Preparation For Prayer
On account of the signal importance of prayer, preparation should precede its practice. Before praying, prepare yourself; and be not as one who tempts the Lord. [Ecclus. 18:23] ‘When we are going to stand in the presence of our King and God and converse with Him,' says St. John of the Ladder, 'let us not rush into it without preparation, lest seeing from afar that we are without the weapons and clothing required for standing in the presence of the King, He should order His servants and slaves to bind us and banish us far from His presence and tear up our petitions and fling them in our face.’
The first preparation consists in rejecting resentment and condemnation of our neighbors. This preparation is commanded by our Lord Himself: When you stand praying, He orders, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father, Who is in heaven may forgive you your offenses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father Who is in heaven forgive you your offenses. [St. Mark 11: 25] Further preparation consists in the rejection of cares by the power of faith in God and by the power of obedience and surrender to the will of God; also a realization of one's sinfulness and the resultant contrition and humility of spirit. The one sacrifice which God accepts from fallen human nature is contrition of spirit. If Thou hadst desired sacrifice, I would have given it; says His Prophet to God on behalf of everyone who has fallen and remains in his fallen state. It is not merely some partial sacrifice of body or soul, but even total holocausts do not please Thee. The sacrifice for God is a contrite spirit; a contrite and humble heart God will not despise. [Ps. 50:17] St. Isaac the Syrian repeats the following saying of another holy father: 'If anyone does not recognize himself as a sinner, his prayer is not acceptable to God.'
Stand at prayer before the invisible God as if you saw Him, and with the conviction that He sees you and is looking at you attentively. Stand before the invisible God just as a guilty criminal convicted of countless crimes and condemned to death stands before a stern, impartial judge. Exactly! You are standing before your sovereign Lord and Judge; you are standing before the Judge in Whose sight no living soul will be justified. Who always wins when He is judged, Who does not condemn only when, in His unspeakable love for men, He forgives a man his sin and enters not into judgment with His servant. Feeling the fear of God, and feeling from the action of this fear the presence of God when you pray, you will see without seeing, spiritually, Him Who is invisible, and you will realize that prayer is a standing by anticipation at the awful judgment of God.
Stand at prayer with bowed head, with your eyes cast to the ground, on both legs equally and without moving; assist your prayer by sorrow of heart, sighs from the depth of your soul, and abundant tears. A reverent outward demeanour at prayer is most essential and most helpful for all wrestling at the work of prayer, especially for beginners in whom the disposition of the soul conforms largely to the posture of the body.
The Apostle orders thanksgiving when we pray: Persevere in prayer, he says, and keep wakeful in it with thanksgiving. [Col. 4:2. cp. Phil. 4:6.] The Apostle says that thanksgiving is ordered by God Himself: Pray without ceasing; give thanks for everything, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. [Thess. 5:17] What is the meaning of thanksgiving? It means praising God for His countless blessings, poured out on all mankind and on everyone. By such thanksgiving the soul is filled with a wonderful peace; and she is filled with joy in spite of the fact that sorrows beset her on all sides. By thanksgiving a man acquires a living faith so that he rejects all worry about himself, tramples on fear of men and devils, and surrenders himself wholly to the will of God.
Such a disposition of the soul is an excellent preparatory disposition for prayer. Therefore since you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, says the Apostle, so walk in Him (live in Him), rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in it by thanksgiving, that is, by means of thanksgiving obtaining an abundance of faith. [Col. 2:6-7] Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say it, Rejoice! ... The Lord is near. Be anxious about nothing, but in every circumstance, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. [Phil. 4:4-6] The importance of the spiritual effort of thanksgiving is explained with particular fullness in 'Direction in the Spiritual Life' by the holy Fathers Barsanuphius and John.
From The Arena: An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, Chapter 18, by Bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov), translated from the Russian by Archimandrite Lazarus (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1991), pp. 66-78.