The following words are from Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou of St. John the Baptist Monastery in Essex, England. He beautifully reminds us that when we pray, we must pray with a humble and contrite heart. Those who pray with a humble heart have recognized that their very life is a gift from God and that apart from God they are but earth and ashes. Realizing this truth their heart is full of gratitude, which in turn fills their entire being with even more humility. It is from this disposition that they offer their prayers to their Father in Heaven. Prayer is no long a labor, a duty or something that needs to be done; it becomes an ongoing dialogue with God. Fr. Zacharias also reminds us that God desires us to respond to His love, and as such, He “targets” our hearts so that He may dwell within it.
No matter how daunting and difficult the struggle of purifying the heart may be, nothing should deter us from this undertaking. We have on our side the ineffable goodness of a God Who has made man’s heart His personal concern and goal. In the book of Job, we read the following astonishing words: “What is man, that You magnify him? And that You should set Your heart upon him? And that You should visit him every morning, and try him every moment…” (Job 7:17-19). We sense God, Who is incomprehensible, pursuing man’s heart: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hears my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).
He knocks at the door of our heart, but He also encourages us to knock at the door of His mercy: “Knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Lk. 11:9-10). When the two doors that are God’s goodness and man’s heart open, then the greatest miracle of our existence occurs: man’s heart is united with the Spirit of the Lord, God feasting with the sons of men.
Let us not fail to humble our spirit. If we acquire this blessed habit, many of our faults will be corrected. For example, the thought may come to mind that we have grieved our brother, and we know that in order to be pleasing to God and to remain in His presence we must be reconciled to the person we have grieved. In order to enter Paradise, one must have a heart as wide as the heavens, a heart that embraces all men. If a heart excludes even just one person, it will not be accepted by the Lord because He will not be able to dwell in it.
Prayer is an endless creation; it is a school that teaches us to remain in the presence of the Lord. This effort to remain with the Lord is an exercise that finally overcomes death, which is why our prayer must be neither superficial nor mechanical. We must unite mind and heart in order to learn true mental prayer, in other words, we must pray with our whole inner being, with all our mind and heart.
Prayer is a school, and humility is the key to success in this discipline. Let us be humble. Let us have the certainty of our own nothingness before God, knowing that the only thing that makes us truly human is the breath that our God and Creator has breathed into us. In every other respect we are earth, and earth is trodden underfoot. What makes us truly precious is the breath of God, received by us at the time of our creation and at our re-creation in holy baptism. This breath makes us the image and likeness of God.
Only God can give us the grace, the ability, to have a heart as wide as the heavens so that we may embrace all people, not excluding even one person from our heart. Certainly what is impossible for us is possible through Jesus Christ who fills us with divine grace to accomplish what is seemingly unachievable. This is not something that we ought to try and understand with our reasoning, but something that we should receive with faith. For us, it is only necessary that we humble ourselves before our Lord and pray with a grateful heart.
With love in Christ,