On Prayer and Spiritual Vulnerability

seagull-in-the-sun2St. Theophan the Recluse 1815-1894

One who prays is like a bird, soaring high in the air, neither to be captured by the net, nor reached by an arrow. But when noticing some delectable seeds, it flies down from above and starts to peck at them, it can get entangled in a net or easily shot. Thus, the one who prays is difficult for enemies to catch, for the Spirit of prayer lifts him high. But if he, leaving the heights, drops down to what is earthly and begins to be beguiled by this and that — no wonder he will be caught and dragged away to indecent actions. And who is guilty? If he had not left prayer, it would not have allowed him to fall. (Commentary on Psalm 118: Verse 117)

On Praying for Our Enemies

divine-0223-polycarpSt. Polycarp of Smyrna died ca. 69-155

Pray for all… those that persecute and hate you, (Mat. 5:44) and for the enemies of the Cross, that your fruit may be manifest to all, and that you may be perfect in Him. (Epistle to the Philippians, 12)

St. Nektarios on Purgatory

Saint_Nektarios_of_Aegina_at_RizarioSt. Nektarios of Aegina 1846-1920

The Orthodox Church strongly rejects the purgatorial fire, the idea of a fire that cleanses souls… According to the Orthodox Church, there exists no intermediary order after death between those who proceed to Heaven and those who descend to Hades. There is no special intermediary place where the souls are found of those who have repented before death and have not brought forth the fruits of repentance… All these souls proceed to Hades, whence they cannot depart except through the prayers of the Church. (Study Concerning the Immortality of the Soul [Athens, 1901], pp. 168-169)

On When People Speak Ill of You

0206barsanuphius.n.johnSs. Barsanuphius and John ca. 6th cent.

Q: A brother asked the Elder: “When I hear of someone that he is speaking ill of me, what should I do?”

A: Immediately stand at prayer and pray first for him, then for yourself, saying: “Lord Jesus Christ! Have mercy on this brother and me, Thy useless slave, and protect us from the evil one, by the prayers of Thy Saints.” Amen. (Answers to the Questions of Disciples, Question 556. Guidance Toward Spiritual Life, p. 125)

On Why the Priest Invokes the Father at the Eucharistic Consecration

Christ the Great High-Priest 15th cent. icon from skete.com

Christ the Great High-Priest 15th cent. icon from skete.com

St. Nicholas Cabasilas 1323-1391

Why is it that for the consecration of the Offerings the Celebrant does not invoke the Son, Who is the Priest and Sanctifier, as we have said, but rather the Father?

It is to teach us that the Savior possess this power of sanctification not in His quality as a man, but because He is God, and because of the Divine power which He shares with His Father. This is what our Lord Himself wished to show us when, while instituting the Sacrament, He lifted His eyes up to heaven and offered the Bread to His Father. For the same reason, He performed many of His miracles in an attitude of prayer to God; He wished to show that this was not the work of His human nature, according to which He had a mother on earth, but of His Divinity, according to which God was His Father. In the same way, when He was about to ascend the Cross, wishing to show that He had two wills, the Divine and the Human, He attributed to His Father His divine will, keeping to Himself His human one. “Not as I will but as Thou will but as Thou wilt”, and again: “Not my will but Thine be done.” Yet the very words in which He seems to separate His own will from that of His Father show that He Himself willed that will of the Father which He fulfilled. For the phrase “Not my will but Thine be done” implies agreement and a unity of wills. He demonstrates this also when He reproaches Peter for shrinking from the idea of His Cross and death and again when He says: “I have greatly longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” I have desired this Passover before My Passion, he says — as if to say: I have desired to reach the threshold of that Passion. (A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, 31.)

On Common Prayer

Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

Since the times of the Early Church, Christians have been very discriminate about their prayer and in whose company they choose to pray. Already in the Apostolic Canons (Canon 65, for example), a document arguably dating back to the end of the second century, both lay people and clergy are prohibited from praying with heretics under the threat of excommunication. Apostolic Canon 45 mandates: “Let any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon that merely joins in prayer with heretics be suspended…” Similarly, Canon 33 of the Council of Laodicea (ca. 363-364 A.D.) says that “one must not join in prayer with heretics and schismatics.” Yet common prayer is one of the central goals of the contemporary ecumenical movement, including the ecumenical dialogue between Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Seemingly in defiance of the ancient canons, Catholic and Orthodox hierarchs have routinely joined each other in prayer, to the joy of the proponents of such practices and to the dismay of opponents.

Those working to make common prayer more common argue that the belief in one true God unites the different branches of Christianity and even those outside of the larger Christian community, thus all prayers ascend to the same divine destinations. Opponents often assert that heretics do not pray to the same God, but to the devil instead (cf. John 8:44). Thus, joint prayer is viewed as impossible (cf. 2 Cor. 6:15) or having the risk of accidentally addressing the wrong “authority”.

There is another point of view: if prayer is viewed not simply as locution or interlocution, but as an experience that is transformative for the devotee, even as a way or a mode of life, then it becomes easier to understand why those who doubt each other’s orthodoxy are so cautious about praying together. It is not the risk of accidentally addressing the “wrong” god that becomes central to warnings against praying with heretics, but the risk of being influenced by a way and a mode of life with which one may disagree, in other words, it is the risk to one’s spiritual health. (Imagine That… : Mental Imagery in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Private Devotion, Introduction)

On Praying Before Icons

Icon of the Mother of God “The Unexpected Joy” from oca.org

St. Ignaty Brianchaninov 1807-1867

The Holy Icons are accepted by the Holy Church for the purpose of arousing pious memories and feelings, but not all for arousing imagination. Standing before an icon of the Savior, stand as if before the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who is invisibly everywhere present and by His icon in that place, where the icon is. Standing before an icon of the Mother of God, stand as if before the Most-Holy Virgin herself; but keep your mind without images: there is a great difference between being in the presence of the Lord or standing before the Lord and imagining the Lord. (Sobraniye 2004, 1:76. excerpted from Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov, Imagine That…)

On Prayer and Smoking

In 1905 Father Silouan spent several months in Russia, often visiting monasteries. One one of his train journeys he sat opposite a shopkeeper, who in a friendly gesture opened his silver cigarette case and offered him a cigarette. Father Silouan thanked him but refused to take one. Then the shopkeeper began talking, asking, ‘Are you refusing, Father, because you think it is a sin? But smoking is often a help in life. It relaxes you, and makes a few minutes’ break. Smoking helps one to get on with one’s work or have a friendly chat, and in general…’ And so on, trying to persuade Father Silouan to have a cigarette. In the end Father Silouan made up his mind to say to him, ‘Before you light up a cigarette, pray and repeat one “Our Father…”‘ To this the shopkeeper replied, ‘Praying before having a smoke somehow doesn’t work.’ To this Silouan observed, ‘So better not start anything which cannot be preceded by untroubled prayer.’ (St. Silouan the Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony, p. 70)

On Making the Sign of the Cross

Patriarch Macarius of Antioch 1600-1672

A Brief Commentary on How Christians Ought to Make the Sign of the Cross over Their Faces

This has two explanations. The first one is as follows. The Holy Fathers prescribed making the Sign of the Cross in the following way. First, the person intending to pray must gather together the three fingers of his right hand (three, in reference to the Holy Trinity)—the thumb and the two fingers adjacent to it. Then, he must raise them to the upper part of his head and place them on his forehead. Then, he should bring them down and place them on his abdomen. Then, he should raise them again and place them on his right shoulder. Then, he should raise them from there and place them on his left shoulder. After that, he should bring them down.

