The Praying Mind

The praying mind does not think – does not reason – but lives. Its activity consists, not 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 being, which cannot be confined within the narrow framework of abstract concepts.

Elder Sophrony

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.






17 responses to “The Praying Mind”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    I would add a short comment. The Elder is not meaning that in prayer we live behind the contraints of doctrine (for that would be to leave the Truth). Doctrine is a verbal icon of Christ. In the deepest levels of prayer we commune with Christ Himself Who is the Truth.

  2. Georgia Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen….but did you mean to write ‘leave’ instead of ‘live’ ?

    Your explanation is helpful to me in regard to questions I have had re: ‘centering’ or contemplative prayer.

    My desire is to commune with Christ, to know Him, not ‘find myself’ or go into some deep place or get a high.

  3. Georgia Avatar

    My first thought reading Elder Sophrony was to wonder if prayer was entering into rest or perhaps the peace of the Lord.

  4. lwayswright Avatar

    for me prayer is about comfort and feeling the comfort and true presence of God. I can totally relax when I am in prayer…it brings me relief and joy above anything else.

  5. lizzie tanners Avatar

    When praying, for me, is not about only about spirituality but a decision to be in one state, void of senseless thoughts and outside distractions. That’s why I chose to go to a small chapel outside the city so as to truly have a deep conversation with God.

  6. Epiphanist Avatar

    Thank you Father. I can find no reason to limit my prayer.

  7. jonnyprice Avatar

    I must agree with Epiphanist, Prayer can be used in many different ways.
    To commune with God in conversation, Crying out in desperation for help, Praising and glorifying Him, speaking in tongues, asking forgiveness, for justice, mercy, grace, understanding, wisdom, guidence, There is intercesorry prayer, etc. etc. There is no limit to your prayer. I believe the scriptures point to this.

  8. jonnyprice Avatar

    It sounds to me (and I could be misunderstanding) that your speaking of a state of prayer that does not need reason but rather is a state of meditation, like budhism…I certianly know I think and reason when I pray.

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    Of course what is posted is a quote from the Elder Sophrony, probably a saint of the Orthodox Church (though not yet canonized) and certainly someone who is bearing witness to prayer that goes beyond what know.

    He is speaking of a prayer that is nothing at all like Buddhist meditation (he himself explains why this is not so). There are certainly many forms of prayer, thank God. There is also an ineffable (unspeakable) union with God which St. Paul himself alludes to.

    I think and reason when I pray. I by no means pray like the Elder Sophrony, but I see that he has walked a path that is the path of the Cross and appreciate that it instructs me of the goal. I am reminded of Job’s words to God after his vision:

    (Job 42:1-6)

    Then Job answered the LORD: “I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine
    can be thwarted. `Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. `Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’ I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye
    sees thee; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

    There is a level of prayer that is beyond virtually all of us. I would not think to use my experience of prayer to judge the accuracy of Elder Sophrony’s description. Some things are too wonderful to me, and I can only marvel and hope.

  10. Catherine K. Avatar

    Fr Stephen,

    What is the source of this quote? I would like to read the book it comes from.


  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    It is from Saint Silouan the Athonite. I’d have to relook to come up with a page reference. It is an excellent resource.

  12. Catherine K. Avatar

    Thanks – and no need for a page reference. I haven’t read that book in years, and it is obvious to me that I need to change that 🙂

  13. Epiphanist Avatar

    I keep coming back to this paragraph, also impressed with St Nikolai’s prayer. I think Elder Sophrony would have intended this description to lead me into his way of prayer, and not to be as a thing of awe to distance me from him and his prayer. What is on my mind is the need to make the Great Commandment into my prayer. For my prayer to be loving the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, which is what I find Elder Sophrony is saying to me. I am not Orthodox, but thinking about it. Is this impertinent?

  14. fatherstephen Avatar

    Indeed it is to lead us into such prayer. Only through the healing of the heart and soul and mind are we able to love God in such as way. Only in embracing the humility and emptiness of the crucified and the fullness of repentance will be find the way to the heart and the means of healing.

    You’re doing fine.

  15. epiphanist Avatar

    Thanks again, and I don’t want to take up all your time. I am getting a lot of support and encouragement here that is otherwise missing for me. I was particularly interested in something you wrote about repentance – ‘not a cosmic guilt but a constant sense of our need of God and our emptiness before Him’. Perhaps what I would think of as humility or thankfulness? Are you going to write more about this, or is there somewhere else where I should look. My interest is at two levels, Luther’s rejection of the Roman interpretation of penitence leading to the Reformation, and the role of the Church as a punisher or inquisitor to deal with sinful behavior. Hope you can help in some way.

  16. fatherstephen Avatar


    I will write more about this. Elder Sophrony writes indeed about the Great Commandment, as does his disciple Archimandrite Zacharias. One of the points they make, which is so terribly different than anything I’ve encountered before – is the recognition that we are fragmented, fractured by the fall. How can one worship God will all the soul, heart and mind when soul, heart and mind are fractured from one another. It is in the union of the mind in the heart that begins the healing of the inner person, restoring our whole self such that we can actually love God in the sense of the Great Commandment. Indeed, I would say that pretty much everything of Fr. Sophrony’s writings are towards this very thing. We are a terribly fragmented people.

    An Orthodox woman, a former Episcopal nun, once told me (when I was just a curious Episcopalian), “Stephen, you think a lot. Someday you’ll think with your heart, and when you do, you’ll be Orthodox.” I had no clue then what she meant, but the words haunted me for years. To this day they live with me as I seek to know the unity within that is the gift of God. Only grace can heal what we have fractured. Only grace can restore the mirror which we have cracked within us so that we can see God truly as He is.

  17. epiphanist Avatar

    Thank you again. Grace and Peace.

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