Dialogue with a Father

Why the “Candlelight Prayer”?Why this “chain of prayer”?

One of the thoughts which has preoccupied me since I joined the Church was how to fulfill the difficult word of Saint Paul, “Pray without ceasing!” (I Thessalonians 5:17). Because it was not asked of us to fast at all times or remain in constant vigil or labour without ceasing – but the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of the Apostle, has given us the commandment to pray unceasingly. And we should stress that this is not a recommendation, as Father Iulian, the spiritual father of the Romanian priests from the Holy Mountain noted, but a divine commandment, which all those bearing the Name of Christ ought to have in mind and put to work, each one of us according to his own strength.

This was taken for granted in the old times, when Christians fully believed in the truth and the power of the word of Christ’s Gospel. But even then this commandment was not easy to fulfill – since how could one pray without ceasing, while one also needs to work, eat and especially sleep, at the same time? And so, the Holy Fathers tried during their own life (so that they could offer advice from their experience afterwards), to give the best answer to this question, which is so important for our unification with Christ. Some of them have taught us to constantly say the Jesus Prayer (or other short prayer of the same kind), which, through a lot of effort, can reach the point where it goes down into the heart and is said even during sleep or any other activity.

Others, as those from the Monastery of “Akimits” (“the sleepless” in Greek), organized themselves in shifts, that is, groups of monks who came one after the other in prayer, so that this prayer never ceased within the community.
But the general view of the Church towards the possibility of fulfilling this commandment is the fact that he who unites prayer with work and work with prayer never stops praying. In other words, one needs to cultivate a state of prayer, a conscience of always being before the eyes of God, irrespective of where we are.

Where did the idea of the “Candlelight Prayer” start from?

Since the birth of our community, one of the fundamental ideas we adhered to was to pray for one another, in order to become closer to one another and fulfill Christ’s wish in Gethsemane, “that all be one” (John, 17:21). Everything has started from Elder Soprhony’s prayer for unity. I suggested to my brothers and sisters to “come together” in one thought, every evening at around 23:00, each one in his own home. We would try to say this prayer (where everybody names all those in the parish), and afterwards, each one of us would continue, according to his own strength, to pray with Jesus prayer and a prayer to the Mother of God (“Most Holy Mother of God and Ever Virgin Mary, rejoice ...”)

Not long after this, I proposed this work of the “The Candlelight Prayer”, which all those in the parish have received with a lot of enthusiasm, an enthusiasm which, with the help of God, was transformed into a state of being. Out of His mercy, this state of prayet grows in grace more and more, from each month to the next.

But how is it still possible to follow the advice of the Ancient Fathers to pray without ceasing nowadays, when our mind is scattered between so many decisions we have to make, so much information and so many worries – nowadays when, objectively speaking, the time for daily prayer tends to fade away completely?

We too posed this same question, while also knowing that this commandment of the Gospel is as valid and relevant today as it was in the first centuries of the Christianity. All the Fathers of the Church, both those from the past and the contemporary ones, encourage us to strive to fulfill it by looking for the most adequate ways to do according our situation and to the world we live in.

Personally, I have found a possible response to this problem when considering the Romanians who confessed the Christian faith in the communist prisons. While going through some of the harshest conditions a person could endure (years of seclusion, psychological stress, torture, cold, starvation, lack of most basic conditions of hygiene and of life), they managed to light the candle of prayer and keep it burning all night long for years on end, sometimes until their liberation from prison.

I have read that immediately after the lights were turned off (at 22:00), one of them would start to say his prayers; when he would grow tired, he would wake up his neighbour and so on and so forth. And when the last one in the room would complete his prayer, he would knock on the wall of the neighbouring cell until he heard a response and thus had a confirmation that the chain of prayer would be continud by the inmates from the other cell. This kind of prayer upheld those in prisons who dedicated themselves to it, according to the testimonies of many former political prisoners. It gave them the strength so that when they were liberated, their minds were not only intact, but even enlightened. Moreover, they even outlived, in a wonderful way, a majority of their torturers.

If we pay heed to the prophetic words of Ioan Ianolide, a witness of the communist prisons, the world we currently live in looks more and more like a prison. A more difficult prison than the one they had experienced – says the “prophetic inmate” – because now very few people realize the ideological totalitarianism and the anti-Christ way of life which is slowly but surely gaining dominion over our world. The worldly spirit dominates nowadays, and the guardians of the cells we are locked in are our own passions, ever so cultivated and nourished by a defiled society, by a “consumption society”.

In these prisons, the torturers used every weapon in their arsenal to push their prisoners to renounce Christ. In our world, renunciations are made freely, and it is especially young people who are lured to embrace a way of living totally opposite to a life in Christ. In prisons, they sought to deprive you of any possibility to withdraw in solitude – nowadays, people have relinquished their privacy in favor of television, Internet or any other means which steals your tranquility and the possibility to be alone, together with Christ. The torturers were doing their best to separate the prisoners from their own families in order to demoralize them and to dominate them more easily. Today, however, divorce has become a fashion.

Bearing in mind this astonishing resemblance between the anti-Christ feature of the communist prisons and the prison of the media and consumption-oriented society, we have thought that this work of the “The Candlelight Prayer” can also help us survive the times we live in as families, communities and nations.

Concretely, what is this Candlelight Prayer and how does it unfold?

Concretely, starting with 22:00, and up until 7:00 in the morning, a member of the community prays for one hour (at home, of course), the way he/she feels. One can say “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me!”, psalms, or other prayers of the Church or close to his heart. He could pray for himself, for his family in Christ, for those that he knows that bear acute or chronic illnesses (the non-believers, those in sickness or in poverty), for those who have hurt him or whom he has hurt. Each prays according to his own ability; the important thing is for prayer not to cease at all during the entire night. When someone finishes his hour of prayer and goes to sleep, another one wakes up and makes sure that the Candlelight does not is not extinguished, that the chain of prayer is not broken.

