In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Each Sunday in course of the Great Lent has a special dedication, a name in honor of some spiritual event. On this Sunday, St. Gregory Palamas, the Archbishop of Thessalonica, whose teaching has a great spiritual significance in the Church, is being remembered. We commemorate him, chant his name because of his Teaching of God's Grace; God's Grace that is full of Life, that is animated, that is perceivable, and is not something abstract. For we can define a human thought as abstract; but we cannot attribute abstractedness to the Grace.
So, in the twilight of the Byzantine Empire, when it was already approaching fragmentation and, eventually, self-destruction, there arose an atmosphere of temptation through all kinds of doctrinal vacillations. And, one day, there was a monk who arrived in Constantinople. It is not known today whether he was Orthodox or of a Jesuit spirit (and, although the Jesuit Order was approved by the Pope much later), jesuitism had probably already lived in the blood of Roman Catholics at the time, just as today. In all likelihood, this was a person on a mission, who, being very intelligent and highly educated, entered the society of Orthodox Byzantine intelligentsia. And he began to preach that the Grace of God is as if an abstract category, and that it is imperceptible. And this is when St. Gregory Palamas stood up against this doctrine.
Because we, the Orthodox, know that God's Grace is efficacious, it is discernable. And if we do not feel God's grace, then we do not have it, then we are not worthy of it.
And St. Seraphim of Sarov has demonstrated it very clearly, he has proven it. After all, whenever something important of ecclesiastical, spiritual nature occurs, it will certainly make itself known throughout the whole world, even if it had happened in the depths of forests and swamps, or slums. So here we have Reverend Seraphim of Sarov sitting on a tree stump and talking to Motovilov, convincing him that God's Grace is palpable. He took Motovilov’s hands and said: “Do you feel anything?”. And suddenly, Motovilov felt completely different. He saw the face of St. Seraphim as if in a fire. And he felt a change in himself: everything inside him was trembling, and he felt very good! And he told this to Seraphim of Sarov. And Seraphim answered: “This is the Grace of God. The Lord granted you to feel the Grace of God ”. Through Seraphim of Sarov, the Grace seemed as if to pass to Motovilov, and he felt the animated, vibrant power of God's Grace!
Therefore, beloved brothers and sisters, we, Orthodox people are not dreamers, we are spiritual realists. And this is because we always feel God's Grace. And how can we feel it? Mainly, of course, in Prayer and in Sacraments; when we receive Communion.
We must begin to feel God's Grace in Prayer.
Every science has gradualness. There is a kindergarten, there is a primary school where the alphabet is taught, there is a secondary education, there is an university, there is an academy, and then, there are one of a kind individually great scientists who stand out and are above all the academies; they are some kind of geniuses. The same happens in the spiritual life. We do have a kindergarten. For example, a man came to a Church for the first time. Something has attracted him, and he came, brought his body, and his soul in this body. And he looks at the candles, at the incense burner, at the lamps, and at everything. And this is already good! It is, at this point, as if baby talk. And the Lord looks at this as at the first step of approaching God. But, of course, it should not stop there. Prayer is like that great ladder that Patriarch Jacob had seen. When he fell asleep, he saw a ladder that went from heaven to earth, and from earth to heaven. It ascended into heaven, into infinity. That's what a Prayer is!
Everyone is at some level, some step of Prayer. First, there is a kindergarten - when a person comes in simply because something had attracted him, but he is still far from the real Prayer. Then he begins to understand the meaning of the Prayer. It is already better that he understands the words and prays, with his mind only. Well, thank God for that! The Lord looks at all the worshipers of all degrees of Prayer with great condescension and great love, thinking and believing that they will continue climbing these steps. And one cannot stop in Prayer, beloved brothers and sisters. If we are in "kindergarten", we must certainly take one more step. Higher and higher...! There is no end to prayer, it ascends into heaven, and dissolves into infinity.
So, we have understood the meaning of a Prayer - and this is already good. But that is not all. If we pray only with our mind and lips, this is already a small achievement. We have set ourselves onto the path of a Prayer. But this is not the real Prayer, beloved brothers and sisters. As, after that, we find ourselves facing a major challenge: we pray, we ask the Lord, we knock on the door, and ... we have no answer. And we stand uncomprehending, what is happening to us? - "Why is it so, that while I do pray; I seem to pray and do everything that I can, but I have no answer?" And at some moments a person may even become low spirited, depressed, as, for some reason, he does not receive an answer ... Why is it so?
