St. Mark of Ephesus on Prayer

St. Mark of Ephesus ca. 1392-1444

True prayer is the sweet, continuous and unceasing memory of Jesus in the heart and the ineffable illumination, which results from it.

It is for this reason that a time and a place for prayer was instituted by our holy and divine fathers, as they received it from Christ Himself and the Apostles, for those, who do not live their lives entirely like beasts. This is a sort of necessary and instituted liturgy to be offered to God, which entails a scheme of bodily posture, a direction to look towards in prayer and, before these, a condition of the soul of the person, who is to pray.

Now, what concerns the place, the scheme and the condition of the soul, is specified by the Apostle, who says: “I want men to pray in every place raising holy hands without anger and evil thoughts” (1 Tim. 2:8).What is said about the place is in agreement with that prophetic statement, which says, “In every place incense is offered to me, says the Lord, incense which is pure” (Mal. 1:11); because incense denotes prayer and sacrifice of rational praise. “Sacrifice to God a sacrifice of praise and return your offerings to the Most High” (Ps. 49:14).

What is said about the scheme is similar to what is said in the Psalms, “The raising of my hands is an evening sacrifice” (Ps. 140:2).

What is said about the condition of the soul is reminiscent of what the Savior said: “When you stand in prayer, leave aside whatever you may hold against anyone, so your Father may forgive your transgressions” (Mat. 6:14).

What concerns the direction to look towards in obviously connected with turning eastwards, as both the ancient tradition wants and Solomon teaches in the book of Wisdom: “As it is known that the sun should fall on your thanksgiving and the light from the east should attend to you” (Wisdom 16:28).

Every place, then, is appropiate for prayer but better perhaps, is that specified part of the house, which is more modest and more precious. Indeed, it seems that in this manner that the following verse should be taken: “When you pray, enter into your secret (precious) place” (Mat. 6:6).

Better still is to go to sacred edifices and temples, since they are called houses of prayer, and there is in them the holy places of the holy people, in which the mystical and bloodless ceremony is done, where the angels desire to delve into, and where they are sealed with the holy myrrh and are sanctified by the relics of the martyrs and which contribute greatly to those, who pray. Indeed, it is the Psalmist, who says, “Worship the Lord in His holy court” (Ps. 95:9), as if worshipping outside the court is not something, which is easily forgiven.

Now, there is also the need to bend the knees from time to time, and wherever it is proved necessary, as the Apostle says: “For this reason, I bend my knees to the Father, from whom every Fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:15); and elsewhere, “Bending the knees he prayed with them all” (Acts 20:36).

Furthermore, in addition to the hands, it is also appropiate to raise the eyes to heaven as the Lord indicated when He prayed for Lazarus, since He clearly indicated by the former the raising of the soul to God and to depart from earthly things, and the by the latter, the fall, which followed immediately, and the servile supplication.

This is how these things are, but the time of prayer is divided by the divine Fathers into seven times each day. The Fathers have taken this from David’s saying: “Seven times a day I praised Thee, for the just rulings of Thy righteousness” (Ps. 118:164). Day here is used conventionally to denote the day and the night as it is also the case in Genesis: “And it became evening and it became morning…”; while the number seven is meant to describe the need for us to pray to God throughout our whole life. (An Exposition of the Church’s Daily Prayer)