The Praying Mind


Writing on the life of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, the Elder Sophrony said:

The Staretz’ [Elder] life was spent, above all, in prayer, and the praying mind does not think – does not reason – but lives. Its activity does not consist in the manipulation of abstract concepts but in participation in being. The truly praying mind has to do with categories different in quality from those of rational reflection. It is concerned not with intellectual categories but with actual existence, an existence which cannot be included within the narrow framework of human concepts.

There is nothing in the Orthodox faith that is anti-rational, or that finds no use for philosophy. But, in the simple words of Elder Sophrony, the Church thinks that the true nature of life is to live.

It almost sounds silly to say such a thing, but it is our lack of living that is the greatest symptom of our fall from God. St. Irenaeus of Lyons said, “The Glory of God is a man fully alive.” It is true – it is simple – and yet it is so rarely encountered. We meet each other as biologically alive, but caught up in what can only be called “corruption” in the Biblical sense of the word. Corruption is the process of death, the gradual dissolution of life into chaos and decay.

Thus the life of prayer is an invitation to live – to truly live. In uniting ourselves to God in Christ, we come alive and everything about us begins to live. In the presence of the saints, flowers have been known to bloom out of season, wild animals lose their fear of man – creation ceases its groaning (Romans 8:22).

Prayer is thus nothing at all like the petitions of those who are looking for a souce of prosperity or more “power” in their lives. Prayer is the activity of the heart when we unite ourselves to God and bring ourselves into the fire of His presence. There, we find life (and that more abundantly) and we come to life ourselves. It’s not an activity that opposes some other use of the mind, anymore than breathing or eating oppose other uses of our minds. But it is the one use of our mind that makes every other use possible. Without prayer we do not live and we cannot live. It is the “one thing needful.”

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





11 responses to “The Praying Mind”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    On the picture – I think to myself when I look a this picture of two of my trees in their fall foliage (I take innumerable pictures of them because of their beauty) but I think to myself, that inasmuch as they are alive they pray. Their existence before God is an eloquent prayer of thanksgiving as they offer themselves up. I do not aspire to be a tree. But I aspire to live and live fully. Sometimes that is more like a tree than it is like the false life we invent apart from prayer.

  2. Dean Arnold Avatar

    Nice blog entry.

    It actually helped me to make a good choice today on how to spend my time. I chose the more prayerful option.

  3. Steve Hayes Avatar

    Yes, indeed.

    We spend so much time arguing about life (even with ourselves) rather than living it. And that is part of our godlessness.

  4. D. McLaughlin Avatar
    D. McLaughlin

    This is late in coming, but thank you, Father, for your daily meditations. I am blessed to have followed you from Pontifications to your new blog. You seem to be one of those who is (in the words of John McGuckin’s poem to St. Gregory of Naianzen)”tuned to hear the distant voices of the singing stars and marvel at the mercy of it all.” Indeed, glory to God for all things!

    I may be mistaken, but I always thought that St. Irenaeus was the one who wrote “the Glory of God is a man fully alive.” Like I said, I could be wrong.


  5. Douglas Ian Avatar

    Forgive me, Fr Stephen, but I think D. McLaughlin is correct about the ascription of the quote to St Irenaeus:

    St Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., Book IV, Chapter 20, paragraph 7:

    For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God.

  6. Fatherstephen Avatar

    Indeed, I will stand corrected. Reading the Fathers for thirty something years now, a lot of stuff gets stuffed away, too often my “brain files” get corrupted. I’ll correct the citation in the posting. Irenaeus deserves all the credit we can give him.

  7. Douglas Ian Avatar

    Irenaeus deserves all the credit we can give him.

    Amen to that.

  8. Mark Avatar

    …but I’m sure Gregory of Nyssa would have agreed!

  9. fatherstephen Avatar


    I’m probably a sad old warhorse, but there’s part of me that still wants to search to see if St. Gregory did not indeed say what I thought he did – of course – my original source (it has to go back as far as seminary in the 70’s) may have cited the wrong father – but part of me knows that’s how I learned it. But, the joy of being Orthodox, is also in being corrected. Thank God, one of the Fathers actually said it!

  10. Dean Arnold Avatar

    My thoughts on the matter is that whan a man is truly alive, that is akin to God’s glory.

    Feel free to quote me on that.

  11. […] This morning, after sleeping in as much as one can with a toddler who doesn’t value the concept, I sipped my coffee (thank you again C!) and caught up on yesterday’s emails and blogs. Father Stephen had this to say: […]

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