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Step 28

ON PRAYER.

1. Prayer in itself may be termed a holy familiarity, a sacred union of man with God; but, considered with respect to its efficacy, we may call it the support and conservation of the world, the reconciliation of man with God, the mother of holy fear, the daughter of compunction, the mediatrix in the remission of sin, the bridge which conducts us in safety over the torrent of temptation, the rampart proof against the miseries and afflictions of this life, our champion against the spirits of darkness, the daily exercise and employment of the angels, the spiritual manna which nourishes the mind, the joy of the blessed in heaven.

2. Prayer is the unction of the heart, which it perpetually renews without weariness or exhaustion. It is the fountain of virtue, the channel through which flows the gifts and graces of heaven, our onward progress in holiness, the nourishment of the soul, the lamp which dispels the darkness of the mind, the alleviation of despair, the sign and the effect of hope, and the banishment of sadness.

3. Prayer is the wealth of religious persons, the treasure of anchorites, the soother of anger, the mirror which shows us our advancement in piety. By prayer we learn that God will be clement to us in proportion as we are merciful to others; and that, according to the words of the Gospel, we shall in vain ask pardon for our trespasses, unless we first forgive the trespasses of our neighbours.

4. Prayer makes the soul acquainted, in this life, with the state which it is in before God shows it, by anticipation, the condition of its future existence, and traces out for it, as with a pencil, the glory of heaven.

5. Prayer, when holy, is the tribunal and throne of heavenly justice, upon which God sits in judgment daily, and before which He will judge us at the last day.

6. Listen to the invitation of this queen of virtues: “Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you, learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart; and you shall find rest to our souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.”1

7. When we are about to have an audience with our Almighty Lord and King, and to lay our petitions before Him, let us not be found unprepared, lest seeing us afar off, with out the apparel suitable to those who stand before His Divine Majesty, He command the officers of justice to lead us from His presence, and then in contempt tear our petitions in pieces, and throw them in our faces, as the ministers of an earthly monarch would do in a court of justice.

8. When you kneel before God in prayer, banish all resentment of injuries, otherwise you will derive no benefit from your supplications.

9. Let your prayers be simple, without guile and affectation, for both the publican and the prodigal soothed the justice of God, and obtained His mercy by a single expression,--”Have mercy on me; for I am a sinner.”

10. All present themselves before God to pray; but all do not pray in the same manner, nor ask for the same favours. Some present themselves before God as their Friend and Master, and offer to Him their praises and supplications, not for themselves alone, but also for their neighbour. Others beseech Him to multiply in them His spiritual riches and graces, and to increase their confidence in that divine help which they already possess...These beg to be delivered from the snares of their infernal enemy. Those implore some special favour needful in their present circumstances. Many solicit a reasonable assurance of the pardon of their sins, or deliverance from this prison of the body.

11. Our prayer should commence with hearty thanksgiving, and then proceed to the confession of our faults, with a lively sorrow for having offended the Divine Majesty. After this we may humbly place before God, the King of the universe, our various wants and petitions. This method is the best, as we learn from the testimony of an angel to one of the solitaries of the desert.

12. If ever you have appeared as a criminal before an earthly judge, you have but to recollect in what manner you implored his forgiveness, to know with what humility you ought to offer your prayers to the eternal and invisible Judge. But if you have never been accused before men, nor seen those who have been reduced to this miserable condition, learn at least what should be the fervour and attention of your prayers, from the earnest and feeling manner in which the wounded beseech the surgeon to have compassion upon them in the application of his instruments.

13. Seek not to adorn your prayers with polished phrases, for we behold Christians frequently obtain from their Father in heaven, the favours they ask of Him in simple and unstudied language.

14. Make not long verbal prayers, lest this vain parade of words divert the attention of the mind from the contemplation of its principal and divine object. The simple expression of the publican,--”Lord, have mercy on me,” was sufficient to open the floodgates of the divine compassion. Much speaking in prayer ordinarily fills the mind with vain and fleeting images, and disturbs the attention, which is best preserved by the employment of few words.

