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December 7, 2021

Saint Paisios the Athonite Answers Various Objections of Those Who Prefer to Pray at Home Rather Than Go to Church

A certain nun had the following conversation with Elder Paisios the Athonite:

"Elder, sometimes I feel the need to stay in the cell and do spiritual work rather than go to a Service."
"What will be done in the Service, can it be done at another time? It cannot be done. While what you will do in the cell, it can be done another time."
"In church, Elder, I do not always feel the alteration I feel in the cell."
"Look, the individual prayer is a preparation for the common. Common prayer in terms of quality may be inferior to the individual, because in the temple you cannot move freely as when you are alone. But in terms of power it is superior, because all pray together, and sometimes the prayer has more power, another time more fervor, etc. So during these two or three hours that the Service takes place, you must also be there in the church, to pray with everyone. What did Christ say? 'Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of the them.'"
"Elder, it relaxes me more to stay in the cell, because in the Service I have distractions."
"The relaxation you feel at that time in the cell is not a real relaxation. If you do your struggle in the church and try to concentrate and say the prayer, then you will do the right thing and find real rest. Make an effort to overcome the difficulties within the difficulties; this will help you a lot. It's like training in the army with real bullets, which keeps you awake."
"Elder, I am stressed in the Service, because I cannot say the prayer and follow the readings and the chants at the same time."
"Why are you forcing yourself? I see that you are anxious. You say: 'I want to move on to noetic prayer, I want to be enriched.' This has hidden selfishness, pride. Not that you do not struggle; I tell you this in a bit of an extreme way. You have a good disposition and Christ will help you. Stand before God like a child and think of nothing. Just move, and you will see how much Grace Christ and the Panagia will give you. Entering the church think of yourself as having entered a ship, and leave yourself in the hands of God to take you where He wants.
"Sleep, Elder, robs the Services from me and sometimes I cannot follow them at all. Then my thoughts tell me: 'What's the point of going to the Service, and you do not pray?'"
"Even when you are drowsy, and when sleep has robbed you, the ship travels. Inside the ship, one person can be seen fooling around, another is drowsy, another is sleeping, but the ship is moving towards its destination. You should try not to sleep."
"Elder, if the mind in the Service is not engaged in prayer, the Service is tedious."
"Yes, because then a person is not fed. When the mind is not in the divine meanings, the Service is merely a physical exercise, an effort for the love of God. However, even those who fall asleep in church and struggle not to fall asleep, have a great reward. Did they not have a bed in their room, to go to sleep? Two laymen from the world went to Mount Athos and attended a vigil. They first slept and went down to the temple during the Praises [towards the end of Matins]. A monk in the stall was drowsy and struggling not to sleep. One of the two laymen, when he saw him, said to his neighbor: 'Look, the monk is sleeping.' Then the other replied like the good thief [cf. Luke 23:40-41]: 'Aren't you ashamed? We slept for so many hours and now we are here. Couldn't he go to his cell to sleep too? He may not have a mattress, but a wooden bed instead.'"
"I am not happy when I attend Services, Elder."
"Should we only seek joy? You are in the temple for Christ. You stand at the stall, and even rest your arms and find a little rest. You should think: 'Christ had His hands outstretched on the Cross, while I am already resting.' This way you will feel rested."
"Elder, can we sit during a Service?"
"Anyone who has some difficulty can sit for a while. But whoever has the courage, it is good to stand up. But you should feel it and do it from within. You should not say: 'Now we will go to church, we will stand like this, we will have our heads bowed, we will not move.' This is a typical, external thing."
"Many times, Elder, I cannot concentrate in church because my legs hurt from standing. What should I do?"
"Remember the punitive shackles, in which they put the feet of Christ, and say: 'Glory to God that I am hurting.' Then you will forget your own pain, your heart will be sweetened and you will say the prayer of the heart.”

Source: Γέροντος Παϊσίου Ἁγιορείτου, Λόγοι Στ’: Περὶ προσευχῆς, Ἱερὸν Ἡσυχαστήριον “Εὐαγγελιστὴς Ἰωάννης ὁ Θεολόγος”, Σουρωτὴ Θεσσαλονίκης 2012, σ. 207–210. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.