Fr. Ephraim of Katounakia, a well known ascetic and spiritual father of Mount Athos, disciple of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, shares a real story from his life, when he realized that obedience is greater than prayer.
Subtitles: English, Romanian
We were three in the same house [small skete on Mount Athos] and Fr. Procopius, the diadochos, he was doing his daily manual labour. Wooden prosphora seals… They are used by the Fathers to prepare the church breads.
I was in the other room, and I was doing another manual labour. I put a pot (with water) on stove, a pot in which the seals are usually placed, the water must be warm, so that the seal soaks up water and softens. With the dry one you cannot work, cannot impress the letters ΙϹ ΧϹ ΝΙΚΑ [Jesus Christ Conquers] on the bread… And you put it in boiling water, it softens, and that’s how you write.
I had another pan on the stove, in which I put some vegetables, I don’t remember now exactly, it’s been many years. Beans or chickpeas, I don’t remember what I was cooking.
I was in the other room, and I was in the time of Prayer. I mean a Prayer in a state of grace…
Father Procopius tells me: “Father, bless, the fire turned off.” I mean, the cooking fire. Forgive me for shouting, but I can’t hear! That’s why I use to shout and they shout on me too, this is how we do in our monastery. I can not hear anymore. With time, the hearing got worse…
I learned from experience that man can be in a state of grace for five minutes! The state of grace might be an hour! The state of grace might be two hours! The state of grace might be three hours! I never tried more than this.
Our Spiritual Father [Joseph the Hesychast] told us that man can be in a state of grace up to three hours!
-Father, when you mean by “in a state of grace”?
I mean the work of Grace. The work of grace… prayer filled with grace… so that your mind doesn’t wander here and there… Because I know this from my experience…
I said to myself, “I am now in a prayer filled with grace, and I know from experience that it can last five, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour… I should enjoy now the grace [of the prayer] and when the prayer starts to get weak, and eventually stops, then I will go and resume the fire.” That was it! The prayer stopped immediately! The prayer stopped like when someone wakes up from a dream…
I said, “What have I done now? I committed disobedience and I lost the prayer too!”
Then I became convinced out of experience that obedience is greater than prayer!
Do you want to acquire the Prayer?
Do you want that when you say the words: “Lord, Jesus Christ” tears begin to flow from your eyes?
Do you want to live an angelic life?
“Bless!” and “Let it be blessed!” Obedience!
Prayer is born from obedience!
It is not that obedience is born from prayer, no, not this way!
Obedience will give birth to prayer!
Prayer will give birth to theology and the others.
And then I understood what the Holy Fathers say: “The most perfect virtue is obedience!”
Obedience is the imitation of Christ!