I think that what Father David said is partly reflected in what Elder Sophrony writes about prayer. Soon after I met Elder Sophrony, I bought his book, His Life is Mine and I found (and still find) a passage and a prayer in this book which have been really helpful. Fr Sophrony seems to understand how broken a person may be but he assures us that we can be healed and made whole. This may take a long time and the course of the healing and mending may not be even. Here is an extract from the book and the prayer he mentions. Don’t worry about what you do or do not believe or understand but just read it every day. We don’t know what’s in our medicines or how they work but if we take them, they have an effect. So it can be with prayer.
True prayer operates in our innermost depths which we learn to hide from outside eyes. If I now venture to touch on matters sacred for each of us, I am urged to do so by the tragic atmosphere of tension throughout the world, and, more especially, by my consciousness that we belong together in Christ. Let us, therefore, as true brethren, share what it has been given us to know by a gift from on High. (I would ask you to pray as you read, as I pray God to inspire me with words pleasing to Him.)
Christ gave us the word that He had received from the Father (cf. John 17.14). He spoke of Himself as the stone which will break all who fall on it and will grind to powder those on whom it falls (cf. Matt. 21.44). What then? Is it we who have fallen on this great and wondrous stone, or has the stone fallen on us? We do not know. But however that may be, we are precipitated into a world of realities whose existence we did not suspect before. In the old days when life for the majority flowed in the broad channels of established tradition, the word of Christ was so presented as not to disturb. But now, with the whole earth full fraught with man’s despair, with the protest of consciences outraged, with violence threatening to wipe out all life, we must make our voices heard. In our present peril decorous words which commit us to nothing are not enough. All of us today are in vital need of a firm faith in Christ’s eternal victory, that we, too, may become spiritually invincible. A very great deal depends on ourselves – to remember, for instance, that at the baptismal font we received new birth from on High, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Those who are baptised ‘with the Holy Ghost and with fire’ (Luke 3.16) perceive in their prayer that every given moment of our life is enveloped in Divine eternity. At all times and in all places we are held in the invisible Hand of our Heavenly Father.
It is usual for the Christian to be aware concurrently of the presence of the never-fading celestial glory and of the brooding cloud of death hanging over the world. Though the feeling of death torments the soul, it cannot extinguish the fire of faith. The prayer throbbing within us sets us on the frontier between two worlds, the transient and the one to come (cf. Heb. 13.14). This painful rending forces us into still more fervent entreaty. We recognise our sickness - the mortal power of sin working in us- and plead for a physician. Then He Who said that He was ‘not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’, adding that ‘they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick’ (Matt. 9.12,13), does indeed answer our appeal. He heals our souls from every ill, giving new energy, enlightening with an undying light. The age-old experience of life in the Church has proved irrefutably that for prayer- that is, for God- no sickness of spirit is incurable. We may be born into the most unfavourable circumstances. We may grow up in ignorant, rough, even criminal surroundings, and be attracted by the general example. We may suffer every kind of deprivation, loss, injury. We may be deformed from birth, and know what it is to be despised, wounded, rejected. All that is unfortunate in the contemporary world may make its mark on us, possess us, even; but from the moment we turn to God, resolved to follow His commandments, a process of basic healing begins. And not only are we healed of our wounds or passions - even our outward appearance may alter. This happened often on the Holy Mountain. Men would arrive broken and reduced to a pitiful state by many years of depraved living, yet after a brief period of profound repentance their faces were good to look upon, their voices changed, they moved differently- and the spirit shone luminous within them. If any of my readers is suffering from some psychological wound occasioned by failure in life, he can attain to a regal freedom of spirit and radically change his whole life if he turns to God every day with a personal prayer such as this, for example:
Prayer at Daybreak
O Lord Eternal and Creator of all things, Who of Thine inscrutable goodness didst call me to this life; Who didst bestow on me the grace of Baptism and the Seal of the Holy Spirit; Who hast imbued me with the desire to seek Thee, the one true God: hear my prayer.
I have no life, no light, no joy or wisdom; no strength except in Thee, O God. Because of my unrighteousness I dare not raise my eyes to Thee. But Thou didst say to Thy disciples, ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer believing, ye shall receive’ and ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do’.
