Writing on the life of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, the Elder Sophrony said:
The Staretz’ [Elder] life was spent, above all, in prayer, and the praying mind does not think – does not reason – but lives. Its activity does not consist 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 existence, an existence which cannot be included within the narrow framework of human concepts.
There is nothing in the Orthodox faith that is anti-rational, or that finds no use for philosophy. But, in the simple words of Elder Sophrony, the Church thinks that the true nature of life is to live.
It almost sounds silly to say such a thing, but it is our lack of living that is the greatest symptom of our fall from God. St. Irenaeus of Lyons said, “The Glory of God is a man fully alive.” It is true – it is simple – and yet it is so rarely encountered. We meet each other as biologically alive, but caught up in what can only be called “corruption” in the Biblical sense of the word. Corruption is the process of death, the gradual dissolution of life into chaos and decay.
Thus the life of prayer is an invitation to live – to truly live. In uniting ourselves to God in Christ, we come alive and everything about us begins to live. In the presence of the saints, flowers have been known to bloom out of season, wild animals lose their fear of man – creation ceases its groaning (Romans 8:22).
Prayer is thus nothing at all like the petitions of those who are looking for a souce of prosperity or more “power” in their lives. Prayer is the activity of the heart when we unite ourselves to God and bring ourselves into the fire of His presence. There, we find life (and that more abundantly) and we come to life ourselves. It’s not an activity that opposes some other use of the mind, anymore than breathing or eating oppose other uses of our minds. But it is the one use of our mind that makes every other use possible. Without prayer we do not live and we cannot live. It is the “one thing needful.”