15/28 May 2015: Thursday of the Seventh Week of Pascha; Afterfeast of the Ascension; S. Pachomius the Great
In today’s Gospel, Our Lord gives the most precious and all-conquering gift to His disciples, prayer in His name, the Name of Jesus:
And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16: 23-24)
Our experience, however, is that often we do not receive what we ask for. Why is this? St. Theophan the Recluse, in commenting on today’s Gospel, says the following:
“…What a shame for us that we do not know how to make use of such a true promise! And it would be good if only this would cause shame, otherwise a shadow would be cast over the promise itself, as though it were too great and impossible. No, the guilt lies entirely on us, mainly because we recognize that we are not faithful servants of Christ, and our conscience does not allow us to expect mercy from the Lord. In addition, it happens that when someone starts asking God about something, he does it with a divided soul. He mentions that thing in his prayer once or twice, as if in passing, and then drops it, and says later, ‘God does not hear.’ No, when asking for something in particular, one must be persistent and indefatigable in prayer, like the widow who forced even the heartless judge to satisfy her petition by simply not giving him any peace. When true men of prayer ask for something in prayer, they unite it with fasting, vigil, all sorts of deprivation, and charity. Furthermore, they ask not for a day or two, but for months and years, and thus they receive what they ask for. Imitate them, if you desire to have success in prayer.” – from Thoughts for Each Day of the Year
We may add that we would experience more success in prayer if we were to ask for those good gifts which we know the Lord wants to give us, that is, spiritual gifts. We do not know if it would be good for us to receive this or that material thing, this or that relief from want or anxiety regarding our circumstances, the needs of our family, etc. Perhaps it would be good for us, perhaps not, though we must ask, and ask in the way that St. Theophan describes above, for all of our life, material and spiritual, depends utterly on the Lord, and He wants us to ask Him for all of our needs. But we know that He is waiting to give us spiritual good things. What should we ask for?
Well, we are not great men of prayer. It is certainly premature to ask for high spiritual states: continuous prayer, freedom from all passions, spiritual insight, etc. If you were in a position to ask for these things, you would probably not be reading something written by me. But one could start with these:
- Let us ask the Lord to help us see our sins and at the same time have a correspondingly great hope in His mercy.
- Let us ask for a constant remembrance of death, God’s judgment, heaven, and hell.
- Let us ask for a constant spirit of reverence and the fear of God, a constant desire to know and to fulfill His Holy Law in all of its commandments.
When we start, even a little bit, to receive these good things, which we know God wants to give us, we will know the power of prayer through experience.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that hopeth in Him (Psalm 33: 8)”