FROM ST THEOPHAN
Here is a rule for
Before reading you should empty your soul of everything;
Arouse the desire to know about what is being read;
Turn prayerfully to God;
Follow what you are reading with attention and place everything in your
If something did not reach the heart, stay with it until it reaches;
You should, of course, read quite slowly.
reading when the soul no longer wants to nourish itself with reading. That
means it is full. If the soul finds one passage utterly stunning, stop there
and read no more.
best time for reading the Word of God is in the morning. Lives of Saints
after the mid-day meal, and Holy Fathers before going to sleep. Thus you can
take up a little bit each day.
such occupations, you should continually keep in mind the main goal --
impressing the truth on yourself and awakening the spirit. If reading or
discourse does not bring this about, then they are but idle itchings of the
tongue and ears, or empty discussion. If it is done with intelligence, then
the truths impress themselves and rouse the spirit, and one thing aids the
other. But if the reading or discourse digresses from the proper image, then
there is neither one nor the others -- truth is stuffed into the head like
sand, and the spirit becomes cold and hard, smokes over and puffs up.
Impressing the spirit is not the same as searching for it. This requires
only that you clarify what the truth is, and hold it in your mind until they
bond together. Let there be no deductions or limitations -- only the face of
easiest method for this could lawfully be considered the following: the
whole truth is in the catechesis. Every morning take the truth from it and
clarify it to yourself, carry it in your mind and nourish yourself with it
for as long as it feeds the soul -- a day, two days or longer. Do the same
thing with another truth, and continue thus to the end. This is a method
that is easy and applicable to everyone. Those who do not know how to read
may ask for one truth and proceed from there.
see that the rule for everyone is this: impress the truth in a way that will
awaken you. The methods for fulfilling this rule vary, and it is not at all
possible to prescribe the same one for everyone.
reading, listening and discourse that do not impress the truth or awaken the
spirit should be considered wrong, as they lead away from the truth. It is a
sickness to read many books out of curiosity alone, when only the mind
follows what is being read, without leading it to the heart or delighting in
is the science of dreaming; it is not creative, does not hasten success, but
is devastating and always leads to arrogance. All your work should be
limited, as we have said, to the following: clarify the truth and hold it in
the mind until the heart tastes of it. The Holy Fathers put it simply:
remember it, hold it in the mind, and have it always before your eyes. END
St. Theophan the Recluse, "The Path to Salvation," (Platina, California: St.
Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1998), pp. 243 - 244, 247 - 250
And this on Prayer Rule from
From: The Spiritual
Life and How to Be Attuned to It
A prayer rule for one who is on the path of a God-pleasing
about a prayer rule. Yes, it is good to have a prayer rule on account of our
weakness so that on the one hand we do not give in to laziness, and on the
other hand we restrain our enthusiasm to its proper measure. The greatest
practitioners of prayer kept a prayer rule. They would always begin with
established prayers, and if during the course of these a prayer started on
its own, they would put aside the others and pray that prayer. If this is
what the great practitioners of prayer did, all the more reason for us to do
so. Without established prayers, we would not know how to pray at all.
Without them, we would be left entirely without prayer.
one does not have to do many prayers. It is better to perform a small number
of prayers properly than to hurry through a large number of prayers, because
it is difficult to maintain the heat of prayerful zeal when they are
performed to excess.
consider the morning and evening prayers as set out in the prayer books to
be entirely sufficient for you. Just try each time to carry them out with
full attention and corresponding feelings. To be more successful at this,
spend a little of your free time at reading over all the prayers separately.
Think them over and feel them, so that when you recite them at your prayer
rule, you will know the holy thoughts and feelings that are contained in
them. Prayer does not mean that we just recite prayers, but that we
assimilate their content within ourselves, and pronounce them as if they
came from our minds and hearts.
have considered and felt the prayers, work at memorizing them. Then you will
not have to fumble about for your prayer book and light when it is time to
pray; neither will you be distracted by anything you see while you are
performing your prayers, but can more easily maintain thoughtful petition
toward God. You will see for yourself what a great help this is. The fact
that you will have your prayer book with you at all times and in all places
is of great significance. Being thus prepared, when you stand at prayer be
careful to keep your mind from drifting and your feeling from coldness and
indifference, exerting yourself in every way to keep your attention and to
spark warmth of feeling. After you have recited each prayer, make
prostrations, as many as you like, accompanied by a prayer for any necessity
that you feel, or by the usual short prayer. This will lengthen your prayer
time a little, but its power will be increased. You should pray a little
longer on your own especially at the end of your prayers, asking forgiveness
for unintentional straying of the mind, and placing yourself in God's hands
for the entire day.
also maintain prayerful attention toward God throughout the day. For this,
as we have already mentioned more than once, there is remembrance of God;
and for remembrance of God, there are short prayers.