Wherefore I dare to invoke Thee. Purify me from all taint of flesh and spirit. Teach me to pray aright. Bless this day which Thou dost give unto me, Thine unworthy servant.
By the power of Thy blessing enable me at all times to speak and act to Thy glory with a pure spirit, with humility, patience, love, gentleness, peace, courage and wisdom: aware always of Thy presence. Of Thine immense goodness, O Lord God, show me the path of Thy will, and grant me to walk in Thy sight without sin.
O Lord, unto Whom all hearts be open, Thou knowest what things I have need of. Thou art acquainted with my blindness and my ignorance, Thou knowest my infirmity and my soul’s corruption; but neither are my pain and anguish hid from Thee. Wherefore I beseech Thee, hear my prayer and by Thy Holy Spirit teach me the way wherein I should walk; and when my perverted will would lead me down other paths spare me not, O Lord, but force me back to Thee.
By the power of Thy love, grant me to hold fast to that which is good. Preserve me from every word or deed that corrupts the soul; from every impulse unpleasing in Thy sight and hurtful to my brother-man. Teach me what I should say and how I should speak. If it be Thy will that I make no answer, inspire me to keep silent in a spirit of peace that causeth neither sorrow nor hurt to my fellow.
Establish me in the path of Thy commandments and to my last breath let me not stray from the light of Thine ordinances, that Thy commandments may become the sole law of my being on this earth and in all eternity.
Yea, Lord, I pray Thee, have pity on me. Spare me in mine affliction and my misery and hide not the way of salvation from me.
In my foolishness, O God, I plead with Thee for many and great things. Yet am I ever mindful of my wickedness, my baseness, my vileness. Have mercy upon me. Cast me not away from Thy presence because of my presumption. Do Thou rather increase in me this presumption, and grant unto me, the worst of men, to love Thee as Thou hast commanded, with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind, and with all my strength: with my whole being.
Yea, O Lord, by thy Holy Spirit, teach me good judgment and knowledge. Grant me to know Thy truth before I go down into the grave. Maintain my life in this world until I may offer unto Thee worthy repentance. Take me not away in the midst of my days, nor while my mind is still blind. When Thou shalt be pleased to bring my life to an end, forewarn me that I may prepare my soul to come before Thee. Be with me, O Lord, at that dread hour and grant me the joy of salvation. Cleanse Thou me from secret faults, from all iniquity that is hid in me; and give me a right answer before Thy judgment-seat.
Yea, Lord, of Thy great mercy and immeasurable love for mankind,
Hear my prayer.
To pray like that every morning is not easy. But if we pray from our heart, with all our attention, the day will be stamped by our prayer and everything that happens will take on a different character. The blessing that we have sought from the High God will beget a gentle peace in our soul which will have a miraculous effect on the way we see and interpret the world. The man of prayer beholds the surrounding scene in another light. Concern is quickened and the intrinsic quality of life enhanced. In time prayer will penetrate our nature until gradually a new man is born of God. Love for God, Who verily sends His blessings upon us, liberates the soul from extraneous pressure. The one imperative is to preserve this loving tie with God. We shall not care what people think of us, or how they treat us. We shall cease to be afraid of falling out of favour. We shall love our fellow men without thought of whether they love us. Christ gave us the commandment to love others but did not make it a condition of salvation that they should love us. Indeed, we may positively be disliked for independence of spirit. It is essential in these days to be able to protect ourselves from the influence of those with whom we come in contact. Otherwise we risk losing both faith and prayer. Let the whole world dismiss us as unworthy of attention, trust or respect- it will not matter provided that the Lord accepts us. And vice versa: it will profit us nothing if the whole world thinks well of us and signs our praises, if the Lord declines to abide with us. This is only a fragment of the freedom Christ meant when He said, ‘Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’ (John 8.32). Our sole care will be to continue in the word of Christ, to become His disciples and cease to be servants of sin. For ‘whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed’ (John 8.34-36). The end result of prayer is to make us sons of God, and as sons we shall abide for ever in the house of our Father. ‘Our Father which art in heaven…’.