Prayer or Empty Praying — Holiness of Life

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. (Matthew 6.5-8)


And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18.9-14)


And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)


“Nevertheless, we should not collect too many prayers. A few prayers, correctly read, are better than many prayers raced through. And, of course, it is hard to keep from rushing when, in our eagerness to pray, we have gathered more prayers than we can handle.”
-St. Theophan the Recluse, Letter 47


“The power of prayer does not lie in too many words but in the simplicity and sincerity of the heart.”
-from the video, “You are Three and We are Three”

If you desire to learn the heart of prayer and the mutual relationship between it and holiness of life, and have never read “The Three Hermits,” by Leo Tolstoy, I wonder if it is not time to do so. It can be found here. A video dramatization of it can be found here.


1 Corinthians 5.8 “Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with theunleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (See also Joshua 24.14; Tobit 8.7; Wisdom of Solomon 1.1; 2 Corinthians 1.12 Corinthians 2.17)

Our life as disciples needs to exhibit sincerity. But, as I have considered this word, I have realized that, perhaps, I at least have misunderstood it. Quite often, I have confused sincerity with intense emotional content accompanied by dramatic action in contrast with an attribute that is simple, quiet, and yet very powerful.

Sincerity is, simply put, being clear and honest. Notice that in the passage above the word “truth” accompanies the word “sincerity.” Sincerity is not about convincing the other person through muscling tactics such as intense emotion or dramatic action or needless repetition. What is more, the person receiving the expression of sincerity has, quite often, been taught to expect emotion, drama, and repetition as the criteria of sincerity. To make the whole matter more complex, we have been taught to even suspect, on occasions, that when an expression is attended by too much drama, emotion, and repetition it is probably insincere. We suspect that the person is not being sincere and therefore not telling the truth! Once again note the linkage in the passage above between sincerity and truth. This makes for very confusing and ambiguous circumstances and way of life.

Sincerity may be attended by a certain amount of emotion, drama, and repetition. There is no reason why it shouldn’t. However, this is not necessarily the case. Rather, I would like to put forward the conviction that sincerity is an expression of truth that is clear, simple, clean, regular, consistent, and direct (not aggressive). Note that I am not equating sincerity with certainty. Sincerity issues from faith and faithfulness (fidelity) not certainty. Sincerity offers hope by way of its gentle power not necessarily guarantees. It offers by the “follow-through” that accompanies it, a way forward. Sincerity offers love that sets the recipient free to respond to clear parameters that offer life as contrasted with vague parameters that manipulate or offer no clear way forward.

The spirit of sincerity finds its home in the heart, where the “Ruach Adonai” (breath of God) dwells, and issues forth from there integrating different aspects of our inner life – thoughts, motives, identity, character – to give life to others through our words and deeds. “The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33.4)

Fr. Thomas