Degrees of Prayer

There are various degrees of prayer. The first degree is bodily pryaer, consisting for the most part in reading, in standing, and in making prostrations. In all this there must needs be patience, labour, and sweat; for the attention runs away, the heart feels nothing and has no desire to pray. Yet in spite of this, give yourself a moderate rule and keep to it. Such is active prayer.

The second degree is prayer with attention: the mind becomes accustomed to collecting itself in the hour of prayer, and prays consciously throughout, without distraction. The mind is focused upon written words to the point of speaking them as if they were its own.

The third degree is prayer of feeling: the heart is warmed by concentration so that what hitherto has only been thought now becomes feeling. Where first it was a contrite phrase now it is contrition itself; and what was once a petition in words is transformed into a sensation of entire necessity. Whoever has passed thourgh action and thought to true feeling, will pray without words, for God is God of the heart. So that the end of apprenticeship in prayer can only be said to come when in our prayers we move only from feeling to feeling. In this state reading may cease, as well as deliberate thought; let there be only a dwelling in feeling with specific marks of prayer.

When the feeling of prayer reaches the point where it becomes continuous, then spiritual prayer may be said to begin. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit praying for us, the last degree of prayer which our minds can grasp.

But there is, they say, yet another kind of prayer which cannot be comprehended by our mind, and which goes beyond the limits of consciousness: on this read St. Isaac the Syrian.

St. Theophan the Recluse
What is Prayer? The Test of Everything
page 52, The Art of Prayer - An Orthodox Anthology
Compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo
Translated by E. Kadloubovsky and E. M. Palmer
1966 (sixth printing 1985)
faber and faber - London and New York


Seven Mercies

Seven Mercies
By Origen

For you, the Son of God was killed. How could it please you to sin again? And yet, lest these things not so much build up your souls for virtue as cast them down to despair, you heard how many sacrifices there were in the Law for sins. Now hear how many are the remissions of sins in the gospel.

First is the one by which we are baptized "for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4).

A second remission is in the suffering of martyrdom.

Third, is that which is given through alms. For the Savior says, "but nevertheless, give what you have and, behold, all things are clean for you. (Luke 11:41).

A fourth remission of sins is given for us through the fact that we also forgive the sins of our brothers. For thus the Lord and Savior himself says, "If you will forgive from the heart your brothers' sins, your Father will also forgive you your sins. But if you will not forgive your brothers from the heart, neither will your Father forgive you” (Mt 6: 14, 15). And thus he taught us to say in prayer, "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Mt 6:12).

A fifth forgiveness of sins is when "someone will convert a sinner from the error of his way." For thus divine Scripture says, "Whoever will make a sinner turn from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.,,(Jas 5:20).

There is also a sixth forgiveness through the abundance of love as the Lord himself says, "Truly I say to you, her many sins are forgiven because she loved much.” (Luke 7:47). And the Apostle says, "Because love will cover a multitude of sins" (1 Pet 4:8).

And there is still a seventh remission of sins through penance, although admittedly it is difficult and toilsome, when the sinner washes "his couch in tears” (Ps 6:7) and his "tears" become his "bread day and night” (Ps 41:4) when he is not ashamed to make known his sin to the priest of the Lord and to seek a cure according to the one who says, "I said, 'I will proclaim to the Lord my injustice against myself,' and you forgave the impiety of my heart" (Ps 31:5). What the Apostle James said is fulfilled in this:' "But if anyone is sick, let that person call the presbyters of the Church, and they will place their hands on him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and if he is in sins, they will be forgiven him.” (Jas 5:14-15).

Fathers of the Church Series, Volume 83, Homilies on Leviticus by Origen.

Difficulty with Difficult Issues

Difficulty with Difficult Issues

A Middle Aged Man wrote:
February 16 at 4:15pm

Dearest Father, God Help us all!

I pray you are well. I want to talk w/ you about personal & spiritual matters. I pray you do not mind. I want to explain to you that I suffer from mental illness, inherited from both my parents. I am bipolar & struggle w/ severe depression. This has been a life long issue. Years ago, I had a very severe breakdown that I'm still feeling the effects of. Every so often this monster really strikes at me, it takes all my energy to fight back, but my sister needs help.

[a detailed explanation followed - snipped here for confidentiality]

This is where it's at. Again I & others are trying to steer her to get serious about help. So she is still taking no real responsibility for her actions & shows no remorse. She continues to lie & manipulate & neglect any responsibilities in her life. She keeps distant to me because she can't manipulate the truth & doesn't want to hear what I say. I'm so at a lost. My heart & soul is so very heavy & so exhausted. Thank you for caring, I send you my prayers & love.

