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Pious Prayer

By Priest George Calciu

February 2002, Holy Cross Newsletter
I do not want to refer to piety which we must have in the time of prayer, but more to the
method of prayer in order for it to become, truly, pious prayer. From my personal
experience, from discussions I have had with different peoplemonks, priests and also
laymenI have used a certain technique of prayer, not in the sense of it being
orchestrated [contrived?], ------------------------- [pe care ni-l trezeste termenel de
technical], but in the sense of a certain course of action which opens our spiritual heart in
order to understand what pious prayer means.
I must affirm that most of the discussions I have conducted(?) about prayer and which
laid the foundation of my spiritual life took place in prison. There I discussed with a
series of men, for whom long years of detention had opened for them a deeper and more
personal relationship with the Savior Jesus Christ, men who were absolutely not clergy or
monks, but who, as a result of years of suffering and of introspection, thus gaining selfknowledge, had attained to the living of deep spirituality, living close to the great spiritual
fathers: Gafencu, Costache Oprisan, Maxim and so many others, who are models of
holiness and of character for those of us who passed through the prisons and knew them,
or at least had heard about them.
Prayer is an act of concentration and of detachment from material reality, the anchoring
into a realm which is new for any man, even if he is a believing man, because pious
prayer does not mean a mechanical reciting of some texts and the directing of attention,
every now and then, to the meaning of the words. Prayer is [means] to be seized and
carried off, a going out of yourself and making straight for God, in a mysterious way and
not even understood by he who practices it. Prayer is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In the first place, one who prays knows that he is engaging himself in an activity full of
demonic snares. Anyone, no matter how rarely he has prayed, who has desired to feel the
sweetness of prayer, know by what difficulties and temptations he will be hit with. Stay
in front of the television for hours on end and watch a movie full of trivialities and
commonplace, and not one lateral [round about] thought will distract you from the
dissipation that occurs on the screen.
Set yourself to prayerI am not speaking of those who pray mechanically, but those
who come with the good intention to prayand a thousand lateral [round about,
distracted] thoughts will assail you, many times, even contrary to your good intentions.
Memories, stupid and unimportant preoccupations will invade your mind, anger, bad
[ugly] words, jokes, whatever can distract you from prayer which would unite you with

This experience, which is painful for those of us who pray and live with it for years,
gradually improve through the exercises, less elaborate and very simple, such as I will set
forth further on.
He who wants to have his prayer improve must, before anything else, realize that he is a
sinner, and to watch over his attitudes, acts, thoughts and to realize how sinful he is daily
and in every hour, just as the prayer from the Canon [Prayers Before Holy Communion?]
say. Then, step-by-step, he must make a shield against the temptations of the world, as
much as possible, and not be frightened if, at the beginning, this shield is very penetrable
to the temptations of satan. In time, the shield strengthens and it is more difficult for the
devil to penetrate beyond it. No one, however, is spared [exempt from, absolved from]
temptations as long as he lives in the flesh; the roads of temptations are many: some
come to us through our feelings, others through the imagination, others through impious
memories, others through the heart and others through the reason [rational mind]. The
most advanced fathers themselves confess the temptations which they suffered in their
earthly life: St. Simeon the ------- [the Translator?], in the fourth prayer from the Canon
[Prayers Before?] for Holy Communion says: For what evil have I not performed? What
sin have I not done? (lots of sins named) I CANT FIND IT IN THE PRAYER BOOK IN
ENGLISH. And St. Simeon the New Theologian, in the seventh prayer from the prayers
before Holy Communion, after he has laid out all his sins, adds: Thou knowest also my
wounds. And thou seest my bruises, But also Thou knowest my faith. And Thou
beholdest my willingness, And Thou hearest my sighs. Nothing escapes Thee, my God,
my Maker, my Redeemer. Not even a tear drop, not part of a drop.
It is good that we know that, just as God knows all our deeds and thoughts and intentions,
For all are naked and revealed before Him (Prayer of Blessing of Water at Baptism of
Catechumens) (NEED TO FIND IT TO GET EXACT WORDS), so also, He knows also
our repentance and tears and our regrets. If someone lives all these things, he begins to
form his ----- [nepatimire] with the spirit, that is, a sort of immunity to the evils of the
world. Satanic wickedness [malice], insults [offences] from men and all that usually
creates for us sufferings, will no longer disturb us so strongly. According to the
expression of St. John of the Ladder, I closed a part of the windows from the world of the
soul. In this case, prayer begins to become all the more pious, all the more genuine.
The Holy Fathers say that the devil agitates at the time when he sees someone praying.
So it also explains why we are so tempted in the time of prayer. Temptations which we
have never had our my lives rush at us in the time of prayer with a fury which we would
not be able to withstand if we did not cry out to the Savior to help us. Prayer is a
conversation with God in which he who prays takes his position on the lowest step of
humility. The devil fell because of his arrogance and humility [lowliness] infuriates him
unto madness [rage] because he cannot do anything against humility [lowliness]. A good
deed he can perhaps turn into you praising yourself or of having someone else praise you.
Anything performed with good intentions can be subverted unto your destruction if you
let yourself be tempted. But humility [lowliness] and repentance [compunction?] are
untouchable for him.

