When you fall down before God in prayer, become in your thought like an ant, like a creeping thing of the earth, like a leech, and like a tiny lisping child. Do not say anything before him with knowledge, but with a child’s manner of thought, draw near God and walk before him, that you may be counted worthy of that paternal providence that fathers have for their small children.
[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies]
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly [Mat 6:5-6]
These too again He calls hypocrites, and very fitly; for while they are feigning to pray to God, they are looking round after men; wearing the garb not of suppliants, but of ridiculous persons. For he, who is to do a suppliant’s office, letting go all other, looks to him alone, who has power to grant his request. But if you leave this one, and go about wandering and casting around your eyes everywhere, you will depart with empty hands. For this was your own will. Therefore He did not say “such shall not receive a reward”, but, “they have it”: that is, they shall indeed receive one, but from those of whom they themselves desire to have it. For God does not want this: He rather for His part was willing to bestow on men the recompense that comes from Himself; but they seeking that which is from men, can be no longer justly entitled to receive from Him, for whom they have done nothing.
But mark, I pray you, the lovingkindness of God, in that He promises to bestow on us a reward, even for those good things which we ask of Him.
Having then discredited them, who order not this duty as they ought, both from the place and from their disposition of mind, and having shown that they are very ridiculous: He introduces the best manner of prayer, and again gives the reward, saying, go into your room. What then, it may be said, should we not pray in church? Indeed we should by all means, but in such a spirit as this. Because everywhere God seeks the intention of all that is done. Since even if you should go into your room, and having shut the door, should do it for display, the doors will do you no good.
It is worth observing in this case also, how exact the definition, which He made when He said, That they may be seen by men. So that even if you shut the doors, this He desires you duly to perform, rather than the shutting of the doors: to shut the doors of the mind. For as in everything it is good to be freed from vainglory, so most especially in prayer. For if even without this, we wander and are distracted, when shall we pay attention to the things which we are saying, if we have this disease also? And if we who pray and beseech do not pay attention, how do we expect God to pay attention?
[St. John Chrysostom, Homily 19 on the Gospel of St. Matthew]
Be on your guard against idleness, my beloved; intelligible death is hidden in it. Without it, it is impossible that the solitary should fall into the hands of those who wish to captivate him.
Not that God will judge us on that day on the basis of the Psalm we have recited or whether we have passed in idleness the times of service occasionally; but by our neglecting them, the demons win access.
And when they have found an opportunity to enter and have shut our rooms, they accomplish in us tyrannically things which will necessarily bring their perpetrators under divine judgement in view of the severe punishment allotted to them. So we become enslaved through negligence in small matters which by the prudent are treated in a painstaking way, for the sake of Christ.
As it has been said: “Whoever does not subject his will to God, he becomes a slave to his foe.” We have therefore, to consider as walls against those who desire to captivate us, those things which are reputed to be of a humble nature and which are accomplished in the cell, things which by those who maintain the strict institutes of the church have been laid down in prudence, in a spirit of revelation, for the preservation of our life, the neglect of which is deemed insignificant by the imprudent, the harm of which, however, they do not consider.The beginning and middle of their path is untrained freedom, which is the mother of wrongs.
To trouble oneself which the care of small things is better than to give opportunity for sin by remissness regarding them.This is freedom at the wrong time; the end of which is grinding slavery.
[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies, Homily XXX]
Humility, even without works, gains forgiveness for many offenses; but without her, works are of no profit to us.
[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies, Homily 69)
For a man who for God’s sake humbles himself, and thinks meanly of himself, is glorified by God.
[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies, Homily 5]
Humility always received mercy from God; but hardness of heart and littleness of faith contend with fearful encounters.
[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies. Homily 5]
One of the saints wrote that, “If a man does not count himself a sinner, his prayer is not accepted by the Lord.”
[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies, Epistle to Abba Symeon]
[Speaking about St. Paul the Apostle:]
In bonds he sailed, and retrieved the wreck, and bound fast the tempest. It was when he was in bonds that the monster fastened on him, and fell from his hand, having done no hurt. He was bound at Rome, and preaching in bonds drew thousands to his cause, holding forward, in the place of every other, this very argument, I mean his chain.
It is not however our lot to be bound nowadays. And yet there is another chain if we have a mind to wear it. And what is it? It is to restrain our hand, to be not so forward to covetousness. With this chain let us bind ourselves. Let the fear of God be unto us instead of a band of iron. Let us loose them that are bound by poverty, by affliction. There is no comparison between opening the doors of a prison, and releasing an enthralled soul. There is no comparison between loosing the bonds of prisoners and “setting at liberty them that are bruised;” (Luke 4:18.) this last is far greater than the other; for the other there is no reward in store, for this last there are ten thousand rewards.
[Excerpt from St. John Chrysostom’s Homily VIII on the Epistle to the Ephesians]