Rev Fr John Brian replied:
February 17 at 4:00pm

I have prayed about this and for you and for your family.

First, let me say that I am sorry for the loss of your niece.

I am also sorry that your life has been such a struggle both internally and externally. I am familiar with the conditions of childhood and adult dysfunction, as a survivor and as a family member.

On this topic of your own diagnosis, I will assume that you have professional help with your biochemical imbalances.

What is important for us in these kinds of difficult circumstances is to be conscious - honest - aware... "Awake you who sleeps and rise from the dead." This "awake" state for some requires biochemical assistance, but more importantly requires perseverance of honesty, openminded and willingness to do what is good, holy, pure.

In honesty, we need to admit our own limitations and give everything else to God and His angels.

In openmindedness, we need to be able to see new directions, receive help from new sources, accept new even divergent ideas.

In willingness, we need to safely endure the current moment as it passes, wait for the opportunity (wait on the Lord) and then step forward in that new direction - which may mean away from those we love.

In all this perseverance remembering the promises of Christ, the teachings of David in the Psalms and other from the scripture and among the saints, how they endured for what is good, holy, pure.

Remember God loves each of us, each of your family, and sees them the way he made them (in His image) we may not be able to see as God sees. We need to admit our limitations with honesty - this also means accepting that God created each of us with free will - the ability to make decisions regardless of our circumstance.

It is not so much what is happening to us and around us, but HOW we deal with it.

May the Lord bless you with His peace and fill you with His love. May He give wisdom to take of care of that which you can, so that you will be better able to serve your family in the future.

Thank you for your prayers for me, an unworthy servant.

The Middle Aged Man replied:
February 26 at 2:17pm

Dear Fr. John Brian,

+++Father Bless+++
Thank you for your kindness & your love & prayers.
Your words fill my heart w/ faith & hope.
Middle Aged Man
Spiritual Love sent using Butterflies on Facebook

Father John-Brian Paprock
From internet correspondence 2009



Prayer is not form, it is function.
It is not posture, it is relation.
However, proper posture and proper form give prayer more profound function and deeper relationship.
One cannot know this until one has made the effort.

We will put effort into how and when we pray only after an honest appraisal of our distance from God and our lack communication with Him during the activities of our day-to-day life. These problem in our relationship with God become evident in times of sorrow and struggle.

"Lord, teach us to pray" is a request that reveals the Lord's prayer in the scriptures. In Holy Qurbana (liturgy), the priest announces the congregation's willingness to be taught the fullness of the Lord's prayer, by asking God:
- to open our mouths and our lips
- to cleanse our bodies and our souls
- purify our hearts and our minds
- so that we may invoke Thee and Pray to Thee, saying:
Our Father...

Why do you bow down before the altar?
1. that is what in the book instructions (rubrics) - obedience
2. that is what I need to do for proper worship and prayer - humilty
3. this is my proper position before God - honesty
4. I need to present myself before God for His mercy on us all - sacrifice

Humbly written and submitted by a servant for edification and spiritual development.

Fr John Brian
Holy Transfiguration Mission
Madison, Wisconsin

Truly Desire the Will of God

Dear Father John-Brian,

I'm having a difficult time with this quote from Dorotheos of Gaza in The Book of Mystical Chapters (McGulkin, 2003, page 69):

"But if a person does not truly desire the will of God,
even if they were to go to a prophet,
God would put it into the heart of that prophet
to give a response comparable to the deceit
that was in the seeker's heart."

Does that mean that the person who does not truly desire the Will of God, who goes to see a prophet will have his or her selfish delusion/desire reinforced or encouraged by something God puts in/on the heart of the prophet???

How does one know if one TRULY desires the Will of God? How do I know my ego isn't involved or that I'm not lying to myself?


Dearest Child of God,

For who does not want the will of the God of beneficence, mercy and love - the one who has all power and yet waits for us.

If we are honest, we will admit our limited-ness and only want the clarity and nurturance of God's will. This is why we must know ourselves with microscopic honesty - so that we are not self-deceiving.

The only one who can lie to himself is one who is hiding from himself. The only one who can lie to God is one who is hiding from God. So one who wants to hide, who wants to decieve, will only get the confirmation they are seeking - as he IS NOT seeking the will of God.