In the time of prayer, as I have already said, satanic assaults are innumerablethoughts
besiege you, memories abduct your mind from prayer, past angers [i.e. remembrance of
wrongs] become very actual [present]. All of a sudden, some unimportant things, take for
example, what is the time? Or, is it raining outside or is the sun shining? become very
important, and the evil spirit drives you to interrupt your prayer just for a moment in
order to look at the clock or the weather or some other unimportant thing.
The experience of the saints or of men of prayer gives us some solutions to use in the
fight against the temptations in spirit which we are subject to by the devil at the time of
As soon as you prepare your heart for prayer and you have purified your mind of the
cares of the day which, no matter what, you will not be able to vanquish completely, set
yourself to prayer. In that moment, the angel of prayer who watches over you comes to
your right side, and the devil cunningly and warily (? Fereala} sets himself on your left.
You must take a pious [devout] position, appropriate for the attitude of prayer: be it on
your knees, or standingyour position must express relationship to prayer.
Fr. [Roman] Braga from the Dormition of the Mother of God Monastery in Michigan
says that at the time when you set yourself to prayer, you must empty your mind of any
imaginations and not imagine anything during prayer, because God will put into your
mind which is empty of all images, His Holy Spirit, and will filll you with His Presence.
This is however for a more advanced state of prayer and, especially, for those who
practice the prayer of the heart. For us, common [folk] who pray, it is better that we have
before us an icon of the Savior and of the Mother of God and of the saints who we wish
to pray to. The icon, however, is only your step towards the spiritual, towards the heart of
Jesus, towards the compassion of the Holy Virgin, and towards the goodness of the saints.
In fact, do not see the icon except as a gate of entrance into the world of divinity.
If you pray out loud, do not be left carried away by the sound of your own voice;
[which?] throws over the words a kind of ------ [languid, spiritless] wave which levels the
sounds and blurs the meaning, with only the monotonous sound of your voice remaining.
In that moment, prayer abandons you. That which remains is the barren [empty] prayer of
the lips, which, in any case, is better than no prayer at all, because at least the flesh prays.
Be careful in your pronunciation of the words as to where you put the accent through the
modulation of our voice, [retaining?] their pious meaning, and keeping your attention
awake and your heart directed towards God.
If you pray in thought, know that our thought is more rapid than the uttering of words,
------------------------ [fie si in gind]. The word is slower than thought. Linguists ascertain
that the moment when we think, we are thinking in words, and especially, then when we
are praying or speaking with someone in thought, our phonetic (?) organ mimics the
uttering of the words, even though the vocal cords make less movement than when we
speak out loud. Nevertheless, these imperceptible movements have a certain inertia so
that the thought takes it much further before the mimicked pronouncing, and it jumps

over many words which remain only intended, and the accumulation of many words
unsaid divert us from the meaning of prayer, and we lose its sweetness. (DOES THIS
MAKE SENSE?) That is why we must pronounce carefully in thought every word, with
the same care which I also recommend for prayer said out loud.
Often our mind abandons prayer and goes to and fro far from God. However, what
remains is a light of vigilance which is kept alive by the angel of prayer. When our mind
runs off, stop the prayer for a moment and call your mind back. The presence of the angel
which helps you to pray will immediately be felt in the sense that the angel will remind
you of the exact moment in which your mind wandered offeven the words which you
had said the moment it fled. Resume the prayer from the phrase where that word was, and
continue to pray. Repeat this sanction of the mind, no matter how many times it wanders
and, with patience, you will manage to discipline it.
It is important for the reinvigoration (?not in dictionary) of prayer, when you feel that you
are tired and that the mind is ready to run off, to change the position of your body. Some
changes can be more extensive, as, for example, the falling onto your knees if you had
been standing. Others are less extensive, but with the same exact effect. A simple change
of the position of the hands, such as, lifting them up or rotating the palms so that they are
turned up in supine position, or joining together the palms and bringing them up toward
your lips with your big fingers on the edge of your lips, or raising them above your head
all of these movements express actions of bodily piety which call your spirit back to
prayer from its wandering.
In regard to prayer, it is composed of many obligatory prayers, called the Beginning
Prayers or the Trisagion and is composed of: O Heavenly King, Holy God (three times),
O Most Holy Trinity, Our Father, Psalm 50, the Creed, and at least, one prayer to the
Mother of God. O Heavenly King is addressed to the Holy Spirit, Holy God is
addressed to the Father, O Most Holy Trinity is addressed to the Father, the Son and the
Holy Spirit. Our Father is addressed to God the Father (The Lords Prayer), Psalm 50 is
a prayer of repentance. These prayers are obligatory even for those who practice the
prayer of the heart.
It is very important to read the Akathists worshiping the Savior, the Mother of God, and,
if it exists, the Saint of the day, the Paraclesis to the Mother of God and the canons of
repentance. Finally, add prayers with special purposes: for parents, relatives, friends and
enemies and for the dead, etc.
All of these endeavors and personal prayers are not but a drop of water. The great prayer
saving and unifyingis the Holy and Divine Liturgy, from which the Christian cannot
be absent on the days that are fixed by the Church. Confession and Communion are
obligatory. They are the crown of our endeavors and put upon our prayers the seal of the
Holy Spirit and deify through the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and
true Man.