15. When you feel affected and consoled by some expression to which you have given utterance in your prayers, stop and fix your attention upon it, since it is a sign that your guardian angel has been praying with you.

16. Whatever may be the purity of your heart, never approach God with too much confidence, but always with profound humility; and this humility will give you a greater and more holy confidence than any you can obtain of yourself.

17. Even when you have reached the summit of virtue, cease not to ask pardon of God for your sins, in imitation of the illustrious Apostle of the Gentiles: “A faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.”2

18. As we season our food with oil and salt, so let chastity and penitential tears season our prayers, and make them worthy to be presented before the throne of heaven.

19. If you have completely subdued anger by meekness, you will experience no difficulty in preserving peace and freedom of mind during prayer.

20. When we have not yet received the grace of interior prayer and recollection in God, we resemble nurses that teach little children to walk, we are obliged continually to lift up our thoughts and prevent them from falling to the earth.

21. Strive to raise your thoughts to heaven, or rather to shut them up in the holy words of your prayers. But if your mind, still in its spiritual infancy, droops, and is tied down to the earth by a multitude of distractions, exert yourself and lift it up immediately, for instability is one of the imperfections of the human mind. God, however, can render constant things that are inconstant. If you never desist from fighting against this fickleness of the mind, He who said to the swelling waves of the sea, “Hitherto shall you come, and no farther,” will likewise allay the agitation of your soul, and forbid all intruding thoughts to pass their prescribed boundary. It is impossible for man to chain the mind, but when the Creator of the mind is present, all things are obedient.

22. If ever you have known the Sun of Righteousness as you ought to know Him, that is, according to His greatness and majesty, and your baseness and nothingness, you will be able to pray to Him with becoming reverence. But if you have not this happiness, how can you worthily entertain God, whose grandeur and majesty are unknown to you?

23. The first degree of prayer consists in being able to expel at first sight the distractions calculated to dissipate the mind. The second degree consists in confining our minds to the meditation of the words in the prayers which we are reciting. But the last and most perfect degree is the joy of the soul, the enrapture of the mind in God.

24. There is a difference between the joy experienced in prayer by religious persons praying together in community, and that felt by solitaries during their devotions in their cells. The former may be somewhat liable to vanity by the sight and presence of their brethren, but the latter is tempered by humility, as coming from the presence of God alone, and without any witnesses but God and His angels.

25. If by continual vigilance you labour to preserve your minds from distracting thoughts, you will be recollected even when at table. But if you give your minds full liberty to wander in quest of distraction and dissipation, you will not be able to rein them in when you wish. Hence these words of the apostle addressed to one raised to the most sublime and perfect prayer: “I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”3 But this practice is not proper for persons so weak and imperfect as we are. And the reason is, that we cannot be content with few words in our prayers, and because we are under the necessity of selecting the most appropriate expressions in our supplications. But this very imperfection leads to the more perfect method of prayer. For God grants purity of mind to him who prays with fervour, although his prayer may still be disturbed by roving thoughts which give him annoyance.

26. There is a difference between that which sullies prayer and that which destroys it entirely, between that which removes from prayer its most beautiful robes, and that which strips it entirely naked. To allow through connivance the mind to be occupied with indiscreet and profane thoughts, when in the presence of God, is to sully our prayers; but to dwell during our prayers voluntarily upon vain and superfluous cares, is their total destruction. To be insensibly diverted by vague and foreign thoughts is to divest our prayers of their appropriate apparel; but to permit our attention to be entirely directed to some other object, is shamefully to dishonour our prayers by leaving them naked.

27. When we assist in a standing position at the Divine Office in church, let us be satisfied by humbling ourselves interiorly, in the same manner that supplicants humble themselves exteriorly. But if we pray alone and without witnesses, who might be to us an occasion of vanity, let us not be content with interior humiliation, but let us likewise humble the body by prostrations, in offering our vows and supplications to God. For in those who are imperfect the interior is generally conformable to the exterior.

