The Quality of Prayer Counts

St. Sava I, First Archbishop of Serbia

St. Sava I, First Archbishop of Serbia

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

by Saint Paision of Mount Athos

--Geronda (Elder), when we have a serious request, should our prayer be accompanied by fasting?

--That goes without saying; it's a must. Fasting and ascetic struggle are prerequisites for prayer. But for prayer to be proper and effective one must have compassion for others. For it is a rule of many Christians in our time not to want to have any worries. Even retired people who sit around all day don't want to approach an abandoned child, for this requires work and effort, which will disturb their serenity. They will eat, have their coffee and take a walk; they may even go to see a patient in a hospital that has nurses and is well-organized, because this is easy. In other words, again for their own pleasure; for they ease their conscience with the thought that they have done their duty. I have pressured many people to help some poor abandoned children. My pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Somewhere on the Holy Mountain they had a prayer service for the drought and, instead of rain, a fire broke out! A prayer service for a drought is not like going for a walk. We need to be troubled and pained over the prevailing situation. Can there be any temptation or difficult situation remaining once the monks have prayed fervently from the heart? In spite of the difficult years we are going through, I see in the monasteries a prevailing be happy! Here the world is burning, and we're trying to be happy. People ask us to keep a vigil, for example, to help some sick person, and we chant the festive psalm "Thou openest Thine hand, they are filled with good (Psalm 104:28), and we feel joyful. We are passing our time pleasantly, but, in the meantime, the patient is dying. And they say, "We are keeping a vigil for the sick person." What kind of vigil is that? You are entertaining yourself; that is spiritual entertainment. Sometimes, even when the priest says, "Let us pray for those who are sick," we don't pray for the sick. We could be of more positive help to the sick if we devoted some time to the Jesus Prayer with the komboschoini. I am not saying, of course, that we should do away with the festive vigils prescribed by the liturgical calendar of the Church, but in such cases we can devote a little time to pray fervently one or two rounds with the komboschoini, "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon your servant."

The main thing is the quality of our prayer. Prayer must be from the heart; it must be said with pain and compassion. What counts more for God is not the quantity of prayer but the quality. The prayer practiced in the monasteries has quantity, but this is not enough; it must also have quality. So many hours of prayer by so many people, if it were prayer of the heart, would have changed the world. For this reason, the goal should be for the Services to be so celebrated that they are prayer of the heart. Prayer of the heart not only helps others but also ourselves, because it helps us to acquire inner goodness. When we put ourselves in others' shoes, love then comes naturally, as does compassion, humility, and our gratitude to God with continuous praise, and then prayer for our fellow human beings is acceptable to God and helpful to them.

--Geronda (Elder), my heart remains cold during prayer.

--This is because the mind doesn't send a telegram to the heart. After all, one must do a great deal of work in prayer; one cannot attain form one moment to the next a steadfast condition of prayer, so that the mind doesn't wander at all. Patience is needed. You see, someone knocks on the door, knocks again, waits, and then the door opens. You seem to want to knock once and enter directly. It doesn't work this way. When you begin to say the Jesus Prayer, don't you have a desire for it?

--I feel the need for help, because I feel weak.

--Well, that's where one starts from. "But they constrained him," about the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus (cf., St. Luke 24:13-32). Christ remained with them, because they had a relationship with Him, and they were entitled. They had humility, simplicity, goodness, and even boldness, in the good sense, all the prerequisites, and for this reason Christ stayed with them.

We must pray with faith for every matter and we must have patience, and God will speak. Because when man prays with faith, God is in a sense obligated by virtue of our faith to fulfill our request. For this reason, when we ask for something from God, let us never be in doubt and we shall be heard. The Lord said, "have faith and doubt not" (cf., St. Matthew 21:21). God knows when to give us what we ask for, so we won't be harmed spiritually. Sometimes we ask God for something, but we have no patience and are troubled. But, since we have an Almighty God Who has so much love that He nurtures us with His Body and Blood, we have no business being troubled. Sometimes we don't leave a matter in God's hand but instead try to deal with it in a human way. When we ask God for something but have doubts and act by human means to achieve what is really difficult, without waiting for God's answer to our request, it is like making a petition to God, our King, and then withdrawing it just as He stretches our His hand to act on our behalf. We beseech Him again, but again we doubt and are troubled and repeat the same thing. Thus, we are tormented continuously. We behave like the person who petitions the Ministry, and, after a while, changes his mind and withdraws his petition. He changes his mind again and resubmits it; after a while, he again withdraws it. The petition, however, has to stand in order to wait its turn. (Source: Spiritual Awakening: Spiritual Counsels II, by Saint Paisios of Mount Athos)

(Next: Prayer With Pain)



The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George