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St. Seraphim of Sarov
praying before the Icon of the Mother of God
Prayer Within The Heart
Written by Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
Where there is prayer, God is present, especially when that prayer comes from within the heart. God loves to hear us pray when we pray from the heart, as He is quick to listen to us and to respond to us with a greater love than we would ever experience on this earth.
True prayer is in the heart. So many of us sometimes find it difficult to pray, and we need reminding that when we do pray we should do so with all of our mind, our heart, and our soul. The need then is to take the prayer from our mind - before it reaches our lips - and let it enter our heart: and then we let the heart say the prayer. The most commonly known prayer is the ‘Prayer of the Heart’, Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Even the Orthodox ascetics knew that in order for them to progress to true prayer, they had to learn with faith to pray within the heart and therefore have communion with our Lord God. No matter what prayers we say in Church, at home, and indeed anywhere, prayer from within the heart is spiritually rewarding for us.
Of course we cannot put our trust in ourselves as we pray - we are frail and fallible. What we do need is the proper guidance to pray, and so when we do pray we turn to our loving Almighty God, confident that He will guide us, as He loves to hear us pray within the heart. Does He listen to our prayer, especially when it’s from within the heart? Yes! God knows that we want to pray, but time and again temptation comes our way, and of course the devil himself wants to prevent us from praying, or having any communion with our Lord God. Everything we do, every word we speak, every thought we have, every feeling that we experience is supposed to be in accordance with the words of the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to act upon these teachings, and when we become weak in our spiritual lives we can then find great strength in praying within the heart.
In those times when we actually fail, and stop praying to God, the sense of being abandoned by God sets in, and the presence of His Divine Light is then replaced by a heavy darkness of the passions which are in revolt, a great change takes place in us, and conflict rends the soul - a bitter state of mind and heart to be in. But our gracious God has an eternal promise for us who believe in Him and would seek to rid ourselves of the hard-heartedness that besets us. "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26). He will! He does!
We, as Christians, cannot allow pride and self-sufficiency to take hold of us, thinking we do not need God - we do! The way to keep that Divine Light which is the love of our God constantly in our hearts is to pray from within the heart of flesh which He has given us by His Spirit.
Our faith in our God too can help win the battle. "But, I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou are converted, strengthen thy brethren" (St. Luke 22:32). Therefore our prayer within the heart must be filled with faith as we are then strengthened and spiritually comforted.
When we do pray how do we do this prayer? When is the last time we actually prayed in prostration before God and cried out, weeping in prayer like the publican: "God be merciful to me a sinner," (St. Luke 18:13) or even cry out like the Holy Apostle Peter: "Lord, save me" (St. Matthew 14:30). How about the way the Holy Prophet and God-Seer Moses prayed? He kept his arms uplifted in prayer. When is the last time a tear fell from our eyes in prayer? When is the last time we lifted up our arms to our God in prayer? Then again when is the last time we prayed from our hearts within? In praying we need to come before our God with great humility and with compunction.
Humility can help us to spiritually overcome the pride of our prayer, since humility does suspend pride. We cannot create our own world, but rather what we should be doing, in praying within the heart, is to realize that humility is quick to receive life from God.
Our Gracious Lord God will never abandon us when we struggle with prayer within the heart, just as our Lord watched over the ascetics within the Church, and the Saints of the Church. What is important for us all to realize is that our Lord watches over us and is aware when we are wrestling with the enemy. He is always with us and we should never be afraid. Even when we think everything around is failing, and the powers beyond us want us to fail, we must allow our faith to be strong, and turn to our Gracious God in prayer once again.
As Orthodox Christians we should seek to be pious in our prayer, putting our trust in God, and dwelling in prayer. Let us not be troubled, because we only make our enemy happy. Prayer from within truly delights our God!
Pray from within the heart, for when we pray we behold the Saints, and can discern the way those Saints followed, finding the true Divine Light of the presence of our Lord God in our hearts and in our lives. Pray! Pray within the heart!
Humbly in Christ our Lord,
+Very Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
Who prays for you and with you!