Jul 31, 2009

Intense Prayer

I am rereading Gifts of the Desert, by Kyriacos C. Markides.  Markides is in conversation with Fr. Maximos (bishop of Cyprus) concerning crying out to God for help.

"When a person is crushed by sorrow then his prayer may become more intense," Father Maximos continued.  "Saint Silouan, the twentieth-century Russian elder from Mount Athos, knew a layman, a worker who prayed with great intensity.  'Where did you learn to pray like that?' he asked him.  The laborer replied that he did so during the war when it was a tossup whether he was going to live or die."

To further illustrate the point, Father Maximos related the extraordinary experience of an Athonite elder he knew personally: "One day after vespers were over the elder went to his cell to continue praying on his own.  While doing that, he marveled at the thought that everybody - all two thousand or so monks on the entire Athonite peninsula - was pramt. athosying during that very moment.  Then, he wondered what the Holy Mountain looked like under such intensive prayer.

"At that very moment he experienced himself being catapulted by the Holy Spirit high up in the air.  It was as if he were looking down from an airplane.  From that high point, he saw the Athonite peninsula spurting out flames like an active volcano, as if the entire mountain was on fire.  Some of the flames went straight up to heaven.  Others seemed weak, like the flame of a small candle, while yet others were flickering and barely visible.  Yet, there was one, this elder claimed, that was like a fiery river that went straight up.  He then overhead a voice coming from heaven saying 'What you have witnessed is the Holy Mountain and these are the prayers of the monks that go up to God.'  Then the elder asked, 'And whose prayer is this great river of fire?'  God replied that it was the prayer of a certain abbot at a certain monastery, whose name cannot be revealed since this abbot is still alive.

"You see," Father Maximos went on and rested back on his armchair, "God is not some kind of impersonal intelligence.  God is personal and communicates with us, speaks to us, and can catapult us to other parts of his kingdom as in the case of that abbot."

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