Because one needs to involve his heart in Prayer! However this is not in our power.
We have in our power to think of whatever we want. With our thought, we can travel to any point on Earth where we have been at least once. We have the ability to control our thoughts. However, we do not have an ability to feel with our heart when we want. This is our great tragedy. And the heart is everything, it is the whole personality! All human personality is in the heart!
And therefore, this is the problem that we are facing. And this problem stands before us like a wall. We pray with our mind: "Lord, have mercy!" And we perform prostrations without mercy for ourselves, and we still do not receive an answer. Because our heart is silent, and we have no control over it. We cannot order the heart to “love!” or to “feel!”, it is impossible! We all know this from our experience.
So what should we do?
We need to ask God, the Lord, to ask Him to touch our petrified heart. It is a heart of stone. And besides the fact that it is of stone, according to the Holy Scriptures, it is a nest where all our passions live.
The Holy Scripture says it straight: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies..” (Matthew 15:19). And the heart does not speak from the mind; it is the mind that follows the heart, and comes up with a method - how to steal, how to murder. While the very power of murder, theft, etc. comes from the heart. And it turns out that the heart has already been occupied, speaking in modern terms. It is occupied by alien forces.
And so, here we stand with our unanswered prayer and do not understand - what should we do? Well, the answer is - we need to pray with your heart ... Therefore, we need to ask the Lord to touch our heart. And when the Lord touches it, demons leave it, fleeing from Him. And the heart is set free.
Then, upon being set free because the Lord has touched us, the heart begins to pray. It enters the words of the Prayer, and the person begins to really pray. He becomes completely consumed in prayer, engulfed in it with his whole being. I would say that his skin is praying, his bones, the whole body, everything that he is; he wholly stands in Prayer. And he seems to be some kind of a fire, a flame - because the heart is praying! Now, beloved brothers and sisters, this is the beginning of a real, incorruptible Prayer. And the Lord hears such a Prayer and immediately answers it.
And how does He answer it? First of all, if we ask for something very important, spiritual, the Lord answers it. And if we ask for something unreasonable, thinking that it is very reasonable, then the Lord does not fulfill our wish, but fills us with joy, serenity. And we, in the end, detach from this unreasonable petition.
And so, the Lord answers our prayers, and we feel that we are with God, we are talking with the Lord. And what could be better on Earth than to speak with the Lord and be heard by Him? There is nothing higher than this! This is the real Prayer of the Heart, and that is the goal towards which we should all strive.
Then, of course, there are endless degrees of this Prayer. In such a Prayer, a man would transcend any scientist, any wise man. Such a Prayer teaches everything! And a person becomes intelligent, soulful, wise, receiving all this from the Lord in unspeakable ways.
Prayer is the greatest school, it is the science of all sciences. And this is not sentimentality, this is not emotionality, beloved brothers and sisters! For there is nothing greater, more important, essential, than the Perfect Prayer, the Heart Prayer. Let each of us make the achievement of such a prayer the goal of our life.
For in this real Prayer, we find everything: tranquility, peace, and health. Because we ask the Lord - and the Lord fulfills, for a person is no longer two-faced, but is fully standing before God; he asks and receives.
Read the story of life of the righteous St. John of Kronstadt. Why was he receiving everything when he prayed? Because he was all in prayer, and he prayed with his heart.
So, beloved brothers and sisters, let us make a good use of this time of the Great Lent, let us set ourselves the goal of acquiring the prayer of the heart. And do not think that this is just a monastic feat. The devil whispers in our ear: "We are laymen, we do not need it." Not so! This is necessary for all Orthodox baptized people. Let us set this goal and let us ask the Lord to help us acquire, at least at the end of this Lent, a Prayer of the heart.
And if we ever manage to pray with our hearts for just one second, one minute, we shall never forget what we have felt. Never in our lifetime! And we shall wish again and again to return to this most sacred, most blissful moment of all our life. And we will ask, cry out to God, so that the Lord would again let us feel this heartfelt Prayer, this bliss that we can already feel here, before we depart for the Kingdom of Heaven, should we get this honour!
So, beloved brothers and sisters, this is the goal, the real goal of life of every Orthodox person! The purpose of a lifetime! Not of a minute; not of a day; not of a year, but of a lifetime! And then we would become real Christians, full of faith
and happiness. And then all the misfortunes that may come to us would mean nothing for us, for we will have within us an imperturbable peace of the soul.