Do not worry. God will not keep His will hidden just because we are confused. The next step in following His way is always clear. If we are not sure, we can look around and we will always see the next most loving thing to do, the next "right" action. We may not be able to see much further.

There is the old adage: what you look for, you will find.

pray for me, a servant

Father John-Brian Paprock
From internet correspondence 2009



A Christian...

...believes that the coming to earth of Jesus Christ the God-man was not a divine one- sided act but a call for people to respond to the love of God.

...does not look on faith as abstract conviction but total trust in God revealed in Christ.

...accepts the word of God recorded in scripture but guards against giving a literal interpretation to every line.

...views the academic study of the Bible and Church History as an important means of clarification of the meaning of revelation and establishing the actual circumstances of Sacred History.

...recognizes the activity of Christ in the Church and in all life.

...believes that the Church lives and grows in the strength of Christ.

...respects the ritual forms of devotion without forgetting for a moment that they are secondary in comparison with love for God and other people.

...guards against authoritarianism and paternalism which are rooted not in the spirit of faith but in characteristics inherent to the fallen nature of humanity.

...know that the opponents of Christ(illegitimate rulers, power-loving members of the Hierarchy, fanatical supporters of the past) are to be found not only in the Gospel period but reappear under various guises at any time in history.

...experiences the divisions among Christians as a sin which is common to all and a violation of Christ's will.

..sees all that is beautiful, creative and good as belonging to God, the secret activity of Christ's grace.

...treats the works of art of the church over the centuries not as a mistake but as a way of realizing God's gifts.

...recognizes the line dividing Tradition, the spirit of faith and learning, from traditions, many of which are associated with folk-lore and are impermanent accretions to religious life.

...believes that Christ reveals himself in the sacraments of the church, in her sanctification of the world, in her teaching and in acts of service, but knows that none of these aspects is sufficient on its own, for Christ came as savior ,healer and teacher.

...knows that the kingdom of God which is to come can reign within us even today.

...believes one and the same God revealed himself in both Testaments, but that God revealed himself gradually as befitted the level of human consciousness.

...does not ask for tangible signs but remembers that creation is a miracle.

...refuses to point to human imperfection or to the 'survival of the animal nature' as the sole reason for the existence of evil in human beings but believes in the reality of metaphysical evil.

...rejects the tendency to find in scripture or the writings of Church fathers statements about natural science to be held valid for all time.

...believes in the significance of the hierarchical and canonical principal in the church seeing them as structural features of an active organism (and) knows that liturgical rules and canon law have changed over the centuries and cannot and should not remain absolutely unaltered in the future. This is also true of theological interpretation of the truths of the faith, which has a long history and passed through phases when more of the truth was revealed and interpretation deepened(for example in the councils).

...is not afraid to look critically at the church's past following the example of the teachers of the 0ld Testament and the Church Fathers.

...is open to all that is valuable in all Christian denominations and non-Christian beliefs.

...does not consider reason and science to be enemies of the faith. Knowledge enlightened by the spirit of Faith deepens our understanding of the greatness of the creator.

...affirms with the apostle Paul that the witness of faith in the world is first and foremost the witness of service and active love.

...does not reject good even if it comes from non-religious people but rejects force, dictatorship and hatred even if they are perpetrated in the name of Christ.

...professes that freedom is one of the most important laws of the Spirit and in the light of this sees sin as a form of slavery.

...sees that the Christian vocation can be realized in everything: in prayer, work, creativity, in active work and moral discipline.

...considers that when some area of life is infected by sin this should not serve as a reason for rejecting it. On the contrary, the struggle to establish the Kingdom of God should take place at the center of life.

Fr. Alexander Men (Russian Orthodox Priest - d. 1990)
"Christianity for the XXIst Century" published by Continuum 1998)

God is a Father

There was a story that I am fond of repeating about a serendipity that occurred in the midst of this darkest and loneliest time. Shortly after my son was born, I was sitting in my car not wanting to go inside, but not wanting to go anywhere else either. So I sat in the driveway and listened to the radio, but I could not find a song or station I was satisfied with. As I was flipping through the stations, I clicked one the local Christian station. I heard:

"Today we are speaking about the Book of Job."

I thought, "This I can listen to."

"But first I would like to share a personal story," said the speaker. I will paraphrase the poignant story he told:

His 3-year-old son suffered many ear infections. During one particularly severe infection, the father took his son to see the doctor. The doctor explained that antibiotics would work, but first, the pus and infection had to be scraped off his eardrum, to prevent damage to the child's hearing.

