God, be merciful to me a sinner! Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me! Many pronounce these brief prayers with great haste, caring only to say the required number of them. By this manner of praying, they do not allow the prayers to penetrate the heart and produce their inherent effect, which is tender feeling. The holy Fathers justly note that whoever prays thus prays to the wind, and not to God. Why do we get bored in church? Because we have not felt the effect of prayer. Why do we rush to a lavish table? Because we know the meaning of material food from experience. Why do we not rush to church, but try to come a little later, when a significant portion of the Divine services are already over? Because we do not know from experience the meaning of prayer, which is food for the soul, and which imparts spiritual strength to the soul. We do not know from experience the meaning of prayer because we pray hastily, superficially, and without attention. The effect on the soul of long but inattentive prayer is like the effect of copious rain upon a metal roof, from which all the water runs off, no matter how much it pours, without having any effect at all upon the roof. In contrast, attentive prayer can be likened to a beneficial rain that waters a planted field, giving nourishment to the growth there, and preparing a rich harvest.
The disciples of prayer who lean upon its breast—the holy Fathers—correct a major mistake that deprives the praying ascetic of all the fruits of his ascetic labor. They instruct us to pronounce the words of short prayers and of all kinds of prayer without haste, observing scrupulous attention to the words of the prayers. When the prayers are read unhurriedly, it is possible to have such attention, while hurried reading leaves no place for attention. Prayer without attention is like a body which the soul has left: it has no fragrance of humility, it does not ascend to God. Stricken and deadened by dispersed thoughts, it crawls along the earth of corruption and foul smell, imparting this corruption to those who pray carelessly and coldly. Mental attention at prayer is reflected in the heart by blessed grief over sins, which is that very repentance that God commands us to have. When the heart is filled with a feeling of repentance, it in turn draws the mind to increased attention. Once there is attention and tender feeling, all the gifts of the Holy Spirit enter into the soul, making it a temple of God.
Let us provide our prayer with two qualities: attention and repentance. Let it fly up to the heavens with them as upon two wings, then appear before the face of God, and intercede for us to gain His mercy. The blessed publican’s prayer had these two qualities….
~St. Ignatius Brianchanivov
If you are in the habit of arriving late to church, perhaps this is the year you take your prayer life more serious and arrive early to pray, and venerate the icons?