When a person places these three fingers on his forehead he should say, “Holy God.” When he places them on his abdomen he should say, “Holy Mighty.” When he places them on his right shoulder he should say, “Holy Immortal.” Finally, when he places them on his left shoulder and then goes down in prostration he should say, “Have mercy on us.” Alternatively, when he touches these four parts of his body [with his fingers], he can say, “O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ our King and our God” or “O God, forgive me, a sinner, and have mercy on me.”

When a person raises these three fingers to the upper part of his head, this signifies Christ’s coming down from heaven to earth. When he places them on his abdomen, this signifies Christ’s coming down from heaven, dwelling in the Virgin’s womb, taking a body from her, and the fact that He was crucified in this body and saved us. When he places his fingers on his right shoulder, this signifies that Christ will count us among the [righteous] standing on His right hand on the Day of Judgment. When he places his fingers on his left shoulder, this signifies that Christ has delivered us from standing with the sinners on His left.

The second explanation is the following. When a person gathers these three fingers together, raises them to the upper part of his head, and places them on his forehead, this signifies that Christ our Lord and God came down from heaven to earth for the sake of our salvation and so that we might believe in Him. When a person places his fingers on his abdomen, this signifies that Christ was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, and descended to the lowest reaches of Hades, to save the souls of the righteous who had been undergoing a punishment there in the days of old. It also indicates that He is going to save all those believing in Him and keeping His commandments. When a person places his fingers on his right shoulder, this signifies that Christ ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father, and also that He shall come again to judge the living and the dead. He will make the righteous to stand on His right hand, as He had promised us in the pure Gospel. The sinners, however, will stand on His left. When a worshipper places his three fingers on his left shoulder, this signifies that he is praying to [Christ] and beseeching Him that He will not make him one of the people of the left side but will deem him worthy to stand on His right hand [on the Day of Judgment]. For all these reasons, it is incumbent on every Christian to make the sign of the cross after this fashion, so as to gain all the said benefits, and not to make it in any other way, lest one forfeit the great benefits mentioned above. (Noble, Samuel; Treiger, Alexander [2014-02-15]. The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700 – 1700: An Anthology of Sources [Orthodox Christian] [Kindle Locations 6319-6344]. Northern Illinois University Press. Kindle Edition)

On Prayer and Theology

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

Prayer is higher than theology. For the one theologizes about the divine based on past events, whereas prayer joins the soul, in an unknowable and ineffable way, to God Himself. (Question and Doubts, Question 46)

On Fasting and Prayer in Holy Scripture

Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople 1530-1595

Since the fasts and the prayers are necessary, hearken unto the Lord who says in the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke: “And there was a prophetess Anna… She did not depart from the Temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Lk. 2:36-37). Also, hear Paul in the seventh chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians: “that you may devote yourselves to fast and prayer” (1 Cor. 7:5). And also, the sixth chapter of his Second Epistle to the Corinthians [reads]: “in watchings, in fastings” (2 Cor. 6:5). And if someone would like to elicit similar testimonies from the Scripture, he will easily find many others. (Augsburg and Constantinople, p. 209. The Three Answers: Second Exchange: Constantinople to Tubingen, 15)

On the Trials of Darkness After Death

St. Theodosius of the Kiev Caves 1009-1074

…I pray Thee, O my Lord, have mercy on my soul, that it may not encounter the malice of Thy enemies, but that Thy angels may receive it and lead it through the trials of the darkness after death towards the light of Thy mercy. (A Life of St. Theodosius, The Way of the Pilgrim and Other Classics of Russian Spirituality edited by G.P. Fedotov [kindle version])

On Shortened Prayer Rules

Concerning the abbreviation of his rule of prayer, St. Paisius [Velichkovsky] wrote of the extreme difficulty of his life in the beginning on the Holy Mountain. Further he said: “All this I confessed to my spiritual father and other older confessors and told to my confessor. Because in my extreme infirmity I cannot keep to my rule, the thought came to me. I will return to Russia. But my confessor, encouraging me, said: ‘No child, do not leave the Holy Mountain where God called you; endure there a little the will of God. As for your rule of prayer, keep up as much as you can. Only, always thank God, and the Lord will not leave you. And your thanksgiving in infirmity and want will be imputed to you by God in the place of every rule.’ And in accordance with his advice I kept my small rule and lived, rejoicing and thanking God in my infirmity, entreating His mercy, so that He would strengthen me to remain to the end of my life on this Holy Mountain of Athos.” (Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky, p. 89)

On Prayer and the End of the World

St. Silouan the Athonite 1886-1938

Prayer keeps the world alive and when prayer fails, the world will perish… “Nowadays,” perhaps you will say, “there are no more monks like that to pray for the whole world.” But I tell you that when there are no more men of prayer on earth, the world will come to an end and great disasters will befall. They have already started. (Archimandrite Sophrony of Essex, ‘St. Silouan the Athonite’, p. 223)

On the Scope of the Lord’s Prayer

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

…[H]e Himself worked and taught many new mysteries whose number and dimension the mind can in no way grasp or measure. There are seven in number which are more general than the others which He appears to have given to men in His extraordinary generosity. The scope of the [Lord’s] prayer, as I have said, mysteriously contains their meaning: theology, adoption in grace, equality of honor with angels, participation in eternal life, the restoration of nature inclining toward itself to a tranquil state, the abolition of the law of sin, and the overthrowing of the tyranny of evil which has dominated us by trickery. Let us examine the truth of what has just been said. (Commentary on the Our Father, Prologue 1.)

A Prayer for Unity in Christ

St. John of Kronstadt 1829-1908

Unite in this faith all the great Christian societies, woefully having fallen aside from the unity of the Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, which is Your Body and whose Head art Thou and the Savior of the Body… grant unto their hearts to know the truth and salvific nature of Thy Church and to unite with it; link to Thy holy Church also those who are suffering from ignorance, delusion, and the stubbornness of schism… Draw all nations populating the earth to this faith, that they may all glorify Thee, the only God of all, with one heart and one mouth. (Kizenko, ‘A Prodigal Saint: Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People’, p. 54)

St. Augustine on the Departure of the Soul

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

I then, O my Praise and my Life, Thou God of my heart, putting aside for a little her good deeds, for which I joyfully give thanks to You, do now beseech You for the sins of my mother. Hearken unto me, through that Medicine of our wounds who hung upon the tree, and who, sitting at Your right hand, makes intercession for us. Rom. 8:34 I know that she acted mercifully, and from the heart Mat. 18:35 forgave her debtors their debts; do Thou also forgive her debts, whatever she contracted during so many years since the water of salvation. Forgive her, O Lord, forgive her, I beseech You; enter not into judgment with her. Let Your mercy be exalted above Your justice, James 2:13 because Your words are true, and You have promised mercy unto the merciful; Mat. 5:7 which You gave them to be who wilt have mercy on whom You will have mercy, and wilt have compassion on whom You have had compassion. Rom. 9:15

