An Homily on Prayer (Part II)

Venerable Gregory the Byzantine

Venerable Gregory the Byzantine

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

AN HOMILY ON PRAYER (Part II)
By Saint John Chrysostom

"Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, 'Lord, teach us to pray..." (St. Luke 11:1).

It is therefore obvious to all that without prayer it is entirely impossible to cultivate and to live out a virtuous life. For how can anyone be virtuous who does not pray and does not always bow reverently to the Provider and Giver of virtue? How will anyone desire to be prudent and righteous if one does not converse with delight with the One Who demands from us not only prudence and righteousness but also so much more? I want to demonstrate briefly that even if our prayers find us with many sins, they will quickly cleanse us. For, certainly, what is greater and more sacred than prayer itself when it can be demonstrated that prayer is the very antidote for those who are ailing in soul? First of all it was the Ninevites who were clearly delivered through prayer from their many sins against God (cf. Book of Jonah). For when prayer overtook those who were before surrendered to sin, prayer directly made them righteous. And the city that was once accustomed to a life of licentiousness, wickedness and lawlessness, after overcoming its old evil habits was restored and made into a city full of divine laws, with prudence and charity and meekness and providential care for the poor. For without these very virtues prayer cannot bear to be in our souls. Prayer will enrich any conscience it indwells and fill it with righteousness; it will strengthen it in the practice of virtue and will dispel every evil. This is what happened then with the Ninevites. If anyone had then entered the city of Ninevah, now repentant, and had known her previous way of life, one would not have recognized her. So suddenly had she changed from depravity to piety! Just as one may see a poor woman dressed shabbily and then see her again adorned in golden garments and not recognize her, by the same token, one, who knew that city as poor and barren of any spiritual treasures, would not be able to recognize the city that had returned to virtue and whose character and way of life had been perceptibly changed. This is also declared by the Gospel. When the woman who lived a sinful life repented and fell at the feet of Christ, she immediately was forgiven and saved (St. Luke 7:36-50; St. John 8:3-11).

Prayer does not only cleanse us from sin, it also protects us from great dangers. Truly the king and prophet, the marvelous David, avoided many difficult wars through prayer, precisely because he gave prayer precedence as the only weapon of his army, a weapon that permitted his soldiers to enjoy victory readily and without fear. For while the other kings had placed the hope of victory in the experience and the skill of their generals and the arms of their soldiers, king David armed his army with sacred prayers and did not rely upon the pride of his generals and the leaders of battalions. The prophet and king David did not preoccupy himself with the gathering of money, nor with preparation of weapons. On the contrary, he sought to receive the sacred panoply from heaven. For truly Divine prayer is indeed a heavenly panoply, which alone can safely protect those who are dedicated to God. The power and the skill of soldiers is often proven to be in vain because of betrayal, of spies or even the bravery of the opponents. Prayer is a weapon and a secure protection which repels in the same manner one single soldier or many myriads of soldiers. David himself was able to overcome the infamous Goliath, who charged against him like a fearful demon, not with weapons nor with a sword, but with prayer. Prayer is, therefore, a very strong weapon for kings, as it is for us against the devil. Yet another example we have in King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18-20; Isaiah 36-39), who was victorious at war with the Assyrians, when he preferred to arm his soldiers with prayers and with them also to make his stand against the huge multitude of his opponents. Thus, he avoided death itself because he took refuge in God with the appropriate reverence and piety. This king was able to be saved by prayer alone.

Real prayer, however, will also purify the soul from our sins. This we are taught by the story of the Publican in the Gospel (St. Luke 18:9-14), who beseched God to show mercy on him and to forgive his sins, and who was really granted this grace. We are taught the same thing by the leper, who was cleansed when he turned to God in repentance (St. Matthew 8:1-4). For if the destroyed body was healed by God immediately, even more readily will He heal an ailing soul as one Who loves mankind. Inasmuch as the soul is more precious than the body, it is more appropriate for God to show greater concern for the health of the soul. One could include many other examples from the Old and the New Testament, if one were to number all those who were saved through prayer.

Someone among the indolent who does not wish to pray diligently may raise an objection about all this with the words spoken by Christ: "Not everyone who simply says, 'Lord, Lord' will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Heavenly Father" (St. Matthew 7:21). Certainly someone may indeed say this, if I were of the opinion that prayer alone is sufficient for our salvation. But because I say that prayer is the crown of good things and the foundation and root of the virtuous life, let no one say this as an excuse for their indolence. For neither prudence alone can save without the other virtues, nor the care of the poor, or goodness, or any other of virtues, for they must all work together in our souls. Prayer is always there as the root and the foundation. As the keel makes the ship strong and holds it together as a unified whole, and as the foundations hold up the building, by the same token, our life is upheld and strengthened by prayers, without which nothing good and salutary can come to us. This is why the Holy Apostle Paul insists and constantly reminds us: "Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving" (Col. 4:2). In another place he says: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess. 5:17). Again he says in another place: "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication" (Eph. 6:18). With many such divine words the preeminent Apostle Paul exhorts us to live our life with prayer and to nurture constantly our mind with it, because all human beings have need of prayer just as trees have need of water. As the trees cannot bear fruit unless they drink from their roots abundant water, so also we cannot produce the precious fruit of piety unless we are nurtured by prayers. (Source: A Prayer Book: An Anthology of Orthodox Prayers by Fr. Peter A. Chamberas)

(To be continued)

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George