28. Men in general, but especially they who address themselves to the King of heaven to obtain the pardon of their sins, have great need of contrition. Whilst we are in this prison of the body, let us, for our edification, apply to ourselves the words which the angel spoke to St. Peter: “Gird thyself, and put on thy sandals.”4 Gird yourself with the cincture of obedience, and put off your own will, and come to Jesus Christ in this state of detachment, that when you pray you may ask from Him nothing but the knowledge of His will. Then will the Holy Spirit descend upon you, take the direction and guidance of your soul, and conduct it safely to heaven.

29. When you have arisen as it were from the tomb, by becoming superior to the love of the world and the pleasures of the earth, cast off all care about this momentary and perishable life. Reject every other thought but that of your eternal salvation. For prayer is nothing else but the total forgetfulness of the world. Let us exclaim with the Royal Prophet: “What have I in heaven? And besides Thee what do I desire upon earth?”5 Nothing, O Lord, do I covet so much as to be united to you so intimately and so firmly as never to be separated. Some desire wealth, others glory, but my wish is an inviolable union with you; and it is from you alone that I can hope for perfect tranquility of soul.

30. Faith furnishes prayer with wings, without which it cannot soar to heaven.

31. If our passions still harass and disturb us, let us, without intermission and without weariness, implore from God deliverance from their thraldom. For all who enjoy undisturbed tranquility have not attained to this peace and to this victory, without many a severe contest with their passions.

32. Remember that the unjust judge mentioned in the Gospel (Luke, xviii. 5), although he feared neither God nor man, decided the widow’s case, that he might be free from her importunity. Thus we may represent our Sovereign Judge viewing our soul as a widow, through the dissolution of our marriage with Jesus Christ by our sins, and clamouring for justice against the body, and against the spirits of darkness, its enemies, and that the Supreme Judge decides the cause of our soul not from fear, but through the earnestness and importunity of our prayers.

33. Although you may have persisted a long time in soliciting by prayer some particular favour without success, yet say not that your prayers have been fruitless, since your very assiduity in the solicitation has been to you a great advantage. For what is more excellent or more sublime than to be closely united to God by prayer, and to persevere without weariness in this holy union?

34. A criminal who awaits his sentence is not so much alarmed, as is he who prays in the right spirit of intercession when seized with fear and trembling, as he presents himself before God in supplication. The remembrance of this respectful fear, which is experienced at the time of prayer, is sufficient to induce in those who are wise and thoughtful of their salvation, to avoid to entertain the resentment of injuries, to repress all the emotions of anger, to banish from their mind all superfluous cares, all chagrin and disquietude, to shun every occupation that withholds them from the object of their love, to observe temperance, and to preserve themselves from the snares of temptation and evil thoughts.

35. Prepare your heart by continual prayer for the interior and exterior acts of devotion in which you present yourselves before God, that you may offer to Him your supplications and make known to Him your wants, and in a short time you will make considerable progress in this holy science. I have seen persons eminent for the virtue of obedience, and constant remembrance of God’s presence, no sooner join their brethren in prayer than they were perfectly recollected in mind, and shed abundance of tears, because they were prepared for their devotions by holy obedience.

36. The chanting of the Psalms in a community may be attended by voluntary distractions, and involuntary disturbances which do not incommode the solitaries of the desert. The latter, however, are liable in their prayers to lukewarmness and slothfulness, whilst the presence of companions in the monastery is calculated to infuse into the prayers of the former both liveliness and fervour.

37. As the love which soldiers entertain for their king is shown on the field of battle, so the affection which the solitary has for God is seen at the time of prayer.

38. Prayer discovers to us the true state of our soul, for, according to theologians, it is the mirror which shows us our correct portrait.

39. He who continues his employment when the bell has rung for prayer, is deluded by the devil. The purpose of this enemy of souls is to steal hour after hour from our spiritual exercises, and to destroy the merit of our pious actions done according to the rule and the will of God, by others done according to our own will.

