Luke 11:1 (NIV)- One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
(excerpt from “Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church” by Vladimir Lossky, pg. 207-208)
The beginning of prayer is petition- ‘the prayer of supplication’, in the words of St. Isaac the Syrian- which is anxious, and weighed down with preoccupations for true prayer (spiritual prayer) and consists in a gradual ascent towards God in seeking and effort.
Little by little the soul reintegrates itself, regains its unity, and particular petitions begin to disappear and seem superfluous, as God answers prayer by making manifest His all-embracing providence.
There is an end of petition when the soul entrusts itself wholly to the will of God.
This state is called “pure prayer.” It is the end of praxis, since nothing inconsistent with prayer can any longer gain access to the mind, nor turn aside the will which is now directed towards God, and united to the divine will.
The synergy- the harmony of two co-operating wills- continues throughout all the stages of the ascent towards God; but at a certain level, when one leaves the psychic realm, in which the spirit is active, all movement is at an end, and even prayer itself ceases.
This is the perfecting of prayer, and is called spiritual prayer or contemplation.
“The mind has ascended here above prayer, and having found what is more excellent, it desists from prayer.”–St. Isaac the Syrian
It is absolute peace and rest (Gk- hesechia). This is the spiritual silence which is above prayer. It is that state which belongs to the kingdom of Heaven.
The Saints of the world to come no longer “pray” because their minds have been engulfed in the Divine Spirit- dwelling in ecstasy in that excellent glory. When the mind has been made worthy of perceiving the blessedness of the age to come, it will forget itself and all that is here, and will no longer be moved by the thought of anything.
This ‘astonishment’, ‘wonder’, and ‘ravishing’ of the spirit in a condition of silence or tranquility (Gk- hesechia) is sometimes called ‘ecstasy’, for in it a man leaves his own being and is no longer conscious whether he is in this life or in the world to come.
He belongs to God and no longer to himself; he is his own master no more but is guided by the Holy Spirit.