Memorizing the Psalms
It is good,
very good, to memorize several psalms and recite them while you are working
or between tasks, doing this instead of short prayers sometimes, with
concentration. This is one of the most ancient Christian customs, mentioned
by and included in the rules of St. Pachomius and St. Anthony.
spending the day in this manner, you must pray more diligently and with more
concentration in the evening. Increase your prostrations and petitions to
God, and after you have placed yourself in Divine hands once again, go to
bed with a short prayer on your lips and fall asleep with it or recite some
psalms should you memorize?
Memorize the ones that strike your heart as you are reading them.
person will find different psalms to be more effective for himself.
with Have mercy on me, O God (Psalm 50);
Bless the Lord, O my soul (Psalm 102);
Praise the Lord, O my Soul (Psalm 145). These latter two are the
antiphon hymns in the Liturgy.
also the psalms in the Canon for Divine Communion:
Lord is my shepherd (Psalm 22);
earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof (Psalm 23);
believed, wherefore I spake (Psalm 115);
first psalm of the evening vigil, O God, be attentive unto helping me (Psalm
the psalms of the hours, and the like. Read the Psalter and select.
have memorized all of these, you will always be fully armed with prayer.
disturbing thought occurs, rush to fall down before the Lord with either a
short prayer or one of the psalms, especially O God, be attentive unto
helping me, and the disturbing cloud will immediately disperse.
are; everything on the subject of a prayer rule. I will, however, mention
once again that you should remember that all these are aids,
and the most important thing is standing before God with the mind in the
heart with devotion and heartfelt prostration to Him.
of something else to tell you! You may limit the entire prayer rule just to
prostrations with short prayers and prayer in your own words. Stand and make
prostrations, saying Lord have mercy, or some other prayer, expressing your
need or giving praise and thanks to God.
establish either a number of prayers, or a time-limit for prayer, or do both,
so that you do not become lazy.
necessary, because there is a certain incomprehensible peculiarity about us.
When, for example, we go about some outward activity, hours pass as if they
were a minute. When we stand at prayer, however, hardly have a few minutes
gone by, and it seems that we have been praying for an extremely long time.
This thought does not cause harm when we perform prayer according to an
established rule; but when somebody prays and is just making prostrations
with short prayers, it presents a great temptation. This can put a halt to
prayer that has barely begun, leaving the false assurance that it has been
The prayer rope
Thus, the good practitioners of prayer came up with prayer
ropes so that they would not be subject to this self-deception. Prayer ropes
are suggested for use by those who desire to pray using their own prayers,
not prayers from a prayer book. They are used as follows: Say Lord Jesus
Christ, have mercy on me a sinner, and move one bead between your fingers.
Repeat the prayer again and move another bead, and so on. Make a prostration
during each repetition of the prayer, either a partial one from the waist or
a full one to the ground, as you prefer; or, for small beads, make a
prostration from the waist, and for large ones, a full one to the ground.
The rule in all of this consists in having a definite number of prayer
repetitions with prostrations to which are added other prayers in your own
words. When deciding on the number of prostrations and prayers, establish a
time limit, so that you do not deceive yourself as to haste when you perform
them. If haste creeps in, you can fill up the time by making more
prostrations should be done for each prayer is set down at the end of the
Psalter with sequences in two categories, one for diligent people and the
other for lazy or busy people. The elders now living among us in sketes or
special kellia in places such as Valaam or Solovki serve the entire service
according to this. If you would like to, now or some other time, you can
perform your own prayer rule in this manner. Before you do this, however,
get used to performing it in the manner prescribed for you. Perhaps you will
not need a new rule. In any case, I am sending you a prayer rope. Try it!
Note how much time you spend at morning and evening prayer, then sit down
and say your short prayers with the prayer rope, and see how many times you
go around the rope during the time usually required for your prayer. Let
this quantity be the measure of your rule. Do this not during your usual
prayer time, but at some other time, although do it with the same sort of
attentiveness. The prayer rule, then, is carried out in this way, standing
and making bows.
reading this, do not think I am driving you into a monastery.
I first heard about praying with a prayer rope from a lay person, not a monk.
Many lay people and monastics pray in this way. It should be suitable for
you, too. When you are praying with prayers that you have memorized and they
do not move you, you may pray that day using the prayer rope, and do the
memorized prayers another day. Thus, things will go better.
repeat once again that the essence of prayer is the lifting of the
mind and heart to God; these little rules are
an aid. We cannot get by without them because of our weakness. May the Lord
+Father Archimandrite Gregory, who asks for
your holy prayers!