Rev. Anthony is a Coptic Orthodox monk from St. Shenouda Monastery in Australia. He completed his Master of Arts in Ancient History at Macquarie University and is currently working to earn his Doctor of Philosophy on the subject of the Arrow Prayer. In the monastery, Father Anthony collaborates with many young people to produce Orthodox-inspired books and music.
The struggle to pray is real. And it is as real for us as it was for all the Desert Fathers and Saints who came before us. Amma Syncletica, one of the Desert Mothers describes our struggle to pray in this way.
“In the beginning there are a great many battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing towards God and afterwards, ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first they are choked by the smoke and cry, and by this means obtain what they seek (as it is said: “Our God is a consuming fire” [Heb. 12.24]): so we also must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work.”
Her words perfectly describe our struggle to pray. We try and try, but we don’t hang on enough for our prayer to become a consuming fire that consumes our hearts. Our experience of prayer is often the smoke. The crying that we experience at the beginning and over many failed attempts to get into the habit of praying we associate with smoke. That crying discourages us from trying again.
Moses in the Old Testament went to the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights to receive the Ten Commandments from God a second time. When he came back, the skin of his face was glorified. We Christians today have the same access to this glory when we pray, as St. Paul said: “being transformed into the same image from Glory to Glory.” (2 Cor 3:18)
So I guess the secret to us acquiring this glory is to persist in prayer past the smoke. The thing is, when Moses’s skin was in Glory, he did not realize that it was. Only the people around him saw it. So when we develop this habit of prayer, it secretly works in us to glory that will only be seen by others.
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