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On Prayer - Insights from the Ancients

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When it comes to prayer, I find it more complex and confusing the longer I am a Christian. I have often found myself wondering why God needs to hear what I just said.  At other times, I catch my mind drifting into boredom when others pray for the minutia of all details.  Does God really help you find a parking spot when you are running late for an appointment?  What or who is prayer for?  Is it true that if I can get more people to pray for something, the likelihood of that happening increases accordingly?  I have a confession to make, I have more questions than answers.  So instead of confusing you with my ignorance, let me attempt to point you in the right direction, to time tested insights on prayer from the Ancients.  If some of these sayings below leave you with more questions about prayer, go and find a likeminded friend and ponder on these together.    

John Tsang                       


John Cassian (360-435 AD)

"When the soul is solidly rooted in peacefulness, when it is freed of the bonds of every carnal urge, when the unshaking thrust of the heart is toward the one supreme Good, then the words of the apostle will be fulfilled. 'Pray without ceasing,' (I Thes. 5:17).

It is a bigger miracle to be patient and refrain from anger than it is to control the demons which fly through the air.

For whatever our mind has been thinking of before the hour of prayer, is sure to occur to us while we are praying.  Therefore, what we want to find ourselves like while we are praying, that we ought to prepare ourselves to be before the time for prayer. For the mind in prayer is formed by its previous condition.  

Evagrius of Pontus (344-399 AD)

"The one who prays is a theologian; the one who is a theologian, prays.  The reality of God, experienced through prayer affects human understandings of God and of the self.                                                                    

St. John Chrysostom (349-407 AD)

He who is able to pray correctly, even if he is the poorest of all people, is essentially the richest. And he who does not have proper prayer, is the poorest of all, even if he sits on a royal throne"

You can set up an altar to God in your minds by means of prayer. And so it is fitting to pray at your trade, on a journey, standing at a counter, or sitting at your handicraft.

Whether or not our prayer is heard depends not on the number of our words, but on the fervour of our souls.

The test of the sincerity of one's prayer is the willingness to labour on its behalf.

Sayings of the Desert Fathers 

Abba Nilus said, "Everything you do in revenge against a brother who has harmed you will come back to your mind at the time of prayer.  Whatever you have endured out of love of wisdom will bear fruit for you at the time of prayer."

Do not be always wanting everything to turn out as you think it should, but rather as God pleases; then you will be undisturbed and thankful in your prayer.

If Moses was forbidden to approach the earthly burning bush until he had loosed his sandals from off his feet (Exodus 3:5), how can you not cast away from yourself every passionate thought when you wish to see Him, Who is above all feeling and thought, and to converse with Him?

Prayer is an activity becoming to the dignity of the mind, or rather, is its real use.

As bread is food for the body and virtue is food for the soul, so spiritual prayer is food for the mind.

Mother Teresa (1910-1997)

The fruit of silence is prayer.
          The fruit of prayer is faith.
               The fruit of faith is love.
                    The fruit of love is service.
                         The fruit of service is peace.

Posted by John Tsang