A Fixed Time in Prayer
Saint Theophan the Recluse (Letter 71)
One of the important things is to establish some regularity in your prayer times with regular starting times and endigtimes. This will help to make it into a habit just like you have a normal time you eat and a normal time you go to bed. Saint Theophan advises us that this serves another important purpose, to eliminate haste.
"Why does haste in prayer occur? It is incomprehensible. We spend hours involved in other things, and they seem like minutes; but just begin to pray, and it seems we have stood for a long time. And then we feel we must hurry to finish as soon as possible. No benefit is reaped in praying in this way. What should one do?
Isn't this true with a sporting event, a movie or a concert. It has a beginnig time and we normally know when it will end and therefore do not feel rushed when we are attending. We allow ourselves to become wraped up in the event itself. This is how praye should become. It should not be like we are trying to squeeze time in on top of everything else. There is a time appointed that is sacred, an apointment we have made with God.
Saint Theophan continues,
...some do this: Set a definite length of time for prayer --- a quarter of an hour, a half, or a whole hour (whatever is appropriate for you level of prayer), and regulate your vigil so that the clock striking on the half hour or the hour signals the ned of prayers. When when you begin prayer, do not concern yourself with the number of prayers to be read, but only lift your heart and mind to the Lord in prayer, and continue in a worthy manner for the time set aside. Others determine how many prayers can be done on the prayer rope in a given time and proceed in a calm and unhurried way to count them o the prayer rope. The stand with their minds before the Lord, or converse with Him in their own words, or recite some prayer, and this is hoe they reverently venerate His unending glory."
What Saint Theophan is saying that if we have some definite way of knowing when our prayers are to begin and end we will not be concerned about the clock, but instead about our prayer and our relationship with God. It allows us to relase our ind from it activities of dealing with all of our worldy cares. Since today we do not normally have a clock that gongs, we can instead use an alarm set for the time period to serve the same purpose he outlines.
"...Choose one of these methods for yourself and hold to it earnestly. You and I cannot go without definite rules."
He then cautions us about the danger of being rushed in our prayers. This he considers to be a main point.
...Haste in prayers is useless. Perhaps you may read only a single prayer or one psalm during the entire time. There was one person who was able to recite only the Lord's Prayer during his regular prayer time; watch word transformed itself into a whole prayer. Another person, having being told about this acceptable manner of praying, revealed that the has stood all through Matins reciting Psalm 50. 'Have mercy on me O God, according to Thy great mercy' --- and ran out of time before he could finish."
If we can protect the time we set aside for prayer as sacred time, then we will not feel rushed and our prayer can take its natural course without us worrying about if we have enough time. Set a startling point and and ending point for your prayers.
The time will come when you will not need any rules. "For those who can pray fervently, no rules are necessary," says Saint Theophan.
From the booklet On Prayer published by the St. John of Kronstadt Press
See also Making Time for Prayer - My Appointment with God