And I believe You have already done that which I ask You; but accept the free-will offerings of my mouth, O Lord. For she, when the day of her dissolution was near at hand, took no thought to have her body sumptuously covered, or embalmed with spices; nor did she covet a choice monument, or desire her paternal burial-place. These things she entrusted not to us, but only desired to have her name remembered at Your altar, which she had served without the omission of a single day; whence she knew that the holy sacrifice was dispensed, by which the handwriting that was against us is blotted out; Col. 2:14 by which the enemy was triumphed over, who, summing up our offenses, and searching for something to bring against us, found nothing in Him Jn. 14:30 in whom we conquer. Who will restore to Him the innocent blood? Who will repay Him the price with which He bought us, so as to take us from Him? Unto the sacrament of which our ransom did Your handmaid bind her soul by the bond of faith. Let none separate her from Your protection. Let not the lion and the dragon Ps. 91: 13 introduce himself by force or fraud. For she will not reply that she owes nothing, lest she be convicted and got the better of by the wily deceiver; but she will answer that her sins are forgiven Mat. 9:2 by Him to whom no one is able to repay that price which He, owing nothing, laid down for us. (Confessions Bk. 9 Chap. 13.35-36)

St. Barsanuphius of Optina on the Jesus Prayer

St. Barsanuphius of Optina 1845-1913

“The other day one of our skete schema-monks came to see me. ‘I’ve fallen into despondency, Abba, since I don’t see in myself– in one who bears the exalted angelic habit– a change for the better. The Lord calls one strictly to account if he’s a monk or schema-monk only according to his clothing. But how can I change? How can I die to sin? I sense my total feebleness.’

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘we’re absolutely bankrupt, and if the Lord judges according to works, He will find nothing good in us.’
‘But is there hope for salvation then?’
‘Of course there is. Always say the Jesus Prayer, and leave everything to the will of God.’
‘But what kind of benefit can there be from this prayer if neither the mind nor the heart participates in it?’
‘Enormous benefit. Of course, this prayer has many subdivisions, from simple utterance to creative prayer. But for us, even if we were to be on the bottom step, it would be salvific. The powers of the enemy run from one who utters this prayer, and sooner or later he’ll be saved all the same.’
‘I’ve been resurrected!’ the schema-monk exclaimed. ‘I won’t be despondent anymore.’
And so I repeat: say the prayer, even if only with your lips, and the Lord will never abandon you. The utterance of this prayer doesn’t require the study of any kind of sciences. Count Leo Tolstoy was a man of well-rounded education, but he didn’t have Christ in his soul– and he perished. Earthly knowledge didn’t help him. He rejected the Holy Church– and was rejected.” (Elder Barsanuphius of Optina, pgs. 454-456)

On Baptism and Prayer

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

“And Jesus, when He was baptized went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him” (Mat. 3:16). Luke, however, says that while Christ was praying, heaven opened. “It came to pass”, he says, “that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened” (Lk. 3:21). He was praying while being baptized, while going down into the water and coming up, teaching through His actions that it is not only necessary for the priest performing the sacrament to pray, but the person being initiated must do the same at every sacred rite. If it happens that the priest is more perfect in virtue and sends up more ardent prayers, grace passes through him to the one receiving the sacrament,  but if the latter is more worthy and prays with greater zeal, God Who wants to have mercy — O how inexpressible is His kindness! — does not refuse to give grace through him to the person performing the rite; which is obviously what happened now in the case of John, as he afterwards testified, saying, “Of His fullness have all we received” (Jn. 1:16). (Homily 60.11, On the Holy Feast of Theophany)

On How the Church Prays for the World

St. Prosper of Aquitaine ca. 390-455

The Church pleads before God everywhere, not only for the saints and those regenerated in Christ, but also for all infidels and all enemies of the Cross of Christ, for all worshippers of idols, for all who persecute Christ in His members, for the Jews whose blindness does not see the light of the Gospel, for heretics and schismatics who are alien to the unity of faith and love.

But what does she beg for them, if not that they leave their errors and be converted to God, that they accept the faith, accept love, that they be freed from the shadows of ignorance and come to the knowledge of the truth? (The Call of All Nations, 1.12)

St. John of Kronstadt on Praying to Saints

St. John of Kronstadt 1828-1908

Lutherans say: “Why should we ask the prayers of the saints for ourselves? We pray to God Himself.” But they contradict themselves, for why do they ask a pastor to pray for them? They might as well pray without a pastor if everyone has equal access to God and we have no need of any sanctified suppliants. What blindness! They say that by praying to the saints we worship idols. This is untrue. We do not pray to any saints as we pray to God, we only ask his prayers for ourselves. Is there a shadow of idolatry in this? In the same manner as we ask God’s living ministers and suppliants to pray to Him for us, so likewise we ask the heavenly suppliants, who, from their love to God, have great boldness before Him; besides this, very many of them, even when they lived here on earth, were already suppliants and intercessors before God for the world; there, in heaven, this activity of theirs is only continued, has attained greater dimensions, and is especially powerful, because it is no longer hindered by the heavy and inert flesh. (On Prayer: Extracts from His Writings: IX. 99)

On External and Internal Spirituality

St. Dimitry of Rostov 1651-1709

Man is dual in nature: he is external and internal, fleshly and spiritual… And there are two kinds of learning – the external and the internal: the external through books, the internal through meditation on God; the external through the love of wisdom, the internal through the love of God; the external in rhetoric, the internal in prayer; the external through wittiness, the internal through warmth of the spirit… Prayer is also two-fold – external and internal: that which is said in front of others and that which is said secretly; that which is conducted in concert with others and that which is read alone; that which must be read and that which is voluntary… The former is read out loud with the voice, the latter only by the mind. The former is read standing, the latter not only while standing or walking, but also lying in bed, in other words, at all times whenever one raises his mind to God… Interior prayer… requires neither a mouth, nor books, nor movements of the tongue, nor the voice in one’s throat… but only the lifting of the mind to God and meditation, which can be done in any place. (Met. Hilarion Alfeyev, Vol. I Orthodox Christianity: The History and Canonical Structure of the Orthodox Church. The Russian Church in the Synodal Period, pg. 191)

On the Efficacy of Prayers for the Dead

St. John the Almsgiver of Alexandria died ca. 616

When the plague was at one time raging in the city, the just man used to go and watch the funerals for he said that this and the contemplation of graves were very edifying. Often too he would sit at the bedside of persons in their death anguish, and would close their eyes with his own hands, wishing thereby to keep the thought of his own death in continual remembrance. He also enjoined prayers for the dying to be celebrated diligently and perpetually, and in support of this he told the following story: ‘A short time ago,’ he said, ‘a man was captured by the Persians, and when taken to Persia was confined in the dungeon called Lethe. Some other prisoners who escaped and reached Cyprus were asked by his parents whether they had seen him by any chance; to which they replied: “We buried him with our own hands.” But that was not really the man about whom they were questioned, but another exactly like him. They also told the parents the month and the day of his death, and so the latter had prayers said three times a year for him whom they presumed to be dead.

‘Four years later he escaped from the Persians and returned to Cyprus. Then his relatives said, “We heard for certain, brother, that you were dead and therefore we have held memorial services for you three times a year”.

‘On hearing that they did this for him three times a year he asked on what month and day the services were held and they replied: “At Epiphany, at Easter, and on Whit-Sunday.”