40. When asked to pray for the salvation of some particular person, do not refuse the request. For he who, though a sinner, sees himself with inward sorrow thus engaged in praying for another, may frequently obtain the grace that is wanting to himself, through the faith of him for whom he prays.

41. Do not be lifted up with vanity when you pray for your neighbour, and God hears your prayers, for it might be your neighbour’s faith that has obtained for them the efficacy which they might not have had of themselves.

42. As masters require from their pupils an account each day of that which has been taught them, so likewise does the justice of God demand from our souls an account of the graces and virtues which He has conferred upon them through our prayers. Hence we should watch over ourselves even when we pray with the most fervour, for it is then that the devil attacks us with the greatest violence, in order to trouble our minds by the emotions of anger and hastiness, and thereby deprive us of the benefit of our prayers.

43. We should always act from the fulness of our heart and affection in the practice of virtue. But the soul prays with this fulness of fervour when it continues victorious over anger.

44. Spiritual blessings attained by much prayer and labour are solid and durable.

45. He who possesses God does not of himself propose any particular point of meditation whereon to entertain himself with God in his prayers. For then the Holy Spirit prays in him and for him by ineffable groanings.

46. Do not admit indiscriminately all the sensible and corporeal images that present themselves to the mind during prayer, to assist you more readily to conceive the divine mysteries of our holy faith, lest you wander and become entangled in error.

47. It is in prayer that we receive from the Almighty an assurance that He will hear our request. This assurance is the whispering of the Holy Spirit to the soul, solving and terminating its doubts, manifesting that which is conformable to the divine will, making clear that which was before obscure, and stamping a certainty upon that which seemed hitherto uncertain.

48. If you wish to render your prayers efficacious, and to draw down by them the mercy of God, freely exercise mercy towards others. For it is in prayer that solitaries receive the hundred-fold promised by God in this life to the merciful, and the eternal life hereafter.

49. When the heavenly fire of divine grace descends upon the soul, it enkindles therein fervent prayer, which sends up its flames like incense to the throne of the Most High, and receives therefrom fresh fuel, as was seen in the wonderful prodigy which occurred on the day of Pentecost.

50. Some assert that prayer is more useful and more salutary than the meditation of death. But in my opinion these two holy customs, although different in their nature, are nevertheless united, as the divine and human natures are united in the person of Jesus Christ.

51. As the noble horse “breaketh up the earth with his hoof, and pranceth boldly, and goeth forward to meet armed men; and when he heareth the trumpet, and smelleth the battle afar off, chasing and raging he swalloweth the ground, and despiseth all fear in his terrific onset,” so the courageous Christian, perceiving the hour of combat to draw nigh, prepares himself by the chanting of Psalms, and becomes the more animated the more he advances toward the battle-field, until all on fire by the ardour of his meditation, he repels with irresistible heroism the fiercest assaults of his enemies.

52. It is a bold deed to take the water from him who is quenching his thirst. But it is much more difficult for a soul praying with sentiments of tenderness and of the love of God, to deprive itself in the midst of such prayer of the sweet refreshment and ineffable consolation it is receiving.

53. Retire not from prayer until you perceive that the fire which God enkindled in your heart, and the tears you were shedding. have ceased by His appointment to exercise their happy influence. For we may not, during the remainder of our lives, meet with a time so favourable as that of the fire of penance and the tears of love for the remission of our sins.

54. It frequently happens that he who has received from God the gift of perfect prayer, and who has relished all its comforts, sullies the purity of his heart by some inconsiderate expression, and then he finds in his prayers no longer that which he sought, and was accustomed previously to find.

