Prayer - Part 4

How all Christians in general must pray without ceasing
From the life of St. Gregory Palamas,
Archbishop, miracle-worker of Thessalonica45

Let no one think, my brother-Christians, that it is the duty only of priests
and monks to pray without ceasing, and not of laymen. No, no ; it is the
duty of all of us Christians to remain always in prayer. For look what the
most holy Patriarch of Constantinople, Philotheus, writes in his life of St.
Gregory of Thessalonica. This saint had a beloved friend by the name of job,
a very simple but most virtuous man. Once, while conversing with him, His
Eminence said of prayer that every Christian in general should strive to
pray always, and to pray without ceasing, as Apostle Paul commands all
Christians, ‘Pray without ceasing’ (i Thess. v. 17), and as the prophet
David says of himself, although he was a king and had to concern himself
with his whole kingdom : ‘I foresaw the Lord always before my face’ (Ps. xv.
8), that is, in my prayer I always mentally see the Lord before me. Gregory
the Theologian also teaches all Christians to say God’s name in prayer more
often than to breathe....

So, my Christian brethren, I too implore you, together also with St.
Chrysostom, for the sake of saving your souls, do not neglect the practice
of this prayer. Imitate those I have mentioned and follow in their footsteps
as far as you can. At first it may appear very difficult to you, but be
assured, as it were from Almighty God, that this very name of our Lord Jesus
Christ, constantly invoked by you, will help you to overcome all
difficulties, and in the course of time you will become used to this
practice and will taste how sweet is the name of the Lord. Then you will
learn by experience that this practice is not impossible and not difficult,
but both possible and easy. This is why St. Paul, who knew better than we
the great good which such prayer would bring, commanded us to pray without
ceasing. He would not have imposed this obligation upon us if it were
extremely difficult and impossible, for he knew beforehand that in such
case, having no possibility of fulfilling it, we would inevitably prove to
be disobedient and would transgress his commandment, thus incurring blame
and condemnation. The Apostle could have had no such intention.

Moreover, bear in mind the method of prayer-how it is possible to pray
without ceasing, namely by praying in the mind. And this we can always do if
we so wish. For when we sit down to work with our hands, when we walk, when
we eat, when we drink we can always pray mentally and practise this mental
prayer-the true prayer pleasing to God. Let us work with the body and pray
with the soul. Let our outer man perform his bodily tasks, and let the inner
man be entirely dedicated to the service of God, never abandoning this
spiritual practice of mental prayer, as Jesus, God and Man, commanded us,
saying : ‘But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou
hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret’ (Matt. vi. 6).
The closet of the soul is the body; our doors are the five bodily senses.
The soul enters its closet when the mind does not wander hither and thither,
roaming among things and affairs of the world, but stays within, in our
heart. Our senses become closed and remain closed when we do not let them be
attached to external sensory things, and in this way our mind remains free
from every worldly attachment, and by secret mental prayer unites with God
its Father.

‘And thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly,’ adds the
Lord. God who knows all secret things sees mental prayer and rewards it
openly with great gifts. For that prayer is true and perfect which fills the
soul with Divine grace and spiritual gifts. As chrism perfumes the jar the
more strongly the tighter it is closed, so prayer, the more fast it is
imprisoned in the heart, abounds the more in Divine grace.

Blessed are those who acquire the habit of this heavenly practice, for by it
they overcome every temptation of the evil demons, as David overcame the
proud Goliath. It extinguishes the unruly lusts of the flesh, as the three
men extinguished the flames of the furnace. This practice of inner prayer
tames passions as Daniel tamed the wild beasts. By it the dew of the Holy
Spirit is brought down upon the heart, as Elijah brought down rain on Mount
Carmel. This mental prayer reaches to the very throne of God and is
preserved in golden vials, sending forth their odours before the Lord, as
John the Divine saw in the Revelation, ‘Four and twenty elders fell down
before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of
odours, which are the prayers of the saints’ (Rev. v. 8). This mental prayer
is the light which illumines man’s soul and inflames his heart with the fire
of love of God. It is the chain linking God with man and man with God. Oh
the incomparable blessing of mental prayer! It allows a man constantly to
converse with God. Oh truly wonderful and more than wonderful-to be with
one’s body among men while in one’s mind conversing with God.

Angels have no physical voice, but mentally never cease to sing glory to
God. This is their sole occupation and all their life is dedicated to this.
So, brother, when you enter your closet and close your door, that is, when
your mind is not darting hither and thither but enters within your heart,
and your senses are confined and barred against things of this world, and
when you pray thus always, you too are then like the holy angels, and your
Father, Who sees your prayer in secret, which you bring Him in the hidden
depths of your heart, will reward you openly by great spiritual gifts.

But what other and greater rewards can you wish from this when, as I said,
you are mentally always before the face of God and are constantly conversing
with Him-conversing with God, without Whom no man can ever be blessed either
here or in another life?

Finally, my brother, whoever you may be, when you take up this book and,
having read it, wish to test in practice the profit which mental prayer
brings to the soul, I beg you, when you begin to pray thus, pray God with
one invocation, ‘Lord have mercy’, for the soul of him who has worked on
compiling this book and of him who helped to give it to the public. For they
have great need of your prayer to receive God’s mercy for their soul, as you
for yours. May it be so! May it be so!

45. This text, considerably abridged here, terminates both the Greek and
Russian versions. A section of it draws on Philotheus’ Life of Palamas; the
remainder appears to have been written by one of the compilers of the Greek
Philokalia. (Translators’ note.)

[All Old Testament Scriptural quotations are taken from the LXX/Septuagint.]

[Taken from the Early Fathers from the Philokalia.]



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