Prayer is impossible
Here is another section I have transcribed from Fr Seraphim Aldea's talk on Elder Sophrony. This section begins at about 22:00 .It is likely that I will end up transcribing the whole thing eventually. I find it that important.
Prayer is impossible.
If you define prayer as "meeting god in a relationship face to face, being person in front of person and interacting" then prayer is impossible.
Because what does it really mean that you are face to face with God? It means nothing. That's the reality of it.
Beyond metaphors, beyond nice theological writings, it means nothing.
Face, for Fr Sophrony and for the whole tradition before him, is another word for hypostatis or prosopon. It simply means face indeed, but there is a whole meaning beyond that hypostatis or person. And ultimately, as Fr Sophrony repeatedly says, we are not as yet hypostatical beings in this life. We are not yet persons. We are not in this life who we are supposed to be. We are in the process of becoming who we are supposed to be, but I am not yet. As he says, we don't have an "I am" of our own. I cannot say "I am" the way in which God is, because God is a personal being. I shall become a personal being, by the grace of God, after my death, but right now I'm not. I am a deformed version of myself.
So instead of having--in prayer--the face of god in front of the face of man (meaning the person of god in front of the person of man) you have the person of god in front of an individual. A person is a human being who fully appropriate and actualizes his or her nature whereas an individual is someone who hasn't reached that state . We are all individuals and we shall die individials.
We can experience personhood--and therefore we can experience prayer--for extremely brief moments as gifts. But those moments are like just peeks, glimpses into the Kingdom that are given to us to guide us. It is not something we can take ownership of. They are given and taken away.
It's almost like being possessed...St. Paul when he talks about experiencing an out of body experience or St Silouan saying he cannot support prayer in the presence God for more than a few seconds because that can kill you. That is a description of being possessed. And we what are possessed of is our own true humanity. God allows for the few fractions of a second in our lives for us to be possessed by who we really are. What a painful state we must be in if this experience of who I really am can kill me. The thing that kills me is my own humanity if revealed to me in its fullness, in its wholeness.
Just like I am supposed to hold on to the the awareness that as long as I am alive in this earthly way I remain a mystery to me and God remains a mystery to me, in the same way prayer is an experience which is truthfully impossible.
We are all aiming for the impossible.
And it is impossible because a face to face relationship is impossible.
Because one of the faces does not exist yet.
And that is extremely useful to me.
It justifies the mess my prayer is for long periods of time sometimes.
I have to learn to let go of something I had become accustomed to calling prayer. I have to learn to welcome something else.