Being a good father and not wishing any damage to his son's hearing, he told the doctor to proceed.

The doctor then explained that it is a very painful procedure.

Being a good father and not wishing to have his son suffer any undo pain, he told the doctor to knock him out with anesthesia.

The doctor explained that the child at 3 years old was too young for the potential damaging effects of anesthesia.

Being a good father and not wishing to have his son suffer an undo pain, he told the doctor to use a shot of Novocain to numb out the ear.

The doctor explained that the child's body was too small to be sure not to strike a nerve and cause greater harm.

Being a good father and not wishing to have his son suffer an undo pain, he asked in frustration, "Well, what do want me to do about it?"

The doctor said, "Hold him."

So the father secured the son by holding him in a hug-like position. The doctor began the scrapping and the child began screaming and crying. Being a good father, listening to his cries was very difficult, but that wasn't the worst part of being the father that day. In the position he was holding his son, they were both facing a mirror. No, the screaming and crying were not the worst for this good father. The expression on the 3-year-old's face that clearly said, "Dad, why are you letting him do this to me?"

It was at that moment of frustration and angst that the good father understood how much God loves us and how He holds us when we are in pain, even though, as a Good Father, He does not wish any of His children to suffer undo pain.

I am not too proud to tell you that I cried and wept for a long time after hearing that story. I felt God's hand reach down and touch my heart, reassuring me of His love and His presence. I have not doubted since that He is indeed my Father and that He has allowed me to grow in His light.

Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock
Living in the Eighth Day: Orthodox Pastoral Reflections in American Mission
Father’s Day (06-20-04) pages 40-41
Holy Transfiguration Publications, 2005, Madison, Wisconsin
www.lulu.com/transfiguration - transfiguration@usa.com

the most powerful effective spiritual work

the most powerful effective spiritual work

Christ call upon us to pray before God. He persists in asking us to pray and not lose heart, to pray with persistence and passion. This call points to the source from which we receive the power for conversion, renewal, and growth. This is how Christ explains the need for prayer. For through prayer we gain something that cannot be gained otherwise. This "thing" that can only be granted by prayer belongs to God: "How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him" (Lk. 11:12)!

Prayer is spiritual contact with God. God's purpose in urging us to pray without growing weary is that prayer progressively brings about an essential day-to-day change in us. Prayer must be made with constant zeal in order that we should be changed into something higher than our nature. This is actually realized in us when we feel that we have become something more than ourselves. And this is what summons us to more pleading and urgency until our prayer is answered. For through prayer, we receive what we do not basically deserve.

For this reason, we have to realize that prayer is an essential action through which conversion, renewal, and growth of one's soul take place. This is brought about through God while man remains unconscious of the change.

Neither bliss, nor interior peace, not a feeling that prayer is answered, nor any other feeling is equal to the hidden action of the Holy Spirit in one's soul. Such action qualifies the soul for eternal life.

Prayer is the most powerful effective spiritual work and has its own spontaneous reward without the evidence of feelings. Prayer could not have an end or an aim higher than itself. It is the highest aim of the highest work.

Prayer is opening oneself toward the effective, invisible, and imperceptible power of God. Man can never leave the presence of God without being transformed and renewed in his being, for this is what Christ has promised. However, such transformation will not be in the form of a sudden leap. It will take its time and course as an imperceptible but meticulous build-up.

Whoever persists in surrendering himself to God by praying without growing weary receives in the end more than he desired. He even receives more than he deserves. Everyone who lives by prayer in the end gathers and gains for himself an immense trust in God, so powerful and so certain that it can almost be seen and touched. His soul becomes imbued with God through and through, even to its very depths. Man thus perceives God in a most vivid way. He feels as though his soul has become greater and stronger. Neither ignoring his own weakness nor forgetting his shortcomings, he becomes sure of the existence of another being higher than his own temporal one.

This sure feeling of the existence of God and of his power broadens the scope of the soul's perception of divine realities. It also widens its power of discernment and vision. Thus the soul witnesses within itself a new birth, a new horizon, and a new world. This is its beloved world, the world of Jesus. God, not one's own sense or ego, is the source of this world. Man comes to lay hold of this knowledge, not through his own mind, but through the will of the Holy Spirit, without any intervention of human will, effort, or worldly wisdom.