55. There is a difference between watching over the heart with assiduity, in order to know its emotions and desires, and the ruling of that same heart with the absolute authority of reason, which being enlightened by faith--the mistress and the queen of the passions--offers to Jesus Christ in prayer, pious aspirations, holy thoughts, as the high priest formerly immolated to God spotless victims. One of the fathers and theologians (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 40) has said, That the fire of heaven descends upon those who are in the former of these states, to burn and consume all that may remain of imperfection; and upon those who are in the latter to shed upon them a greater light, and to enable them to march onwards unceasingly in the path of perfection, which they have chosen. For divine grace is sometimes called a fire which consumes, and sometimes a fire which enlightens. Hence the first we have mentioned depart from prayer as from a furnace, in which they have been purified from all stains and imperfections; the second retire from it resplendent with new light, and clothed with the twofold grace of humility and interior joy. They who withdraw from prayer without experiencing one of these two effects, pray rather with the body than with the mind, or rather, perhaps, as Jews than Christians.

56. If bodies by touching bodies sometimes change their nature, and become more active by the activity which is communicated to them, how does it happen that he who with a pure conscience and clean hands touches the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, does not perceive any change in his soul, does not become more holy, more like unto God whom he has received into his inward house?

57. We behold in the various liberalities of the kings of the earth types of the innumerable bounties of the King of heaven, who is the Sovereign and infinite Goodness. These treasures of His clemency He confers either by Himself or by His friends and servants, or in some secret and imperceptible manner, upon those who have generously consecrated themselves to His service. But they are dealt out to us in proportion to our humility.

58. As an earthly monarch would view with extreme aversion one of his subjects who, whilst in his presence, instead of speaking to him with respect, turned away his face, and began to entertain himself with the enemies of his king, so God has a great dislike towards him who, placing himself in the divine presence by prayer, willingly directs his attention to the entertainment of evil and indiscreet thoughts.

59. When the devil tries to distract you by the noise and commotion he excites in the mind, drive him away as you would a dog, and pursue him with spiritual weapons, and with all your might, every time he impudently renews his attacks.

60. Ask with tears; seek with obedience; knock with perseverance. For he who asks in this manner will receive; he who thus seeks shall find; and to him who is never weary with knocking the door will be opened.

61. When you confess your sins before God, enter not into the detail of your bodily faults, lest you might prepare a snare for yourself in the evil impressions which such examination might excite in the mind.

62. Do not devote the time destined for prayer to other employments, however necessary, or however spiritual they may be in their nature. Otherwise the devil will rob you by this artifice of that which is most precious to a religious life.

63. He who prays continually does not stumble. But if he should stumble, he does not entirely fall. For prayer is a holy violence which man offers to God.

64. We know the utility of prayer from the efforts of the wicked spirits to distract us during the Divine Office; and we experience the fruit of prayer in the defeat of our enemies. “By this I know, O Lord,” said holy David, “that thou hast a good will for me; because my enemy shall not rejoice over me.”6 Jesus Christ has said to us in the Gospel: “If two of you shall consent upon earth concerning any thing whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven.”7 The dispositions of religious persons are not all alike in that which regards either mind or body. For some find it more advantageous to recite the Office briskly, others slowly. The former adopt their method to avoid distractions, the latter that they may comprehend what they recite.

65. If you continually pray to the King of heaven against the spirits of darkness, you will not have occasion to dread their approach. They will not give you much annoyance, but will retire of themselves, being too proud to augment your crown by the repeated victories which you would obtain over them by prayer. Your prayer, moreover, will be a fire that will scorch and put them to flight.

66. Have a firm confidence in God, and He will be your master and teach you how to pray. As words cannot convey to us an idea of visible objects which have never been seen, because they must first be presented to the mind by vision before they can be described by language, so we cannot learn from the instruction of men what is the beauty of prayer, since it is from prayer itself that we learn its efficacy by the light of God, who imparts to men the knowledge of divine things, and who bestows the gift of prayer upon him who prays, and blesses the days and years of the just. Amen.


  1. Matt. xi. 28.

  2. I Timothy i. 15.

  3. I Corinth, xiv. 19.

  4. Acts xii. 8.

  5. Ps. lxxii. 25.

  6. Ps. xl. 12.

  7. Matt. xviii. 19.



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Archbishop Gregory
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