Archbishop Anastasios on Prayer

by the Very Rev. John Breck
(from “Life in Christ” March 2004)

His Eminence Archbishop Anastasios (Yannoulatos) arrived in Albania in 1991, to assume archpastoral duties in this impoverished country, which during the Communist period had been militantly atheistic. Since that date, under his guidance and through his prayer, the Orthodox Church in Albania has experienced what has rightly been proclaimed a "Resurrection" (Anastasis!).

Jim Forest, a well-known Orthodox journalist and head of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (OPF), visited the Church in Albania a few years ago and met with the Archbishop and many other people there who are involved in various kinds of mission work. The fruit of that visit was a remarkable little book, published by the World Council of Churches in 2002, entitled The Resurrection of the Church in Albania. Voices of Orthodox Christians. Jim has kindly given permission to quote from that book a portion of Archbishop Anastasios’ thoughts on prayer (pages 123f). They are vibrant words that issue from a living experience of the God of love, who is present and acting in the midst of the world’s turmoil and suffering. Yet their simplicity and depth is such that they offer direction to anyone who seeks, in the midst of everyday activities, to commune with the life-giving Trinity.

Prayer summarizes a longing. The problem is that so often we become ego-centered, lacking humility. Thus it is good to pray, ‘Oh Lord, deliver me from myself and give me to Yourself!’ – a cry of the heart. It is similar to the prayer, ‘Lord, I believe, please help my unbelief.’ Often it is necessary to pray for forgiveness.

Many times in my life, there has been no opportunity for long prayers, only time to go quickly into what I call the ‘hut of prayer’ – very short prayers that I know by heart or to make a very simple request: ‘Show me how to love!’ Or, when you have to make a decision, ‘Lord, help me make the right estimation and come to the right judgment, to make the right action.’ Then there is the very simple prayer, ‘Your will be done.’ I have also learned, in Albania, what it means to be a foreigner, to come from a country many regard with suspicion. This, however, can help one become more humble. It helps one pray with more intensity, ‘Use me according to Your will.’ Often I pray, ‘Lord, illumine me so that I know Your will, give me the humility to accept your will and the strength to do your will.’ I go back to these simple prayers again and again.

“Many times, the psalms are my refuge. You realize that in the spontaneous arising of certain phrases from the psalms you are hearing God speak to you. Perhaps you are reciting the psalm, ‘My soul, why are you so downcast…’ And then another phrase from the psalms arises which is a response. It is an ancient Christian tradition that a bishop should know many psalms by heart. The psalms provide a spiritual refuge. In each situation there is a psalm that can help you, in those critical moments when you have no place of retreat.

Perhaps you remember the words, ‘Unless the Lord guards the house, they who guard it labour in vain.’ You are reminded that your own efforts are not decisive. You also come to understand that your own suffering is a sharing in God’s suffering. It is a theme St. Paul sometimes writes about. You come to understand that the resurrection is not after the cross but in the cross.