In this life there are many things to prepare for, but the most important is for our entrance into the kingdom of heaven. I will take you with me, should you want to come along, on my personal journey to the door which will lead to eternity, through which every soul must pass. Where the angel of death waits to ask the all important question, "Are you prepared for the Kingdom?"

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Location: Anacortes, Washington, United States

Two years ago I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was one of the fortunate ones who survived surgery along with chemo/radiation treatments. Recently, it was discovered that the cancer had returned and although I am again on chemotherapy, in all probability I have perhaps one more year to live. During these last months I would like to share what I have learned about the most important thing we'll ever do in this life and that is, prepare for the kingdom of God.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Unceasing Prayer

Recently I've been very busy writing icons and am finding it difficult to sit down and write something here on the blog. So I've decided to share my experience of iconography with you.

Writing an icon is and should be a spiritual work. Unlike an artist who seeks to create or interpret a work of art as he sees it, the iconographer seeks to portray the holy image as directed by the Holy Spirit. We do not think in terms of how I wish this to be, but how the image itself wants to be portrayed. This may sound a little strange, but when writing an icon the focus is prayer, unceasing prayer.

We are to work as though the Lord Himself were right there watching. The atmosphere is quiet and a candle is lit. At times some spiritual music is played. I usually play Gregorian Chant, the soundtrack from the Passion of the Christ or music from the Divine Liturgry. These help to keep me in a prayerful state of mind.

There are specific times during the writing of the icon when the Jesus Prayer is said, "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Often, I find that prayers from the Divine Liturgy are going through my mind. This year during Lent I was writing "The Bridegroom" icon and most of the time my mind was praying Psalm 140 from Vespers and also prayers from the Liturgy of the pre-Sanctified.

This gift of iconography has taught me how to pray unceasingly, how to keep the mind from wandering into any distractions. This is part of the discipline of writing icons.

But you don't have to be an iconographer to practice unceasing prayer. In the book, "The Spiritual Life," St. Theophan the Recluse calls unceasing prayer the unceasing remembrance of God. This is what he has to say:

In this remembrance of God, it is necessary to fortify oneself in every way until it does not leave the mind. God is everywhere and always with us, by us, and in us. However, we are not always with Him, for we do not remember Him and, because we do not remember, we allow ourselves to do many things that we would not allow ourselves to do if we remembered God. Take upon yourself the labor of making this habitual. Just do not forget that remembrance of God is not like remembrance of other things, that it must be combined with the fear of God and reverence of Him.

To make it easier to acquire the habit of remembrance of God, there is a special method, that is, the unceasing repetition of a short prayer of two to three words. Most common is "Lord, have mercy!" "Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner!" From long practice of this, the words will fasten themselves to the tongue so that they will repeat themselves. This has a very settling effect on the soaring and wandering of the thoughts. Again, do not forget to combine this prayer with reverence.

I invite you to take some time each day and say this prayer. As he says, soon it will become habitual and will keep your mind in remembrance of God.

There was a day, last May, Mother's Day to be exact, when I thought it was my last and in my pain the one thought that came to my mind was "Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." Truly, at that point, there was nothing else to say. This prayer is a gift. Receive it, learn to pray it and thank God for it. It will come to your aid when nothing else can.


Blogger Honora said...


It seems to me a prayer that instantly restores a crucially important order: He is God, I am not. He can, I can't. He wants to, but I must ask.

I have begun to pray it. :-)

6:57 AM  
Blogger forget me not said...

I just returned from Greece yesterday and I visited a greek orthodox church on Friday. Most of the icons were not very old, but they were just so beautiful, expecially one of the Blessed Virgin holding the baby Jesus, which was at the entrance. The image was more modern than some I've seen, and there was a softness in her countenance and a depth to her eyes, which I didn't think possible in iconography, probably because I'd never beheld a real icon from so close. There was also another, much older one which apparently was a miraculous image, because there were many "ex voto's", some with pink or blue ribbons for children, some with wedding bands attached, and a few bride's tiaras. So many graces, so much love given and received. I said a prayer for you before this icon, Laura.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Gabrielle said...

Laura, many years ago I stumbled upon "Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart", in my public library.

I was blessed to learn much from the Desert Fathers, including the Jesus Prayer, for the first time. But it was also very interesting to see how what I was learning from saints of the middle ages and also of more modern times was corroborated by the Desert Fathers, and so to me, it was like the timelessness of the truth of the Holy Spirit speaking through all of them. Saying the Jesus Prayer throughout the day is a discipline I have not mastered, but I say it at least three times, very, very slowly, before I enter into contemplative prayer.

I like what you said about when you are writing icons, you should think of Jesus standing there right beside you watching you work. It would be good for all of us to think that way when we're working, wouldn't it? It's too easily forgotten.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

You will not be disappointed. What blessings you will receive.

Forget me not,
Thank you so much. It is a great privilege to be prayed for before a miraculous Icon, especially of Our Lady. I received a beautiful blessing of her presence yesterday on her feast day of the Holy Protection. You were very fortunate come into the presence of these holy icons.

The Philokalia is a true treasure! I have not read all of it yet, my son has borrowed it and reads it on his breaks at work. What a find! This book is one of the greats.

Divine Blessings to all.

12:40 PM  
Blogger Honora said...

Well, it's odd, Laura, but I find myself praying it whenever trouble develops or appears, like today when youngest came into the house only to find in the mail that the university here has not received her transcripts from a down-country college, and now she only has days to get it squared away, etc. It is indeed about the 4th big goofup from this one college, but the swearing, fury, anger was large.. I started praying the Jesus prayer and like so many other times this past month when angers happen around me, it was dissipated. Whooosh.. Very odd. :-) As usual, I am praying in the hard times more than in the joyful ones except for thank yous, but I'm trying to remember He's listening ALL the time. :-)

9:03 PM  
Blogger Honora said...

I hope we will see the new icons on your Icons link soon. :-)

9:05 PM  

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