Thursday, 17 November 2011

The work of prayer

"The brethren asked Abba Agathon: 'Amongst all our different activities, father, which is the virtue that requires the greatest effort? He answered: 'Forgive me, but I think there is no labour greater than praying to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies the demons try to prevent him; for they know that nothing obstructs them so much as prayer to God. In everything else that a man undertakes, if he perseveres, he will attain rest. But in order to pray a man must struggle to his last breath."
The Sayings of the Desrte Fathers quoted in the Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware
Anyone who has tried to pray the Jesus Prayer will tell you how hard it is. One lady who started to pray it in my parish gave up after a few attempts saying it was too much of a struggle. I know myself that it is not just saying the prayer that is hard, but actually getting to the place where I can say it is so fraught with distractions, pressures and conflicting demands that it is like having to cut through and overgrown jungle to find a way through.

We must not be surprised by this. Jesus shows us that if we want to spend time with God there is another who will try hard to prevent us (Matthew 4:1-11). No wonder he told a parable that said we "should pray and not give up" (Luke 18:1-6).

So anyone wanting to learn to pray the Jesus Prayer - like any other prayer - must always be on the alert as our "adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion". We must go into prayer ready to "resist him firm in the faith." (1 Peter 5:18)

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