candle burning in Orthodox Church

By the grace of God I am a Christian, by my deeds a great sinner, and by my calling a homeless wanderer of humblest origin, roaming from place to place.  – opening words in Chapter 1 of The Way of a Pilgrim

In these uncertain times, we also may feel like homeless wanderers trying to make our way through life.  One of the tools at our disposal is ceaseless prayer.  Below is an excerpt from The Way of a Pilgrim to help cultivate an understanding of what ceaseless prayer is.

The truth is that, though there is neither a shortage of sermons nor of treatises of various writers about prayer, for the most part these discourses are based on mental analysis and on natural considerations rather than on active experience.  Fro this reason they teach more about the external character of prayer than the essence of prayer…

And what is prayer?  And how does one learn to pray?  To these primary and most fundamental questions one seldom finds an accurate explanation in the homilies of our time.  These basic questions are more difficult to understand than the above-mentioned discourses and they require mystical perception in addition to academic learning.  What is most unfortunate is that worldly wisdom compels these spiritual teachers to measure God’s ways by human standards.  Many approach prayer with a misunderstanding and think that the preparatory means and acts produce prayer.  They do not see that prayer is the source of all good actions and virtue.  They look upon the fruits and results of prayer as means and methods and in this way depreciate the power of prayer.

This is contrary to Holy Scripture, because St. Paul clearly states that prayer should precede all actions: ‘First of all, there should be prayers offered.’ (1 Tim. 2:1).  The Apostle’s directive indicates that the act of prayer comes first; it comes before everything else.  The Christian is expected to perform many good works, but the act of prayer is fundamental because without prayer it is not possible to do good.  Without frequent prayer it is not possible to find one’s way to God, to understand truth, and to crucify the lusts of the flesh.  Only fidelity to prayer will lead a person to enlightenment and union with Christ.

The ceaseless Jesus Prayer is a continuous, uninterrupted call on the holy name of Jesus Christ with the lips, mind, and heart; and in the awareness of His abiding presence it is a plea for His blessing in all undertakings, in all places, at all times, even in sleep.  The words of the Prayer are: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!’  Anyone who becomes accustomed to this Prayer will experience great comfort as well as the need to say it continuously.  He will become accustomed to it to such a degree that he will not be able to do without it and eventually the Prayer will of itself flow in him. (Pilgrim, pg. 7-9)


Resource: The Way of a Pilgrim. Helen Bacovcin trans. (Image Books: New York), 2003.