Prayer is the most important work for any believer, and acquiring it has been a topical issue for many generations. The holy elders living not so long ago can share with us their unique experience in simple and understandable terms. Their teachings are particularly valuable because they are supported by personal examples and the Lord’s quick response to their sincere prayers. Here are some simple instructions of the great 19th and 20th century elders about prayer together with a few examples of their effect on others.
“A prayer defeats the enemies if it is said with humility; but it may also harm us if performed with pride.” Venerable Macarius of Optina
A certain Alexei Govorov once shared the dramatic change occurring in his life through the prayer of Elder Macarius.
Suffering from drunkenness for a long time, this man squandered his fortune and spoiled family relationships. His wife turned for help to many people, but nothing seemed to be able to keep him from his weakness until finally, they were advised to go to Optina Monastery to see Father Macarius.
Arriving there, they told the elder about Alexei’s weakness. Father Macarius jokingly hit the man three times on the head and told him to prepare for the communion of the Holy Mysteries. When Alexei approached the Holy Gifts, he began to have seizures preventing him from coming to the Chalice. He was shaking and his mind was dominated by evil thoughts like: “Why are you going there? Communion will not help you. All this is nonsense. Leave it! Walk away! ” It seemed as if an invisible force was pushing him back. And yet, by persuasion and force, Alexei’s wife helped her husband to receive Holy Communion, after which he immediately felt relief, which grew stronger every hour. When his mind settled, he felt such a disgust for any alcoholic beverages that he could not stand even the smell of them.
“When things get hard, pray to God like this:” Lord, grant me peace…” Elder Athenogenes of the Pskov Caves
Once a pilgrim came to the elder Athenogenes with a sore hand and blind in one eye. She was crying and asking for help, saying “Just bless my hand and eye with the sign of the cross, and that will be enough!” The elder touched her hand and said: “Let it be done to you according to your faith.” And then he crossed her eye. A day later, the pilgrim went home. Soon she felt that she was no longer feeling pain in her hand and suddenly had a thought: “Close your healthy eye and read with the blind one”. At first the woman was confused but then did as her inner voice told her. To her great surprise, her blind eye began to see even better than the healthy one. Such was the power of the elder’s prayer.
“Prayer without love is like a bird without wings; sweet and beautiful, but unable to soar.” St. Amphilochius (Makris)
The effect of the elder’s prayer and his immeasurable love for the children of God was once revealed in the following incident. It happened in Athens when St Amphilochius was visited by two of his spiritual daughters who stayed until late in the evening. As they were leaving, the elder blessed them for the journey and wished them good night. However, he was worried about them as he knew that one of the women had severe knee pain and had difficulty walking. When they left, the venerable began to sincerely pray that the sisters would return home safely. During his prayer, the woman with a sick knee suddenly felt as if she was rising above the ground. Her companion confirmed that she was moving a foot from the ground. When the women told the elder about what had happened the next day, he said that it was an answer to his fervent prayers for them.
“We have no boldness in prayer, because we love our passions and weaknesses; we do not want to fight them. Pray until you drop.” Venerable Simeon of the Pskov Caves
According to Nun Alexandra, the elder’s cell attendant, a Visitor in black attire came to the elder Simeon’s cell shortly before his death.
The elder sat in an armchair opposite the analogion and, holding his hand to his heart, said, “Mother of God, it hurts here and also here.” At this time, mother Alexandra entered his cell. Hearing his words, she thought that he was praying in front of the image of the Mother of God, showing Her the burdens of his heart. She left immediately so as not to interfere. In the kitchen she saw Eugenia, a spiritual daughter of the elder. Noticing that Nun Alexandra had just left the cell of Elder Simeon, she asked her what guests the elder was having. She said that a few minutes earlier she saw a tall woman in an unusual attire of an abbess entering the cell accompanied by two men .
Nun Alexandra was very surprised, because when she entered the cell, she did not see anyone. She returned to the elder and asked him Eugenia’s question. The elder said: “She is right seeing those who came, and you are right not seeing anyone.” Then he added quietly, as if he was talking to himself, “The Mother of God was with the apostles Peter and John. They asked me where it hurt.”
“Oh, father, did you talk to Her?!” – Nun Alexandra exclaimed. The elder humbly replied that it was not the first time the Mother of God visited him. Soon after that incident, the elder also said that the Archangel Michael came to see him with a host of Angels. An hour before his death, he also shared that he was visited by a host of saints.
If this article leaves you with the impression that the described measure of holiness and power of prayer are beyond your reach, you can follow the advice of Archimandrite John (Krestiankin): “Do not plan your life now. Instead pray: “Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul”. You will soon see the miracle of God’s guidance in life ”.