Spiritual Instruction and Discourses
by Elder Aimilianos of
Simona Petra, Mt. Athos
(available from Alexander Press, Montreal Canada)
(Page 197 excerpts) On Prayer: When we talk about internal prayer of the heart, we do not say petition of the heart, but “prayer”. When we speak of petition, however, we mean that our prayer is directed towards a particular person, its aim being union with that person. While prayer is static..[an] enjoyment of a place where God also is. There is a distinction you see. Petition, is turning to a person. It follows that…the active presence of this Person must exist for me. I have to be able to become familiar with His presence and His existence. Christ, the indwelling [One] Who is everywhere present, becomes present for me in my life through my participation in worship, and more particularly, through my participation in Holy Communion.
It follows that worship and Holy Communion are indissolubly united. And what do they do? They make God present and alive for me…and what then remains? For me to speak to Him, to address Him Who comes to me. and so He, through worship, tends towards me and I…tend towards Him, until our total union occurs…I cannot say that I will go to church if I have not been praying.
It is superfluous for me to go to church and unnecessary for me to attend the Liturgy and useless for me to take Holy Communion if I am not continuously at prayer. And it is superfluous for me to pray if I have no part in what we have just been speaking about…You know how to plant a flower: you dig the earth there, you put in manure..so that the root will take. If you don’t put in that fertilizer, if the soil is not suitable…it’s a waste of time planting the root.
Prayer is sterile and does not go higher than our heads — how much less does it reach beyond the clouds and up into the heavens – if it does not have its mystical realm..which is in particular, vigil, study and fasting. …Do you know what it means for flesh to enter the realm of the spirit? Flesh, [carnality] which does not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, to enter into God? Do you know what it means for God, Whom nothing can contain, to find room in my soul?. ..So when I pray, I feel at once this insurmountable obstacle blocking me off from God: the fact that I am flesh, that is I am a carnal creature [in the sense of the Gospel meaning here], the fact that I am flesh and He is Spirit…
With God’s holiness and brightness I immediately comprehend my weakness. I feel that I can do nothing and that I am starting a dreadful struggle, a battle, as the Old Testament so beautifully presents it to us with that battle, that..wrestling match of Jacob’s at his famous ladder. Here must I, a puny human being, break through into Heaven and besiege God and..it follows that we experience prayer when we start ..as a struggle. ..
Not a struggle in the sense that I want to go, for instance and eat and I say: “No I shall continue to pray”. I do not mean that struggle. That is the ascetic struggle and..different altogether. I am speaking of the struggle we have, not with ourselves – but the struggle we have with God. I wrestle with God..When Paul said “contend with me in prayer”, he meant something like that. ..He was saying “You struggle with God, too with your prayers, so that our struggles may be united and in this way..we can wrestle with Him..[Just as Jacob did] and defeat Him”… When you have an opponent, you tense up immediately. Your punch gets stronger at once. You see your muscles …and realize you’re hitting and being hit. When I do not have the sense of this struggle with God, as you will realize, I have not even begun to pray…..What matters is that there should issue forth [from the heart] a cry from the depths, which like a powerful bomb, like an earthquake, should shake the Heavens and make God answer, in the end, and [respond to us]… .God wants us to sense Him first [and the struggle to reach Him] with the powerful distress of the cry from the depths of our beings which we raise to Him…. (excerpted from pages 197 – 205)