Sunday, August 21, 2011

Modality of Contemplative Prayer

“Examine yourself to see whether you have within you a strong sense of your own self importance,
or negatively, whether you have failed to realize that you are nothing. This feeling of self-
importance is deeply hidden, but it controls the whole of our life. Its first demand is that
everything should be as we wish it, and as soon as this is not so we complain to God and are
annoyed with people.”………….. Saint Theophan the Recluse

Bishop Theophan the Recluse was born in Russia in 1815 and after a period of academic brilliance and being a Bishop for only seven years he retired to a life as recluse.
What reasons induced Bishop Theophan, full of strength, to leave his diocese and retire into solitude? Various are the characters and gifts of men. It was difficult for him in the midst of the world and those demands to which one must yield as a consequence of human corruption. His unlimited goodness of heart, a meekness like that of a dove, his trust of people and indulgence of them-all this indicated that it was not for him to live amidst the irreconcilable quarrels of vain worldly life. It was very difficult for him to be a leader, especially in such an important position as that of bishop. His trust could be abused; he could never give necessary reprimands. Besides this, he felt the call to devote all his energies to spiritual writing. As for himself personally, he wished to give up all his thoughts to God alone, Whom he loved so absolutely. He desired that nothing might disturb the complete communion with God that was so dear to him. And he left the world to be alone with God.

As seen from his saying this chosen life was not an escape in to an easier life style but a constant endeavour to control his self importance and realize the greater self that was innate in himself to establish a union with the Divine.
Negating one’s self worth in reference to our worldly and materialistic existence is the preparation that is necessary to start an uninterrupted communion with God.

In a Homily on Prayer which he delivered on 21st November 1864, he says:
“Let me recall a wise custom of the ancient Holy Fathers: when greeting each other, they did not ask about health or anything else, but rather about prayer, saying “How is your prayer?” The activity of prayer was considered by them to a be a sign of the spiritual life, and they called it the breath of the spirit. If the body has breath, it lives; if breathing stops, life comes to an end. So it is with the spirit. If there is prayer, the soul lives; without prayer, there is no spiritual life……….. Thus, going to pray, in the morning or in the evening, stand for a moment, or sit, or walk, and strive in this time to focus your thoughts, casting off from them all earthly activities and objects. Then call to mind the One to Whom you are praying, Who He is and who you are, as you begin this prayerful petition to Him. From this, awaken in your soul the feeling of humility and reverent awe of standing before God in your heart. As you stand piously before God, all of this preparation may seem small and insignificant, but it is not small in meaning. This is the beginning of prayer and a good beginning is half the work.”

In his second Homily delivered on 22nd November 1864 he gives the following guidance:
"Here are three means, other than the prayer rule, by which one can teach the soul to ascend prayerfully to God: first, dedicate some time in the morning to the contemplation of God; second, turn every action to the glory of God, and third, often turn to God with short prayers. When contemplation of God goes well in the morning, it leaves a deep inclination toward thinking about God. Thinking about God makes the soul carefully order all of its actions, interior and exterior, and turn them to the glory of God. At the same time, this sets up a state in the soul that it often will be moved by prayerful cries to God.

These three: contemplation of God, doing all to the glory of God, and frequent short prayers are the most active weapons of mental prayer and prayer of the heart. Each of them raises the soul to God. He who decides to practice these quickly attains the habit of ascending to God in his heart. The labour put into these leads to the heights. The higher one ascends on a mountain, the freer and easier he breathes. Thus it is also here: the more one does these exercises, the higher his soul ascends, and the higher the soul ascends, the more freely prayer can act in it. Our soul by nature is the abode of the higher divine world. Our soul should always be in this world by thoughts and feelings of the heart. But the baggage of worldly thoughts and passions leads and pulls the soul down. These methods separate the soul little by little from the earth, and then completely pull it away. When they have completely pulled the soul from the earth, then the soul lives in its own region, and will happily live on high. Here in heart and mind, and later in actual substance it will be vouchsafed to be before the face of God in the choirs of the angels and the saints."

May God grant this to all of you through his grace.



  1. Bishop Theophan's three means other than the prayer rule to reach the soul to ascend prayerfully to God acts as hand holding the child in this path.
    Also he delivers that these three means are the most active weapons....
    The reason he has used the word weapon is to fight against something, the hurdles from the earthly perceptions which constantly pulling the soul into its realms.
    Very useful for the children to contemplate on these three means right from their school days. This is what the traditional Gurukula method of learning imbibed to the young minds.

  2. Thank you Ram for your clear interpretation of the message in the note.
    I am sure you can be the instrument of waking up the consciousness of youth, especially school children.