‘Thereupon he said: “On those three feasts in the year a man in white raiment, like the sun, used to come and free me invisibly from my chains and from my cell and a]l that day I walked about and nobody recognized me. Yet on the morrow there I was in chains again!” ‘

The holy Patriarch used to say: ‘We learn from this story that those who have fallen asleep obtain comfort from the prayers we make on their behalf.’ (Leontius of Neapolis, Life of St. John the Almsgiver, 25)

St. John of Kronstadt on Prayers for the Dead

St. John of Kronstadt 1829-1908

When you pray for the repose of the soul of the departed, force yourself to pray with your whole heart remembering that to do so is your essential duty, and not only that of a priest, or ecclesiastic. Represent to yourself how necessary repose is to the departed one, and how greatly he (or she) needs the prayers for him (or her) of the living, being a member of the one body of the Church; how the demons are contesting his (or her) soul from the angels, and how it trembles, not knowing what its eternal destiny will be. Our prayer of faith and love for the departed means much in the Lord’s sight. Represent to yourself, further, how necessary rest is for you when you are bound by the fetters of sin, and how fervently, with what sincerity, ardor, and power you then pray to the Lord and to the Most-pure Mother of the Lord, and how you rejoice in and triumph when, after your fervent prayer, you obtain the remission of your sins and peace of heart. Apply all this to the soul of the departed. His (or her) soul also needs prayer – your prayer now – because it cannot pray fruitfully any longer itself; the soul of the departed also requires the rest which you can implore for it by means of your ardent prayer, joined to the works of charity for the benefit of that soul, and especially by the offering of the bloodless sacrifice on its behalf. (Saint John of Kronstadt on Prayer – Extracts from his Writings. Chap. XI.118 On Prayer for the Departed, pp. 44-45)

On the Birth and Death of Prayer

St. Silouan the Athonite 1886-1938

Unceasing prayer is born of love, while fault-finding, idle talk and self-indulgence are the death of prayer. (Archimandrie Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonite pg. 295)

St. Jerome on Prayer

St. Jerome 347-420

[A]lthough the Apostle bids us to pray without ceasing, 1 Thes. 5:17 and although to the saints their very sleep is a supplication, we ought to have fixed hours of prayer, that if we are detained by work, the time may remind us of our duty. Prayers, as every one knows, ought to be said at the third, sixth and ninth hours, at dawn and at evening. No meal should be begun without prayer, and before leaving table thanks should be returned to the Creator. We should rise two or three times in the night, and go over the parts of Scripture which we know by heart. When we leave the roof which shelters us, prayer should be our armor; and when we return from the street we should pray before we sit down, and not give the frail body rest until the soul is fed. In every act we do, in every step we take, let our hand trace the Lord’s Cross. (Letter 22.37)

St. Theodore the Studite on Prayer

St. Theodore the Studite ca. 759-826

You ask to be taught how you ought to pray. The Lord Himself taught us this through the invocation ‘Our Father’, and that we should not ask for anything temporary, but for His kingdom and eternal justice. Moreover it has been ordained by the Fathers that first should come thanksgiving to God; next confession of our sins to Him; and so a request for their forgiveness, and intercession for the other things that bring salvation.

So, when you are about to pray, give thanks to the Lord and Master that He brought you out of nothing into existence; that He redeemed you from every error, calling you and counting you worthy to become a partaker in the knowledge of Himself, free from pagan, free from heretical error. Next that He prepared you for the monastic life, which equals that of the Angels, after the enjoyment of life in the world. The thought of all this is enough to soften the soul to compunction and the outpouring of tears. From all this comes enlightenment of heart, sweetness of spirit, desire for God. When this is present inthe heart, there comes the rejection of every evil. When you have thus given thanks to God, confess to him like this, ‘You know, Master, how many sins I have committed against You, and how many I commit each hour, as You reckon up this sin and this offence and the ones committed in knowledge and inignorance. But do not recall in any detail the ones that by being clearly remembered harm the soul. [Cf. The Ladder 28:58] And from this the grace of humility will dawn for you, with a broken heart [Cf. Psalm 50:18] and fear of God’s recompense. After this, ask, groan, implore your Lord for forgiveness of these sins and strengthening for the future to please him, saying, ‘My Lord, Lord, may I no longer anger You, may I no longer love anything but You, alone truly to be loved. And should I anger you again, falling down I implore your compassion, that I may be given strength from now on to please you. ‘ And if anything else comes to your mind that is good to be accomplished, ask for it fervently. And after this call upon the holy Mother of God to have mercy on you, the holy Angels, and the Angel you have as the guardian of your life, that he may watch over you and protect you, the Forerunner and the holy Apostles, all the Saints and those whom you usually call on especially, and the one whose memory is kept that day. These then are the things, it seems to me, which hold the power of prayer, even if each person doubtless prays with other words and not the same as these, because people who pray do not always say the same things themselves, but the power, as I reckon, is always the same. So may you be kept safe as you pray for what is necessary, and become better each day, and through a strict way of life present your entire self well-pleasing to the Lord. (Letters Bk. 1.42 To the Nun Anna)

On Angels and Prayer

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

For, even when His angels hear us, it is He Himself who hears us in them, as in His true temple not made with hands, as in those men who are His saints; and His answers, though accomplished in time, have been arranged by His eternal appointment. (City of God Bk. 10.12)

Or perhaps that they [prayers] may be made known also to the angels that are in the presence of God, that these beings may in some way present them to God, and consult Him concerning them, and may bring to us, either manifestly or secretly, that which, hearkening to His commandment, they may have learned to be His will, and which must be fulfilled by them according to that which they have there learned to be their duty; for the angel said to Tobias: Tobit 12:12 Now, therefore, when you prayed, and Sara your daughter-in-law, I brought the remembrance of your prayers before the Holy One. (Letter 130.9.18)

On the Jesus Prayer

Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, 1913

Truly, we must ask ourselves what is the Jesus prayer in the understanding of the holy Orthodox Church? It is the invocation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as the blind man in  Jericho cried out calling upon “Jesus, thou son of David have mercy on me”; and he did not cease from crying, paying no attention until the Lord hearkened unto his prayers (“Lord, that I might have my sight”, etc Mark 10:46-52). So also, does the ascetic of noetic prayer unceasingly call upon the Lord Jesus with undoubting faith, with humility, and with continuous cleansing of the heart that Jesus might come and grant him “to taste and see that the Lord is good”. From the Holy Gospel we know that God does not abandon “His own elect which cry day and night unto Him” (Luke 18:7), for He gives them His grace, for (with the Father and the Spirit) “He cometh and maketh His abode among such” for Himself. Where the grace of the Holy Spirit is, there also are the fruit of the Spirit. “Wherever God is, here also is every good”, as a certain ascetic said, for the kingdom of God is there. Behold, this is what constitutes the source and cause and the entire interpretation of those exalted and sweet conditions which befit those higher degrees of noetic asceticism [prayer of the heart] which do not only possess the soul, but which are also manifested in the bodily life of man; they are the gift of the source of every good in response to our beseeching: an entirely free gift, explainable only by the goodness of Him who gives it; since he is free to give or not to give, to both increase and decrease, and also to take away completely His gifts… (trans. from the Greek as published in “Church Truth”, the official organ of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, June 15, 1913)

On Practical Chalcedonianism

St. John Climacus ca. 7th century

Some say that prayer is better than the remembrance of death, but I praise two natures in one person (*). (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 28 On Prayer)

(*) A loving nature (Prayer) and a fearful nature (remembrance of death), just as Christ has His Divine and human natures united in one Person.

