In the contemporary situation of Orthodox people, who are often completely cut off from the Church of God, who have no opportunity to experience within themselves the beneficial influence of the Church services and the whole prayerful atmosphere of the Church, it is very important to create, even in ones solitude, some likeness of the churchly atmosphere. How can this be accomplished?
First of all, set aside some special place for prayer. In your home, perhaps above your bed, hang two or three icons and a vigil lamp before them... It is imperative to establish a permanent order of prayer at home. Select a rule of prayer evening, morning and during the day. Let the rule not be too long so as not to become tired of it because of the newness of the experience. The rule must always be observed with fear, effort and attention. Here also will be demanded certain external: standing, prostrations, kneeling, the sign of the Cross, reading... The more often one prays in this manner, the better. It is well to become accustomed to one such prayer, so that on beginning, ones spirit is immediately enkindled. One should pray simply: on arising to pray, say the prayer with fear and trembling, as into the ear of God, accompanying the prayer with the sign of the Cross, prostrations and kneeling. The adopted rule must always be fulfilled without fail.
There are degrees of prayer: the first degree physical prayer, which consists mostly of reading, standing, prostration; the attention wavers; the heart is not sensitive, there is no inclination towards prayer: toil and patience are required, this is active prayer. The second degree attentive prayer: the mind becomes accustomed to consecrate in the hour of prayer and to utter the whole prayer without absentmindedness. The third degree the prayer of feeling: the heart becomes warm with feeling, and what previously is thought now becomes feeling. One who has reached this feeling prays without words, for God is the God of hearts.
Read the Word of God, the New Testament, and before reading address yourself to God in prayer, that the Lord may help you to understand, accept and fulfill that which you have read. Do not be frightened by the asceticism, effort, fasting, prayer, abstinence to which the Church calls you. All this is boring and burdensome only when it is done without memory of Christ, but when it is done in the name of Christ, with faith and love, then the yoke becomes easy and the burden becomes light...
May the Lord help us in the course of the Great Lent to fulfill it well so that we may worthily adore the Shining Resurrection!
Archpriest Sergei CHETVERIKOFF
(Reprinted from the Holy Trinity Cathedral Church Life Bulletin, April 1964 and in the Holy Trinity Cathedral LIFE, Vol. 3, No. 7, March 1996)