If a group of parishioners or several spiritual children of a priest would like to organize a Candlelight Prayer, what should they do? First, they should ask for the blessing of their spiritual father. They should also ask him to ensure the well functioning of the night prayer. Afterwards, everyone can organize himself according to the way he lives.

In our parish, for example, I have assigned a number (it could also be the name of a saint) to each of those who confirmed to me that they would like to become stewards of the nightly prayer. This way we are saved from vainglory (those who pray a lot), or from judging one’s neighbour (those who initially enrolled themselves but who no longer sign up for slots in the monthly table). Once I have attributed a number, not even I look at the initial table, so that I am protected as well from the slightest judgmental thought and so that everyone can relate to the candlelight freely, in order for everything to take place between one’s conscience and God.

Then, towards the end of each month, I send a table to all those participating in the vigil, with the nights of the following month (those who do not have email can ask for the help of those who have email). I have also asked each participant to assess himself or herself and to think about when they can pray (according to their strength and schedule and taking into consideration duties such as having small children, night shifts, etc.), and then to register their number in the intervals they think they could pray.

With regard to the easier hours (between 10 and midnight, or between 6 and 7 in the morning), I advised my brothers that it would be better not to hurry to register for them right from the start of the month for all, or almost all, of the nights. This is because some of us may have difficult nights (due to small children or various trips), or because we may be going through periods of prolonged exhaustion and would still like to join in this blessed work of the night vigil at least at acceptable hours. It would be great to rush to the more difficult hours in the middle of the night, thus fulfilling the words of the Apostle: “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Corinthians, 9:6-7)”. Onlywith sacrificing do we receive grace, and only with grace can we continue the fight for our salvation.

What happens if I sign up in the table and I am not able to pray at the chosen time?

If there will be accidents such as illnesses (of your own or your family’s), trips away from home, the inability to wake up because you are too tired or other similar situations, this is not a serious problem. God judges us first and foremost after our intentions and attitude, and only afterwards for our deeds. This is more a call to responsibility than a life and death commitment. For example, when a woman is giving birth, or someone gets sick or is too tired and “passes” his turn, this is not in any way diminishing. If the person is sincere, and the motive is serious, I believe his Guardian Angel will replace him in the chain of prayer. And if I am informed in due time, I can ask someone from those I know as being more available to replace he who is no longer able to do his prayer.

Someone could think in the following way: “I go to Church on Sundays and on feast days, I pray in the morning and in the evening, I sometimes read the Book of Psalms…why would I need the “Candlelight Prayer”? What benefit could I draw from this?”

I am convinced that the work of the Candlelight prayer can bring us a lot of spiritual benefit and support for the times we live in, on several different levels. First, on a personal level, each of us has a great need of prayer and vigil. We have all heard so many times the word of God, encouraging us to keep watch, to force ourselves to do more, to pray. In addition, as Saint Paul says, we have to redeem time, since “the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). When has St. Paul’s call been more relevant?

Moreover, the Candlelight Prayer gives us the possibility to escape selfishness and loneliness (this is actually written as such in the Scriptures: “Pity he who is alone!”, while the Lord says: “ For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18: 20).

In addition, all Holy Fathers and contemporary Pious fathers wholeheartedly recommend night prayer. For example, Saint Paisios the Aghiorite said that, as night rain is the best for the earth, so night prayer is the best for the soul. Elder Joseph the Hesychast, together with his community, never overlooked or missed night prayer; they conducted all services during the night. Archimandrite Emilianos constantly prompts us, in all his books, to strive to deepen ourselves in the night prayer. This is a prayer for which we have to force ourselves a little bit, but our Saviour tells us that only this way that we can earn the Kingdom of Heaven (Mathew 11:12). The Candlelight Prayer can thus become a good testimony of the fact that we strive for more in our relationship with Christ, and that we do not limit ourselves only to the morning and evening prayers, which very often take on a formal aspect. As the Lord tells us, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Mathew 5:20).

Moreover, all those who have “tasted” of night prayer know that during the following day it brings about a certain watchfulness, different than on other days. Secondly, such work also helps immensely at the level of the parish or the community we belong to. In time, this prayer brings about great closeness or togetherness among those who participate in it, a sort of “spiritual bonding”. It is a sacrifice by each of us, but the grace received by the one who prays spreads to the whole community that participates in this work. Actually, one’s prayer for his brother is the most important way to become closer to the brothers and sisters of a parish or a community. I say this because I have many times seen efforts by parish members or priests to gather people together, but, unfortunately, the means used were worldly means (grills, evening balls, etc.), and the results were proportional to such efforts; namely, none.

The righteous Elder Sophrony of Essex advises us to constantly pray for one another, to carry our spiritual brothers in our hearts, while insisting on the fact that together we become stronger in the Holy Spirit and in spirit. Because, as Elder Sophrony says, when two or several persons unite for the same spiritual purpose, everyone’s strength is infinitely multiplied.

Last but not least, praying together will also have consequences of a universal dimension.

Someone was telling me a story about Father Dionysius of Colciu. When asked by a spiritual father if nowadays it would be more appropriate for him to ease a little the prayer rule of his spiritual sons, Fr. Dionysius answered: “of course, these are difficult times; this is the eighth century of all evil, but we should not resign ourselves, we should not give up, we should wake up during the night to pray, because it is only in this way that our good God will help us go through these times!”. It is exactly during these times of hardships that we should intensify our prayer, not only for us and for our families, but for the whole world, following the example of Saint Silouan the Athonite, who prayed a great deal, saying: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us and upon Thy whole world”).