On How to Fully Comprehend the Divine Services

St. Seraphim of Sarov 1759-1833

When standing in church one should pray with the Jesus Prayer to fully comprehend the church service. (The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia by I.M. Kontzevitch pg. 46)

On Good Prayer

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

Prayers, too, after reading, find the soul fresher, and more vigorously stirred by love towards God. And that prayer is good which imprints a clear idea of God in the soul; and the having God established in self by means of memory is God’s indwelling. Thus we become God’s temple, when the continuity of our recollection is not severed by earthly cares; when the mind is harassed by no sudden sensations; when the worshipper flees from all things and retreats to God, drawing away all the feelings that invite him to self-indulgence, and passes his time in the pursuits that lead to virtue. (Letter 2.4)

On Prayer and Angels

Evagrios the Solitary ca. 345-399

If you pray truly, you will gain great assurance; angels will come to you as they came to Daniel, and they will illuminate you with knowledge of the inner essences of created things (cf. Dan. 2:19). Know that the holy angels encourage us to pray and stand beside us, rejoicing and praying for us (cf. Tobit 12:12). Therefore, if we are negligent and admit thoughts from the enemy, we greatly provoke the angels. For while they struggle hard on our behalf we do not even take the trouble to pray to God for ourselves, but we despise their services to us and, abandoning their Lord and God, we consort with unclean demons. (On Prayer 80-81)

When another monk was practicing inner prayer as he journeyed in the desert, two angels came and walked on either side of him. But he paid no heed to them, for he did not wish to lose what was better. He remembered the words of the Apostle: ‘Neither angels, nor principalities, nor powers… shall be able to separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8: 38-39). The monk becomes equal to the angels through prayer, because of his longing to ‘behold the face of the Father who is in heaven’ (cf. Matt. 18:10). (Ibid., 112-113)

On the Church Temple

Archbishop Averky Taushev 1906-1976

Sincere prayer unites man and God. But nowhere can prayer be as fervent and effective as in God’s temple, for there the Awesome Bloodless Sacrifice is constantly offered “for all people and all things,” there ceaseless prayer is made on behalf of all the faithful, there “the very air is holy,” in the words of one our devoutly wise bishops. It was not in vain that our God-bearing Fathers from of old called the Temple a “school of virtue.” (Stand Fast in the Truth from the writings of Archbishop Averky of Blessed Memory pg. 21)

St. Augustine and the Prayer of the Heart

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

I entered into my inward self, Thou leading me on; and I was able to do it, for You had become my helper. And I entered, and with the eye of my soul (such as it was) saw above the same eye of my soul, above my mind, the Unchangeable Light. Not this common light, which all flesh may look upon, nor, as it were, a greater one of the same kind, as though the brightness of this should be much more resplendent, and with its greatness fill up all things. Not like this was that light, but different, yea, very different from all these. Nor was it above my mind as oil is above water, nor as heaven above earth; but above it was, because it made me, and I below it, because I was made by it. He who knows the Truth knows that Light; and he that knows it knows eternity. Love knows it. O Eternal Truth, and true Love, and love Eternity! You are my God; to You do I sigh both night and day. When I first knew You, You lifted me up, that I might see there was that which I might see, and that yet it was not I that did see. And Thou beat back the infirmity of my sight, pouring forth upon me most strongly Your beams of light, and I trembled with love and fear; and I found myself to be far off from You, in the region of dissimilarity, as if I heard this voice of Yours from on high: I am the food of strong men; grow, and you shall feed upon me; nor shall you convert me, like the food of your flesh, into you, but you shall be converted into me. And I learned that You correct man for iniquity, and You make my soul consume away like a spider. And I said, Is Truth, therefore, nothing because it is neither diffused through space, finite, nor infinite? And You cried to me from afar, Yea, verily, ‘I Am that I Am.’ And I heard this, as things are heard in the heart, nor was there room for doubt; and I should more readily doubt that I live than that Truth is not, which is clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. Rom. 1:20 (Confessions Bk. 7.10)

St. John of Kronstadt on Prayer

St. John of Kronstadt 1829-1908

Prayer is proof of the existence of my reasoning personality, of my God-image; it is the pledge of my future divinity and beatitude. I was created out of nothing; I am nothing before God, having nothing of my own. But I, by His grace, am a personality, possess intelligence, a heart and a free will, and in my intelligence and freedom I am able to by approaching Him in my heart to gradually increase His eternal kingdomwithin me; to, gradually, still further increase His gifts within me; to draw from Him — as out of an everflowing and inexhaustible Source — every spiritual and material good, especially the spiritual. Prayer suggests to me that I am the image of God; that through humble and grateful disposition of my soul before God, with my free will, I, by infinitely multiplying God’s spiritual gifts, am thus able to infinitely perfect myself and to enhance my God-image, my heavenly beatitude — for which I have been predetermined — to infinity. Oh, prayer is the sign of my great dignity, with which my Creator has honored me. At one and the same time, however, prayer reminds me of my own nonentity (I came from nothing and have nothing of my own, for which reason I beseech God for everything), as well as of my greatest dignity (I am God’s image; I am divine; I may be called God’s friend, just as was Abraham, the father of believers — if only I would but believe unquestionably in the existence of my God, in His goodness and almighty power; and become assimilated to Him in this life through deeds of love and mercy).

On Prayer as Warfare

Abba Agathon ca. 4th cent.

In my opinion, no other labor is as difficult as prayer to God. Every time a person wants to pray, our spiritual enemies want to come and disrupt it, for they know that it is only by deflecting humans from prayer that they can do them any harm. Whatever good work a person undertakes will produce success, it if is done with perserverance; but the labor [of prayer] is a warfare that will endure until our very last breath. (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: Agathon, 9)

Bede the Venerable on the Hours

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

Now we read that three times a day Daniel bent his knees and prayed (Dan. 6:10), and the Church understands these to have been the third, sixth, and ninth hours. Also the Lord sent the Holy Spirit at the third hour, He Himself ascended the Cross at the sixth, and He yielded His soul at the ninth. He thus saw fit to enjoin these same hours preeminently upon the rest of us to sanctify them. (Commentary on Acts, Chap. 2)

Prayers for the Church and the World

St. Isaac the Syrian died ca. 700

Lord, overshadow Your holy Church which has been redeemed by Your blood; cause to dwell in it Your true peace which You gave to Your holy Apostles; bind her children in holy bonds of indissoluble love; may the rebel not have power over her, and keep far from her persecution, tumult, and wars, both from those within and from those without; and may kings and priests be bound together in great peace and love, their minds always filled with gazing towards You; and may the holy Faith be a wall for Your flock.

I beg and bessech You, Lord: grant to all who have gone astray a true knowledge of You, so that each and every one may come to know Your glory. In the case of those who have passed from this world lacking a virtuous life and having had no faith, be an Advocate for them, Lord, for the sake of the body which You took from them, so that from the single united body of the world we may offer up praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Kingdom of Heaven, and unending source of eternal delight. (The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian pp. 206-207)

St. John Climacus on Prayer

St. John Climacus ca. 579-649

Prayer is by nature a dialogue and a union of man with God. Its effect is to hold the world together. It achieves a reconciliation with God.

