, you will feel it and suffer. This suffering will help you straighten your life and rectify your mistakes. He who forces himself for God’s sake will enter the Heavenly Kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force (Matthew 11:12), the Gospel proclaims. Referring to the lives of the saints whose memory we honour every day, e.g., St Seraphim of Sarov, we see that their path towards God was a thorny one, but it was a path towards light. No matter how difficult and narrow it may be at different points of our lives, eternal bliss awaits us. It is for the sake of this bliss that we should stint ourselves of something and submit ourselves to the highest goal – acquiring the Holy Spirit.
How should we choose our prayer rule?
In moments of inspiration we can pray all night long, but this state can’t be permanent. There are work days when we have to force ourselves to pray and make efforts. That is why it is important to judge our strength and include as many prayers in our prayer rule as we can read, even in the hardest and most trying moments of our spiritual development. It’s essential for us to understand what we read to prevent our thoughts wandering, so the words of prayers can inspire us and nourish our minds and hearts. True, when we struggle with our weary flesh, struggle with a prayerless state, we need to be zealous and work hard. A Christian is formed and a soldier of Christ grows during this warfare.
If you have an opportunity, take the advice of someone who is more experienced in spiritual life before choosing a prayer rule. You should take into account the specifics of your inner world and the prayers whose words and thoughts your heart responds to particularly. Our prayer rule is determined by our lives, it’s like a lifebuoy that keeps us afloat.
When the grace of the Holy Spirit and the Lord work in us, this makes our whole life into a prayer. In the periods when we lose this grace we must bring ourselves to read our prayer rule – this backbone of prayer. At these difficult moments of life a prayer rule nourishes our hearts and minds.
How can we learn to pray attentively?
You should feel where your heart is and where your mind is. Look into yourself closely. Human mind can keep wandering around rubbish dumps of all kinds even while someone is in church.
That is why it is important for us to learn to ‘bring together’ our hearts and minds, becoming ‘whole’ and not divided. Concentration in prayer means a continuous struggle with your ‘wandering’ and your inattention. ‘Give blood, and receive the spirit’, this is what the Holy Fathers taught us to do.
All of us must have had moments when we were praying attentively in extreme situations. One day I was told that my most loved ones would soon die, and then I prayed with all due attention. At that time no one distracted my mind. It was like seeing a wall in front of me with a small opening in it, and I had to speak to God through that opening, or else it would be too late. I was strained to the upmost. This tension cannot last long because it takes up all your strength.
The more seriously you take your prayer and the more a conversation with God means to you, the more attentively you pray. Words of prayer should reach your heart and not remain only in your mind. So it’s vital to unite your mind with your heart. That is not to say that you need to ‘find some spot’; rather, you should attain such wholeness when you stand and belong to God fully – every cell, every hair, and every bone of yours belongs to Him. There is no one except God. If you pray this way if only for a few minutes, you will acquire this habit. Try!
To get the answers to many other questions that are vital to every Christian, we translated and compiled three books by Father Andrey. In these books, Father Andrey recalls his journey toward experiencing God through prayer, raising children, and his experiences as a confessor. He helps lay the foundation for becoming a confident Christian for yourself, your children, and your community.
You can order all three books in PDF format by clicking on the button below.