God visits each of us in unique ways, and in his mercy, God gave me some timely and wonderful gifts yesterday, including the following verses:
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 1:28-2:3 ESV)
Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. (Colossians 4:12 ESV)
As might have been noticeable, I have been reflecting on prayer over these last several days. I have discovered some things that I have had trouble articulating. In God’s providence, however, I recalled to mind the verses above. And God also placed in my hands the words and teachings of Elder Porphyrios. I have typed in several excerpts from the book God allowed me in his loving providence to encounter.
On the intensity of our prayers:
In prayer what is important is not the duration but the intensity. Pray albeit for five minutes, but abandon yourself to God with love and longing. One person may pray all night long and another person only for five minutes and yet the five-minute prayer may be superior. This is a mysterious matter, of course, but that’s the way it is. Listen, and I’ll give you an example.
A monk was walking in the desert one day and there he met another. He greeted him saying:
‘Where have you come from?’
‘From that village over there.’
‘And how are things there?’
‘We’re suffering from a dreadful drought and we’re at our wits’ end.’
‘What have you done about it? Have you prayed?’
‘Yes, we have.’
‘And did it rain?’
‘Not a drop.’
‘It seems then that you haven’t been praying intensely enough. Let’s pray to God here and now and ask for His help.’
And so they started to pray. And at once a little cloud appeared which grew bigger and bigger and darker and darker and drew lower and lower until, Bang! It started to rain in buckets.
What happened here? What happened was earnest prayer. A little prayer brought rain. But what was important was its intensity. (Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, pp 128-129)
On the pervasive effects of prayer:
All matters are sorted out with prayer. But your prayer must be endued with love and fire. You mustn’t have anxiety, but trust in God’s love and providence. All things are embraced in spiritual life. All things are sanctified, both the good things and the difficult things, the material and the spiritual, and whatever you do, do for the glory of God. Saint Paul says, Whether you eat or whether you drink, whatever you do, do for the glory of God. When you are at prayer, all things happen as they should. For example, you wash the dishes and you don’t break any. The grace of God enters within you. When you have the grace of God, everything is done with joy and without pain.
When we pray continually, God will enlighten us as to what we must do in each situation, even the most difficult. God will speak in our heart. He will find ways. Of course, we can combine prayer with fasting. That is, when we are faced with a serious problem or dilemma, we should approach it with much prayer and fasting. That’s how I have dealt with things often.
When we want to ask things for other people, we should ask for them secretly, with prayer which is in secret and does not appear outwardly. Worry and distraction do not help prayer. Forget about telephone calls, communications and long conversations with people. If the Lord doesn’t assist, what will our own efforts achieve? So what is required is prayer, prayer with love. It is preferable for us to help people from a distance with prayer. In that way we help them in the best and most perfect manner. (Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, pp 130-131)
On intercessory prayer:
Pray for others more than for yourself. Say, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,’ and you will always have others in your mind. We are all children of the same Father; we are all one. And so, when we pray for others, we say, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,’ and not, ‘have mercy on them.’ In this way we make them one with ourselves.
Prayer for others which is made gently and with deep love is selfless and has great spiritual benefit. It brings grace to the person who prays and also to the person for whom he is praying. When you have great love and this love moves you to prayer, then the waves of love are transformed and affect the person for whom you are praying and you create around him a shield of protection and you influence him, you lead him towards what is good. When He sees your efforts, God bestows His grace abundantly on both you and on the person you are praying for. But we must die to ourselves. Do you understand? (Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, p 132)
And because these things are intimately related, On sin and repentance:
Sin makes a person very confused psychologically. The confusion doesn’t dissipate whatever you do. Only with the light of Christ does the confusion depart. Christ makes the first move, Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden . . . Thereafter we accept this light in our good will, which we express with our love towards Him, with our prayer and with the sacraments.
For the soul to repent it must first awake. It is in this awakening that the miracle of repentance occurs. This is where human will plays its role. The awakening, however, is not something that rests only with the individual man or woman. The individual on his own is unable to bring it about. God intervenes. Then divine grace comes. Without grace a person cannot repent. The love of God does everything. He may use something–an illness, or something else, it depends–in order to bring a person to repentance. Accordingly repentance is achieved through divine grace. We simply make a move towards God and from then on grace supervenes.
You may say to me, ‘If that is so, all things are done by grace.’ This is a fine point. Here, too, we have a case of what I say, namely that we cannot love God if God does not love us. Saint Paul put it very well, Now having known God, or rather having been known by God . . . The same happens with repentance. We cannot repent unless the Lord gives us repentance. And this holds for everything. It is a case of the scriptural principle, Without me you can do nothing. . . . .
Repentance is a very delicate matter. True repentance will bring sanctification. Repentance will sanctify us. (Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, pp 173-174)
Man is not solely responsible for his transgressions. The mistakes, sins and passions are not only personal experience of the person who comes to confession. Every person has incorporated into himself the experiences of his parents and especially of his mother, that is, how his mother lived when she was carrying him in her womb–if she was anxious, if her nervous system was exhausted, if she was happy, if she was sad, if she was depressed. In other words, her whole nervous system affected the nervous system of the embryo. So that when the child is born and grows up, it assumes also the experiences of its mother, that is of another person. A state is created in a person’s soul on account of his parents, which he carries with him all through his life. It leaves its marks within him and many things that happen to him during his life are a consequence of this state. The way he behaves has a direct relation to the state of his parents. He grows up, is educated, but is not remedied. This is where a large part of the responsibility for the spiritual state of the person is to be found.
There is, however, a secret. There is a way for a person to be freed from this evil. This way is a general confession, which takes place through the grace of God. . . .
I have often used this general confession and I have seen miracles worked through it. The moment you relate these things to your confessor, divine grace comes and frees you from all the unpleasant experiences and wounds, the psychological traumas and feelings of guilt, because while you are talking, your spiritual father is praying fervently to the Lord for you to be liberated from all these things.
. . . When someone is making confession, the priest is praying for him. At the same time grace comes and frees him from the traumas in his soul, which have been tormenting him for years without his being aware of what caused them. Yes indeed, I believe very strongly in this! (Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, pp 174-175)