Prayer is the mother and daughter of tears. It is an expiation of sin, a bridge across temptation, a bulwark against affliction. It wipes out conflict, is the work of angels, and is the nourishment of all bodiless beings. Prayer is future gladness, action without end, wellspring of virtues, source of grace, hidden progress, food of the soul, enlightenment of the mind, an axe against despair, hope demonstrated, sorrow done away with. It is wealth for monks, treasure of hermits, anger diminished. It is a mirror of progress, a demonstration of success, evidence of one’s condition, the future revealed, a sign of glory. For the man who really prays it is the court, the judgment hall, the tribunal of the Lord — and this prior to the judgment that is to come. (Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 28: On Prayer)

A Prayer of St. Nilus of Sora

St. Nilus of Sora 1443-1508

But, O soul, whatever time you still have, give up your shameless deeds and convert yourself to a noble life. Turn to the Lord and cry out with faith: “I have sinned, Lord. But I know your mercy and love for men. For this reason, I fall down and beg your goodness to grant me mercy, O Lord! For my soul will be confused and will be sick at my having turned away from my repentance and at my wicked bodily deeds. May the evil powers never capture me and cast me into darkness for my invisible and visible sins of my whole earthly life.

Have mercy on me, O Master, and do not let my soul ever look upon the ugly countenances of the evil demons, but let your radiant and most glorious angels receive me. You have authority to forgive sins. Forgive me my sins. Let my sin never again be before You for because of my weakness I have sinned in word and in deed and in thought, deliberately and indeliberately. May I turn toward you when I am divested of my body and not be found with any filth on the image of my soul. And may the hand of the dark prince of this world never receive me, a sinner, and drag me into the depths of hell, but may you stand before me and be my Savior and Protector!

Have mercy, O Lord, on my soul, stained by the passions of this life, and receive it, purified by repentance and confession. And by Your power conduct me before your divine judgment seat. And when You come down, God, upon this earth in glory, You will sit on Your throne, O Merciful One, to pass your just judgment; we shall all stand naked before your wise judgment. When you will begin to examine our sinfulness, then, O most Good One, do not expose my secret thoughts, nor disgrace me before the angels and all other human beings, but spare me, O God, and show me your mercy.

As much as I meditate on your judgment, O Good One, I am filled with fear for the day of the terrifying judgment. My conscience condemns me and the evil of my deeds fills me with over whelming remorse. I am gripped with confusion as to how I shall answer You, O Immortal King, for I incurred Your wrath. How shall I look upon You in the terrible Last Judgment with such boldness, for I have been filthy and a fornicator? But, O Lord, good and compassionate Father, Only-begotten Son and Holy Spirit, have mercy on me and free me then from the inextinguishable fire and allow me to stand at your right hand, O just Judge. (Nil Sorsky, The Complete Writings: Have Mercy on Me, O Master!)

St. Maximus on Prayer

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

The one who truly loves God also prays completely undistracted, and the one who prays completely undistracted also truly loves God. (The Four Hundred Chapters on Love: Second Century 1)

St. Seraphim of Sarov on Prayer

St. Seraphim of Sarov 1759-1833

For instance, you would like to go to Church, but there is no Church or the Service is over; you would like to give alms to a beggar, but there isn’t one, or you have nothing to give; you would like to preserve your virginity, but you have not the strength to do so because of your temperament, or because of the violence of the wiles of the enemy which on account of your human weakness you cannot withstand; you would like to do some other good deed for Christ’s sake, but either you have not the strength or the opportunity is lacking. This certainly does not apply to prayer. Prayer is always possible for everyone, rich and poor, noble and humble, strong and weak, healthy and sick, righteous and sinful.

You may judge how great the power of prayer is even in a sinful person, when it is offered whole-heartedly, by the following example from Holy Tradition. When at the request of a desperate mother who had been deprived by death of her only son, a harlot whom she chanced to meet, still unclean, from her last sin, and who was touched by the mother’s deep sorrow, cried to the Lord: ‘Not for the sake of a wretched sinner like me, but for the sake of the tears of a mother sorrowing for her son and firmly trusting in Thy loving kindness and Thy almighty power, Christ God, raise up her son, O Lord!’ And the Lord raised him up.

You see, your Godliness! Great is the power of prayer, and it brings most of all the Spirit of God, and is most easily practiced by everyone. (A Wonderful Revelation to the World)

On Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving

Tob 12:8 Prayer is good with fasting and alms more than to lay up treasures of gold.

Pope St. Leo the Great ca. 400-461

But there are three things which most belong to religious actions, namely prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, in the exercising of which while every time is accepted, yet that ought to be more zealously observed, which we have received as hallowed by tradition from the apostles: even as this tenth month brings round again to us the opportunity when according to the ancient practice we may give more diligent heed to those three things of which I have spoken. For by prayer we seek to propitiate God, by fasting we extinguish the lusts of the flesh, by alms we redeem our sins: and at the same time God’s image is throughout renewed in us, if we are always ready to praise Him, unfailingly intent on our purification and unceasingly active in cherishing our neighbour. This threefold round of duty, dearly beloved, brings all other virtues into action: it attains to God’s image and likeness and unites us inseparably with the Holy Spirit. Because in prayer faith remains steadfast, in fastings life remains innocent, in almsgiving the mind remains kind. On Wednesday and Friday therefore let us fast: and on Saturday let us keep vigil with the most blessed Apostle Peter, who will deign to aid our supplications and fast and alms with his own prayers through our Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. (Sermon 12.4)

How Should we Behave?

Abba Poemen the Great ca. 4th cent.

A brother asked Abba Poemen, ‘How should a man behave?’ The old man said to him, ‘Look at Daniel: no one found anything in him to complain about except his prayers to the Lord his God.’ (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: Poemen 53)

Advice on Prayer

Abba Poemen the Great ca. 4th cent.

Teach your mouth to say that which you have in your heart. (Sayings of the Desert Fathers: Poemen 63)

St. Benedict of Nursia ca. 480-547

Let us therefore consider how we ought to conduct ourselves in sight of the Godhead and of His Angels, and let us take part in the psalmody in such a way that our mind may be in harmony with our voice. (The Rule of St. Benedict, 19)

What is Pure Prayer?

Blessed Elder Cleopa Ilie 1912-1998

A disciple asked the Elder, “What is pure prayer?”

“To speak it with the mouth, to understand it with the mind, and to feel it with the heart,” the Elder replied. (The Shepherd of Souls: Words and Deeds of Instruction, 45)

St. Mark on Prayers for the Dead

St. Mark of Ephesus ca. 1392-1444

The sinners and those imprisoned after death in Hades benefit from these prayers [for the reposed] on the one hand because they have not been definitively condemned and do not yet have the final decision of the tribunal, on the other hand because they have not yet fallen into hell, which will happen after the Second Coming of Christ. If this is effective for sinners, much more do the memorial services and prayers benefit those who have repented but did not have time to be purified completely and therefore illuminated. If these have very small or light sins, they are restored to the inheritance of the righteous or remain where they are, that is to say in Hades, and their troubles are lightened and they return towards more honorable hopes. (excerpted from the pamphlet “The Dead Urgently Need Our Help” produced by Orthodox Monastery of the Archangel Michael, Marrickville, NSW, 1475 Australia)

On Insensitive Prayer

Ss. Barsanuphius and John ca. 6th cent.

Q: When I pray or occupy myself with psalmody, and I do not feel the power of the words I pronounce, by reason of the insensitivity of the heart; then what profit is there for me from this prayer?

A: Even though you do not feel the power of what you pronounce, still the demons feel it, hear and tremble. And so, do not cease to occupy yourself with psalmody and prayer, and little by little, by God’s help, your insensitivity will be turned to softness. (Answers to Questions of Disciples, 718)

On How to Entreat the Saints in Prayer

Ss. Barsanuphius and John ca. 6th cent.

