If you desire to seek success in the work of prayer, adapt all else to this, lest you destroy with one hand what the other builds.
1) Keep your body strictly disciplined in food, sleep and rest. Do not give it anything simply because it wants it; as the Apostle says: "Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof" (Romans 13:14). Give no respite to the flesh.
2) Reduce your external contacts to the most inevitable. This is for the period of your training in prayer. Later, when prayer begins to act in you, it will itself indicate what can be added without harming it. Especially guard your senses, above all, eyes and ears; also tie your tongue. Without this guarding, you will not make a single step forward in the work of prayer. As a candle cannot burn in wind and rain, so the flame of prayer cannot be lit in a flood of impressions from outside.
3) Use all the time left from prayer in reading and meditation. For reading, choose mainly such books as deal with prayer and generally with inner spiritual life. Meditate exclusively on God and on divine matters, and above all on the incarnated dispensation for our salvation, chiefly on the passion and death of our Lord and Savior. Doing this you will always be immersed in the sea of divine light. In addition, go to church, whenever you have the possibility to do so. Merely to be present in church will envelop you in a cloud of prayer. What then will you receive if you stand throughout the service in a true state of prayer?
Every day of Great Lent, with the exception of Saturdays and Sundays, the prayer “O Lord and Master of my life” is read. According to tradition, this prayer was written in Syria in the fourth century by the ascetic Mar Afrem or, as we have grown accustomed to calling him, Ephraim the Syrian. He was a monk, poet, and theologian, one of the most eminent sons of the Syrian Church, who entered world literature as a remarkable writer.
The words of the prayer, which were quite accurately transmitted by Pushkin , sound as follows when translated from the Syrian: “O Lord and Master of my life,” that is: Ruler of my life, Who gave me life, Who is the center and focal point of my life. “Give me not a spirit of idleness,” that is, laziness, which is, according to the old adage, the mother of all vices. Laziness seems like an innocent thing, but it engenders much that is dark and black.
“Despondency.” Christianity is a joyful doctrine; joyful, too, is he who is despondent – for it will leave him. St. Seraphim of Sarov, the great Russian saint of the nineteenth century, said: “We have no ways to be despondent, for Christ has saved everyone.”
“Ambition.” This means love of authority. Everyone has it; do not think that the cult of personality exists only in politics: it can also be present in the family or in any small community. Everyone has in himself the seeds of the aspiration to crush the will of others, to strangle and subdue it.
Archbishop Demetrios offered ten suggestions for each Orthodox Christian to strive for during the Lenten season, during his homily at the annual Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology Clean Monday Retreat, March 14, at the Holy Cross Chapel in Brookline, Mass. Below is an edited excerpt of these ten suggestions.