When the soul ascends to the world of true light, which is within its own self, it begins to feel in harmony with God through constant prayer. It then loses all dichotomy as well as doubt and anxiety when truth pervades all its feelings and movements. Its past and present experiences are melted in the fire of divine love. This excludes all prejudice and fears of the self, as well as the flaws of selfishness and doubt. It leaves no feelings in the soul except total awareness of the sovereignty of the Spirit and absolute obedience to his will.

Father Matta El-Meskeen - Matthew the Poor

Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way
Page 14-15 - Introduction to the Second Edition (written in the Desert of Wadi El-Rayyan in 1968) Translation from the Monastery of St Macarius the Great - Egypt Published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press 2003

a power that changes lives

a power that changes lives

The world now thirsts to see living faith in the person of Jesus Christ; not simply to hear about it, but to live it. So many books tell about Christ; so many preachers speak about Christ; but so few people live and speak WITH Christ.

The Church cannot live on principles of faith to be studied. Faith in Christ is not a theory. It is a power that changes lives. Everyone in Christ should have this power. One must be able to change one's own life and renew it through the power of Christ.

But our faith in Christ will ever remain powerless until we meet him face to face within ourselves. In all patience, long-suffering, and courage, we must bear the shame that will cover us when our souls are stripped naked before God's pure and searching eyes. It is only then that we will emerge with an authentic spiritual experience and renewal for our souls. We will then gain a true knowledge and awareness of the holiness and kindness of Christ.

Every meeting with Christ is a prayer of renewal. Every prayer is an experience of faith. Every experience of faith is eternal life. But that does not mean that the facts of faith, doctrine, or theology can be shaped or changed according to man's inward experience. The facts of faith are as firmly established as is God himself. However, our experience only intensifies their clarity and throws them into sharper relief, for God is truly revealed in his saints. Thus we know God, and always will know him only in proportion to the experience of his saints, those who fear him throughout the ages.

Father Matta El-Meskeen - Matthew the Poor Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way Page 13, Introduction to the Second Edition (written in the Desert of Wadi El-Rayyan in 1968) Translation from the Monastery of St Macarius the Great - Egypt Published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press 2003

prayer for a friend in trouble

[from the correspondence of Rev Fr John Brian]

Q: Can you write a little prayer for my FB Friend who is suicidal after severe abuse by a boyfriend?

prayer for a friend in trouble

O Lord, Jesus Christ, we come before You with all our troubles and all our worries because we know that You will hear us. We know You can heal us of our infirmities, strengthen us in our tribulations and protect us from all harms. We ask You to protect one of the little ones who has suffered through the hands of others, through life circumstance and through her own inadequate efforts. Protect her from the evil around her and from harmful delusions that would cause her to harm herself. Make Your loving, merciful and benevolent power known to her, so that she can see the way of hope, of love, of redemption, of healing and of wholeness. Grant her peace in her troubled time and quell the urges that seek to destroy her. Wrap guardian angel wings around her to keep her safe through the night-time of her life. And then, when the night is done, make that radiant light to shine upon her to nourish her in all Your ways - the ways of love, righteousness and peace. This we ask of You in the same hope and expectation as the woman did for a daughter possessed, the centurion did for his servant and all those that brought the sick, the maimed, the possessed and the diseased for your healing touch while you walked among us. Work with her a miracle for good (and all who suffer in the night-time) . Make us all examples of your loving-kindness in this world. Help us in our lowly faith. We know that you can do all things for those that believe and that with You nothing is impossible - and so, all of this we ask You in Your Holy Name, together with the Father who created all people in His likeness and the Holy Spirit who gives life to all. Forever and ever. Amen.

Pray for me, a servant
Fr John Brian


[from the correspondence of Rev Fr John Brian]

May the risen Christ bless and keep you. May His healing touch bring you wholeness despite the challenges you face in this life. The holy martyrs kept their focus even while being inflicted with horrendous pain and suffering. These are examples to us. There are stories of the singing of psalms while being burned and praising God while being tortured.

When I am suffering in very similar ways as you do, I remember visiting a bishop who was dying and who refused morphine so that he could keep a clear mind as long as he could. In his moments of clarity he would take visitors. After a short visit and blessing, I was talking in the hall and heard "ababababababababababababa..." coming from his room.

"What is he saying?" I asked.

"He is repeating 'abba" over and over."
"Why Abba (father) and not other prayers?"
"He is unable to keep his focus to read or saying anything more."

I believe God sent angels to him because of his faith.
Pray for me, a servant
Fr John Brian