Q: How should one entreat the Fathers for the forgiveness of one’s sins. Should one say: “Forgive me”; or: “Entreat forgiveness for me”? And when I entreat the Lord Himself, what should I say?

A: When we entreat the Holy Fathers who have departed to the Lord, we should say: “Forgive me.” But to those who are still with us, one should say: “Pray for us that we may receive forgiveness.” And when you entreat the Lord Himself, speak thus: “Have mercy on me, O Master, for the sake of Thy holy martyrs and for the sake of the Holy Fathers, and by their prayers forgive me my trangressions.” For the Prophet also said: For the sake of Abraham Thy servant (Dan. 3:35), and the Lord Himself said: I will defend this city for My sake, and for the sake of David My servant (IV Kings 19:34). (Answers to the Questions of Disciples, 713)

On the Benefit of Prayers for the Dead

St. Seraphim of Sarov 1759-1833

Two nuns, who had both been abbesses, died. The Lord revealed to me how their souls had been subjected to the aerial tests, how they had been tried and then condemned. For three days and nights I prayed, wretched as I am, entreating the Mother of God for them, and the Lord in His goodness pardoned them through the prayers of the Mother of God; they passed all the aerial tests and received forgiveness through God’s mercy. (St. Seraphim of Sarov: A Spiritual Biography by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore. Chapter XV “Amazing Wonderworker” pg. 396)


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)

The Prayer of St. Macrina

St. Macrina the Younger ca. 327-379

Thou, O Lord, hast freed us from the fear of death. Thou hast made the end of this life the beginning to us of true life. Thou for a season restest our bodies in sleep and awakest them again at the last trump. Thou givest our earth, which Thou hast fashioned with Thy hands, to the earth to keep in safety. One day Thou wilt take again what Thou hast given, transfiguring with immortality and grace our mortal and unsightly remains. Thou hast saved us from the curse and from sin, having become both for our sakes. Thou hast broken the heads of the dragon who had seized us with his jaws, in the yawning gulf of disobedience. Thou hast shown us the way of resurrection, having broken the gates of .hell, and brought to nought him who had the power of death—-the devil. Thou hast given a sign to those that fear Thee in the symbol of the Holy Cross, to destroy the adversary and save our life. O God eternal, to Whom I have been attached from my mother’s womb, Whom my soul has loved with all its strength, to Whom I have dedicated both my flesh and my soul from my youth up until now—-do Thou give me an angel of light to conduct me to the place of refreshment, where is the water of rest, in the bosom of the holy Fathers. Thou that didst break the flaming sword and didst restore to Paradise the man that was crucified with Thee and implored Thy mercies, remember me, too, in Thy kingdom; because I, too, was crucified with Thee, having nailed my flesh to the cross for fear of Thee, and of Thy judgments have I been afraid. Let not the terrible chasm separate me from Thy elect. Nor let the Slanderer stand against me in the way; nor let my sin be found before Thy eyes, if in anything I have sinned in word or deed or thought, led astray by the weakness of our nature. O Thou Who hast power on earth to forgive sins, forgive me, that I may be refreshed and may be found before Thee when I put off my body, without defilement on my soul. But may my soul be received into Thy hands spotless and undefiled, as an offering before Thee. (St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of St. Macrina)

St. Epiphanius on Prayers for the Dead

St. Epiphanius of Salamis ca. 320-403

Furthermore, as to mentioning the names of the dead, how is there anything very useful in that? What is more timely or more excellent than that those who are still here should believe that the departed do live, and that they have not retreated into nothingness, but that they exist and are alive with the Master? And so that this most august proclamation might be told in full, how do they have hope, who are praying for the brethren as if they were but sojourning in a foreign land? Useful too is the prayer fashioned on their behalf, even if it does not force back the whole of guilty charges laid to them. And it is useful also, because in this world we often stumble either voluntarily or involuntarily, and thus it is a reminder to do better. For we make commemoration of the just and of sinners: of sinners, begging God’s mercy for them; of the just and the Fathers and Patriarchs and Prophets and Apostles and Evangelists and martyrs and confessors, and of bishops and solitaries, and of the whole list of them, so that we may set the Lord Jesus Christ apart from the ranks of men because of the honor due Him, and give reverence to Him, while keeping in mind that the Lord is not to be equated with any man, even if that man live in a justice that is boundless and limitless. (Panarion 75.8)

The Dying Prayer of St. Athanasius

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

Thou art Jesus, the Son of the Father, Yea, Amen.

Thou art He who commandeth the Cherubim and the Seraphim, Yea, Amen.

Thou hast existed with the Father in truth always, Yea. Amen.

Thou rulest the Angels, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the power of the Heavens, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the crown of the Martyrs, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the deep counsel of the Saints, Yea, Amen.

Thou art He in whom the deep counsel of the Father is hidden, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the mouth of the Prophets, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the tongue of the Angels, Yea, Amen.

Thou art Jesus my Life, Yea, Amen.

Thou art Jesus the object and boast of the world, Yea, Amen.

(A.W.T. Budge, Coptic Homilies in the Dialect of Upper Egypt, [The Dying Prayer of St. Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria, pp. 1012-1020])

Protopresbyter George Dion Dragas: According to this text, which is based on the personal witness of his Archdeacon, who stood by him at the moment of his departure from the present life, and was uttered shortly before he delivered his sanctified soul to the angels who came down to receive it, recalls the entire course of the divine economy for the salvation of mankind and concludes with a doxology to the Lord Jesus Christ. (Saint Athanasius: Original Research and New Perspectives, pg. 204)


