On Thoughts During Prayer

by St. Isaac the Syrian

Our venerable father among the saints Isaac of Syria, also known as Isaac of Nineveh, is a 7th century saint known for his strict asceticism and ascetic writings. St. Isaac is fully accepted as a saint in the Orthodox Church, though during his lifetime, he was canonically a member of the Church of the East, a church that has been associated with the Nestorian heresy, although that charge is widely doubted today.

His writings nevertheless came to be extremely popular in Orthodox monastic circles and are well-known for their Orthodoxy. Most contemporary Nestorians rejected St. Isaac’s three theses, which, although they are not known in their exact form, were Orthodox and incompatible with the Nestorian heresy.

When you are in prayer, do not ask to be entirely free of mental wandering, which is impossible, but seek to wander following something that is good. For even pure prayer consists in a wandering which follows something – but this wandering is excellent, seeing that the search for something good is excellent.

Wandering is bad when someone is distracted by empty thoughts or by pondering on something bad, and so he thinks evil thoughts when he is praying to God.

Wandering is good when the mind wanders on God during the entire extent of his prayer, on God’s glory and majesty, stemming from a recollection of the Scriptures, from an understanding of the divine utterances and holy words of the Spirit. For we do not consider as alien to purity of prayer and detrimental to recollection of thoughts in prayer any profitable recollection that may spring up from the Writings of the Spirit, resulting in insights and spiritual understanding of the divine world during the time of prayer.

For someone to examine and think in a recollected manner about the object of his supplication and the request of his prayer is an excellent kind of prayer, provided it is consistent with the intention of the Lord’s commandment. This kind of recollection of the mind is very good.

About Fr. John A. Peck

Director of the Preachers Institute, priest in the Orthodox Church in America, award-winning graphic designer and media consultant, and non-profit administrator.
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