September 22, 2010

On Boredom In Church and In Prayer

Abba Moses asked Abba Sylvanus: "Can a person lay a new foundation every day?" The old man replied: "If you work hard, you can lay a new foundation every moment."

- Sayings of the Desert Fathers

The pathological love of self and of others is an obstacle to our relationship with God.

- Abba Isaiah, Sayings of the Desert Fathers

When the holy Abba Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by boredom, and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, 'Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?'

A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him: 'Do this and you will be saved.' At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.

- Sayings of the Desert Fathers

The necessary services which we are obliged to carry out, we must of course accept and carry out, but we must let go of those other purposeless activities and prefer rather to spend our time in prayer, particularly when these activities would lead us into the greed and luxury of money and wealth. For the more one can limit, with the help of God, these worldly activities and remove the material which feeds them, the more will one be able to gather his mind from such anxious wanderings. If again someone, out of weak faith or some other weakness, cannot do this, then, at least, let him understand well the truth and let him try, as much as he can, to censure himself for this weakness and for still remaining in this immature condition. For it is far better to have to give an account to God for omissions rather than for error and pride.

- Abba Mark, Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Unless a man can bring himself to say to his heart that he alone and God are present in this place, he will never find peace and rest of soul.

- Abba Alonios, Sayings of the Desert Fathers

God and the angels grieve over those who are not satisfied with heavenly nourishment.

- St. Makarios of Egypt

No matter where you are, you can set up your sanctuary. Just have pure intentions and neither the place, nor the time will be an obstacle, even without kneeling down, striking your chest or raising your arms to heaven. As long as your mind is fervently concentrated you are totally composed for prayer. God is not troubled by any place. He only requires a clear and fervent mind and a soul desiring prudence.

- St. John Chrysostom

Boredom is the breakdown of the soul, the disorientation of the mind, negligence of ascetic practice, hatred of monasticism, love of worldliness, irreverence toward God, forgetfulness of prayer.

- St. John Klimakos, Ladder of Divine Ascent

This condition brings you anxiety, dislike for the place where you are living, but also for your brothers and for every activity. There is even a dislike for Sacred Scripture, with constant yawning and sleepiness. Moreover, this condition keeps you in a state of hunger and nervousness, wondering when the next meal will come. And when you decide to pick up a book to read a little, you immediately put it down. You begin to scratch yourself and to look out of the windows. Again you begin to read a little, and then you count the number of pages and look at the titles of the chapters. Finally, you give up on the book and go to sleep, and as soon as you have slept a little you find it necessary to get up again. And all of these things you are doing just to pass the time.

- St. Antiochos of Palestine

Loneliness is abolished in God. We are all ‘members of each other’ according to St. Paul. Thus, our sins and our virtues have a bearing upon the others, since, as we have said, we are all members of one body. Accidia [boredom] provides a reason for more fervent prayer, and the difficulties are an opportunity for spiritual maturity and progress.

- Fyodor Dostoyevski, The Brothers Karamazov

They say that church is boring. It is boring because they do not understand the services! You need to study! It is boring because they do not care for it. So they do not see it as their own, but as something foreign to them. They could at least bring flowers or greenery to decorate it, they could take part in caring for the church; then it would not be boring.

- St. Anthony (Potapov) of Optina

We Christians of today do not feel the power of the redemption wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is as a result that we are so bad, unfeeling, that we look so perfunctorily at sin, and do not understand the Church Services, especially the Divine Liturgy, and find it boring.

- Hieromartyr Arseny (Zhadanovsky)

Forget for at least this space of time the bustle and concerns of everyday life. Be like an angel, filled only with thoughts of God and of serving Him. After all, He is present now, and is blessing you.

- Hieromartyr Seraphim (Zvezdinsky)

Generally speaking, I am bored by the Canons, and especially by the Akathists, and I read them only out of a sense of duty. I make an exception only for the penitential Canons of the Octoechos and the Lenten Triodion. But there are times when my heart is very heavy and sad, and then I recite certain canons — to the Mother of God and to the most Sweet Jesus — as if the words were my own. This means that our “lack of feeling” for the Canons is an accusation against us—it points to an absence in the given person of the religious mood in which these Canons were written.

- Fr. Alexander Elchaninov, Diary of a Russian Priest

In this loneliness, in this desolation of the cities, in this apparent absence of God, man is called to gather his thoughts, to come to his senses, to put aside his many worldly preoccupations and to retire to his place of prayer speechless, naked, a child so that God may speak to him, clothe him, and endow him with spiritual maturity. Then his loneliness will become the divine loneliness of liberation and he will achieve a sense of fullness. Only such radical loneliness leads to a fundamental understanding and experience of God, destroying every hesitation, doubt and torment.

In this sacred loneliness man finds himself face-to-face with his existential poverty and the fear of death which it provokes. Yet, even here, there is the danger that he may choose procrastination as a solution and, for a time, set his panic-stricken self at ease. He may resume running back and forth endlessly, expanding social activities, and seeking a variety of entertainments a program of extreme busyness. Other people, other things, work and extensive involvements may serve as a cover for his spiritual impoverishment for a time. And he may continue wandering aimlessly, driven by circumstances, tormented, flirting with one thing and another, fighting, being torn and finally annihilated.

A life of work without the liberation of communion with God is slavery. The struggle for excessive wealth is an incurable, tormenting disease. Fear of the future can stimulate greed, miserliness, hoarding. And God can be easily forgotten.

- Monk Moses the Athonite, The Community of the Desert and the Loneliness of the City