Elder Sophrony – On Prayer

The practice of prayer has been described widely by many Church Fathers. It is common to all practising Christians, traceable even to the first -created Adam and Eve. The practice of prayer remains pertinent to all of us in the modern age. For example, the Jesus Prayer (‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’) continues to be widely used by monastics and lay Orthodox living in the world.

Prayer is often described as vital – the oxygen of the soul, the fuel of the spirit. And yet if we ask ourselves what is true prayer, often our definitions are found wanting. Elder Sophrony, a modern day father who died in 1993 and founder of the Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex England, offers a refreshing and moving testimony to his understanding of prayer. For the Elder, prayer is a creative effort, far superior to any form of art or science. It is the means by which we enter into communion with God, our Creator. It is a bridge between our all-loving Creator and His creation.

The Elder does acknowledge that often, prayer can be difficult. “At times prayer seems over-slow in bringing results” the Elder sympathises, “and life is so short”. However, he highlights that prayer must initially stem from a repentant heart. In particular, we must acknowledge that our sins have created a distance from God, leading us to a state of ‘blessed despair’. We then seek out God, in a way “by force” (Matthew 11:12), travelling “the hard road of ascetic effort for the Divine gift to grow in us.

And when this wondrous gift starts to ripen and its fragrance penetrates the pores of our ‘body of sin’ (Rom 6:6), the fear of death departs and we are delivered from bondage. And in the holy freedom thus found, we wish all men well”. In other words, it is with a repentant heart that we feel the spirit of prayer and reap its fruits. For the Elder, prayer is not simply an act done by obligation. It is an experience yearned for and relied upon for our minds to rise to God, and there be comforted and guided

Source: Lychnos February / March 2017