To Think Prayer is Nothing is a Trick of the Evil One

Through a series of events over the last few years, I’ve come to a better understanding of prayer in the life of Orthodox Christians. Originally, this stemmed from concerns of well-being for people whom I love, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox. These concerns were not only practical, but spiritual as well; because at the time of me typing this, I am the only Orthodox in my family.

During a pilgrimage to Kodiak, Alaska, I expressed my concerns with a fellow Orthodox brother-in-Christ. I shared how it felt like my efforts to convince my loved ones of Orthodoxy or even of some more ‘worldly’ matters did hardly anything. I said, “all it seems like I can do is pray,” sounding as if prayer was nothing. This brother-in-Christ then said quickly after: “That’s a trick of the devil – to have you think that prayer is nothing. You see, this is where it starts, first he gets you to think that prayer is nothing, then he will want you to not pray at all…” Eventually, who knows where this decline in prayerful hope may lead, perhaps despondency and hopelessness at best. This had a significant impact on me.

To further illustrate this, I was staying at a prestigious monastery in Upstate New York for a time. While I was there, I spoke with the Abbot about prayer, particularly when one really is wanting to call down God’s help. He shared how at one point, the monastery was facing serious finical difficulties, and he asked a pious woman living near the monastery to do a 40-day Akathist for its well-being. She agreed, and to the marvel of the Abbot and the woman, when she finished the Akathist on the 40th day, the monastery received the finical support it needed to cover the difficulties it was facing.

Another instance from my time at this monastery is when I went for a walk with a certain Filipino Hieromonk. While on our walk, I shared my concerns for my mother. He then asked me: “Do you love your mother?” I was confused at first and said, “Well, yes, of course I do.” There was a short pause while we walked. Then he said, “Prayer that comes from a heart with love is as strong as a spiritual father’s prayer for his spiritual children.” This calls to mind the story of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, weeping for her son. She was terribly sorrowful that her son (the future saint) was in a Gnostic heretical error. An unnamed bishop consoled her with the word, “The child of so many tears shall not perish.”

Let us take courage therefore from such examples for our own sakes, and the sake of those who we love, Orthodox or not. Prayer can be more powerful than you think, if the heart is right. Even if not every time, being persistent in prayer can still be of benefit. May God help us, through the prayers of the Theotokos and all the Saints, to better understand the significance of prayer in the lives of us Orthodox faithful.

Olof Borg