Making the World a Church (From St. Silouan’s “Wisdom from Mount Athos”)

Chapter “On Prayer,” pp.79-82

I always thought of prayer as an act, within a finite space and time. That is, “always” until I read this chapter by St. Silouan.

‘He who loves the Lord,” he tells us, “is always mindful of Him, and remembrance of God begets prayer.”

“Always mindful” implies a continuous state of mind and relationship with God. You no longer need designated times to talk to God—when you attend church or it is time for your morning prayers. Prayer has become a habit and part of your life. Your mind and heart are always full of His presence while you walk, lie down, talk, work, shop or watch TV.

This means that, instead of searching for ways to render our prayer perfect, we must strive to cultivate a “prayerful mind;” a mind that is “intent on God and in humbleness of spirit stands before the face of the Lord, who knoweth the soul of him who prays.”

To get there we first need a guide. Humility and submission are prerequisites of true prayer. Reliance on our own resources puts our own will above all else and allows it to become a barrier between us and God.

Our distance from God, and a truly prayerful mind, starts with judgment. Since we hear only our own voice on what “feels” right, what the right approach is, whom to trust and whom to forgive, we constantly judge others.

Like C.S Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters,” this chapter offers us glimpses of the gradual erosion of trust and inner peace as judgment replaces submission. What if I know more about prayer than my priest confessor? “My confessor lacks experience and is occupied with vain things.” How can I let him guide me? I can’t respect a man with a dull intellect. I, on the other hand, am a very insightful and erudite person. Why can’t I learn through books?”

St. Silouan is unequivocal about what humility and submission to God are. Even if our confessor lacks the qualities we believe are necessary in a spiritual guide, he tells us, accepting his guidance gives us the humility and serenity that will enable us to enter into union with God and partake of his mercy.

After all, St. Silouan reminds us, we are not alone. “…The Holy Spirit dwells in your confessor and he will tell you what is right.”

Cutting off the temptation of judging others and eliminating the anguish of being the sole “experts” and drivers of outcomes, brings peace.  It is in this peace that we recognize our true kinship with God and our desire for union with Him grows.

My soul yearns after the Living God, and my spirit strains toward Him, my Heavenly Father, my kin.

The narrative here shifts from the external—criticisms of our confessor, theories, reliance on books—to the internal region of the heart, from description to exclamation, from rules about prayer to the state of a prayerful mind.

The Lord made us his Kin by the Holy Spirit. The Lord is dear to the heart—He is our joy and gladness, and our firm hope.

When our mind is prayerful, prayer brings more peace and complete reconciliation.

He who prays aright has the peace of God in his soul…The man of prayer should feel tenderly toward every living being. The man of prayer loves all men and has compassion for all, for the grace of the Holy Spirit has taught him love.

When prayer is a continuous state of mind, and takes place in our hearts, there are no unreconciled contradictions and conflicting allegiances.

Though we recognize and castigate wrongs, we still love and pray for our enemies. Our relationship with God is not one-dimensional and one-sided – from high to low and low to high. We can now love God, not only out of fear but because we recognize our kinship with Him and long to be one with Him.

Our prayer is no longer limited to place and time. It transforms our vision of ourselves and relationship with the world. It expands us and effaces limits.

For the man who prays in his heart, the whole world is a church.

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