On the Outward Forms of Prayer

Gen. 17:3 Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him…
Num. 20:6 So Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and they fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them.
Jos. 7:6 Then Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads.
1 Kgs. 18:42 And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees
Neh. 8:6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with [their] faces to the ground.
Ps. 63:4 Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.
Ps. 95:6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
Ps. 135:2 Praise the LORD! Praise the name of the LORD; Praise [Him], O you servants of the LORD! You who stand in the house of the LORD, In the courts of the house of our God…
Mat. 17:5-6 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.
Mat. 26:39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You [will].”
Mar. 11:25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses…
Eph. 3:14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
1 Tim. 2:8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.
Rev. 7:11 All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God…
St. Isaac of Syria died ca. 700
If someone decides to abandon what belongs in the first place, without having found what comes afterwards, then it is clear that he is being mocked by demons…It is in proportion to the honour which someone shows in his person to God during prayer, both with his body and mind, that the door of assisitance wil be opened for him, leading to the purifying of the impulses and to illumination in prayer. Someone who shows a reverential posture during prayer, by stretching out his hands to heaven as he stands in modesty, or by falling on his face to the ground, will be counted worthy of great grace from on high. Anyone who continuously adorns his prayer with such outward postures will swiftly and quickly be accounted worthy of the activinty of the Holy Spirit, for the Lord is accounted great in his eyes, thanks to the honour he shows in the sacrifices which he presents before the Lord at those times which have been set apart for him by the law of freewill.
You should realize, my brothers, that in all our service God very much wants outward postures, specific kinds of honour, and visible forms of prayer – not for His own sake, but for our benefit.  He Himself is not profited by such things, nor does He lose anything when they are neglected; rather, they are for the sake of our feeble nature. Had such things not been requisite, He Himself would not have adopted such outward postures during His Incarnation – thus speaking with us in the Holy Scriptures. He cannot be dishonoured by anything, seeing honour belongs to Him by His very nature. But we, as a result of slovenly habits and various outward actions which lack reverence, have acquired an attitude of mind that shows contempt towards Him. Consequently we fall from grace of our own volition, seeing that we are subject to backsliding; then we are assailed by incessant attacks and continual deception from the demons, as we acquire a nature that loves comfort and is easily swayed to evil actions.
Many people have depised these outward postures in their thoughts and supposed that prayer of the heart suffices by itself for God, claiming, as they lie on their backs or  are sitting in a disrespectful manner, that there should only be an interior recollection of God; they are not concerned at all with adorning the visible side of their worship with prolonged standing, corresponding to their body’s strength, or with making the venerable sign of the cross over their organs of the senses. Nor are they concerned, as they kneel on the ground, to act like those about to draw near to a flame and themselves assume, both inwardly and outwardly, a reverential posture, or to accord special honour to the Lord, honouring Him with all their limbs and with reverence on their faces.This is because they have not perceived the might of the adversary they have, and as a result they are handed over to the workings of falsehood, not having understood that they are still mortal and liable to be stirred by their soul, which is subject to backsliding; they do not realize that they have not reached the state of spiritual beings, or that the resurrection has not yet taken place and they have not yet achieved a state of immutibility. During the body’s life, human nature is in need of labour and training in new things all the time, they have wanted to lead their lives in a purely spiritual state, without being involved in those things which necessarily constrain the world which is subject to the passions.
…[E]rror came when certain people abandoned prayer’s venerable outward forms, turning instead to thier own rules and special customs which they had laid down for themselves according to their own whim, and when they completely deprived themselves of the Holy Mysteries, instead despising and scorning them; when they deprived themselves furthermore from the light of the divine Scriptures and failed to study the teaching of the words of the Fathers which give instructions about the stratagems against the demons; and when they gave up the various acts of lowliness, prostrations, continual falling on the ground, a suffering heart and the submissive postures appropiate to prayer, modest hands standing, hands clasped in submissive fashion, or stretched out to heaven, the senses respectful during prayer. Instead, they seized upon various forms of pride, as a result mingling their prayer with insult towards God. They accompanied their prayer with haughty outward postures, forgetting how exalted is the Divine Nature and how their own nature is but dust. Yet in all this the words of their prayer were no different from those of the psalms. (The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian by Hilarion Alfeyev, pp. 154-158)

On Prayers for the Dead

Apostolic Constitutions compiled 3rd-4th cent.

Let us pray for our brethren that are at rest in Christ, that God, the lover of mankind, who has received his soul, may forgive him every sin, voluntary and involuntary, and may be merciful and gracious to him, and give him his lot in the land of the pious that are sent into the bosom of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, with all those that have pleased Him and done His will from the beginning of the world, whence all sorrow, grief, and lamentation are banished. Let us arise, let us dedicate ourselves and one another to the eternal God, through that Word which was in the beginning. And let the bishop say: O You who is by nature immortal, and has no end of Your being, from whom every creature, whether immortal or mortal, is derived; who made man a rational creature, the citizen of this world, in his constitution mortal, and added the promise of a resurrection; who did not suffer Enoch and Elijah to taste of death: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, who art the God of them, not as of dead, but as of living persons: for the souls of all men live with You, and the spirits of the righteous are in Your hand, which no torment can touch; Matthew 22:32; Wisdom 3:1 for they are all sanctified under Your hand: do Thou now also look upon this Your servant, whom You have selected and received into another state, and forgive him if voluntarily or involuntarily he has sinned, and afford him merciful angels, and place him in the bosom of the patriarchs, and prophets, and apostles, and of all those that have pleased You from the beginning of the world, where there is no grief, sorrow, nor lamentation; but the peaceable region of the godly, and the undisturbed land of the upright, and of those that therein see, the glory of Your Christ; by whom glory, honour, and worship, thanksgiving, and adoration be to You, in the Holy Spirit, for ever. Amen. And let the deacon say: Bow down, and receive the blessing. And let the bishop give thanks for them, saying as follows: O Lord, save Your people, and bless Your inheritance, which You have purchased with the precious blood of Your Christ. Feed them under Your right hand, and cover them under Your wings, and grant that they may fight the good fight, and finish their course, and keep the faith 2 Timothy 4:7 immutably, unblameably, and unreprovably, through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, with whom glory, honour, and worship be to You and to the Holy Spirit for ever. Amen.

Let the third day of the departed be celebrated with psalms, and lessons, and prayers, on account of Him who arose within the space of three days; and let the ninth day be celebrated in remembrance of the living, and of the departed; and the fortieth day according to the ancient pattern: for so did the people lament Moses, and the anniversary day in memory of him. And let alms be given to the poor out of his goods for a memorial of him.

These things we say concerning the pious; for as to the ungodly, if you give all the world to the poor, you will not benefit him at all. For to whom the Deity was an enemy while he was alive, it is certain it will be so also when he is departed; for there is no unrighteousness with Him. For the Lord is righteous, and has loved righteousness. And, Behold the man and his work. Isaiah 62:11 (Apostolic Constitutions 8.4. 41-43)

St. Hippolytus on the Hours

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-235If at the third hour thou art at home, pray then and give thanks to God; but if thou chance to be abroad at that hour, make thy prayer to God in thy heart. For at that hour Christ was nailed to the tree; therefore in the old [covenant] the law commanded the showbread to be offered continually for a type of the body and blood of Christ, and commanded the sacrifice of the dumb lamb, which was a type of the perfect Lamb; for Christ is the Shepherd, and he is also the Bread that came down from heaven.

At the sixth hour likewise pray also, for, after Christ was nailed to the wood of the cross, the day was divided and there was a great darkness; wherefore let [the faithful] pray at that hour with an effectual prayer, likening themselves to the voice of him who prayed [and] caused all creation to become dark for the unbelieving Jews.

And at the ninth hour let a great prayer and a great thanksgiving be made, such as made by the souls of the righteous ones, blessing the Lord, the God who does not lie, who was mindful of his saints and sent forth his Word to enlighten them. At that hour, therefore, Christ poured forth from His pierced side water and blood, and brought the rest of the time of that day with light to evening; so, when He fell asleep, by making the beginning of another day He completed the pattern of His resurrection.

Pray again before thy body rests on thy bed.

At midnight arise, wash thy hands with water and pray. And if thy wife is with thee, pray ye both together; but if she is not yet a believer, go into another room and pray, and again return to thy bed; be not slothful in prayer. (Apostolic Tradition 36)


St. Patrick on Pure Prayer

St. Patrick the Enlightener of Ireland ca. 397-493

But after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow,in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.

And another night– God knows, I do not, whether within me or beside me– … most words + … + which I heard and could not understand, except at the end of the speech it was represented thus: ‘He who gave his life for you, he it is who speaks within you.’ And thus I awoke, joyful.

And on a second occasion I saw Him praying within me, and I was as it were, inside my own body , and I heard Him above me– that is,above my inner self. He was praying powerfully with sighs. And in the course of this I was astonished and wondering, and I pondered who it could be who was praying within me. But at the end of the prayer it was revealed to me that it was the Spirit. And so I awoke and remembered the Apostle’s words: ‘Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we know not how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for utterance.’ And again: ‘The Lord our advocate intercedes for us.’ (Confessio)