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]
“Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.
“And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:20-24)
He says that His holy disciples will increase in wisdom and knowledge when they should be clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:29) according to the Scripture, and with their minds illumined by the torchlight of the Spirit should be able to conceive all wisdom, even though they asked no question of Him Who was no longer present with them in the flesh. The Saviour does not indeed say this because they will have no more need of light from Him, but because when they had received His own Spirit, and had Him indwelling in their hearts, they would have in their minds no lack of every good thing, and would be fulfilled with the most perfect knowledge. And by perfect knowledge we mean that which is correct and incapable of error, and which cannot endure to think or say any evil thing, and which has a right belief concerning the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity.
For if we see now in a mirror darkly, and we know in part (1 Cor 13) still while we wander not astray from the doctrines of the truth but adhere to the spirit of the holy and inspired writings, the knowledge that we have is not imperfect, a knowledge which no man can acquire save by the light of the Holy Spirit given unto him. Hereby he exhorts the disciples to pray for spiritual graces, and at the same time gives them this encouragement – that what they ask they will not fail to obtain; adding the comforting assurance of the word “verily” to His promise that if they will go to the Father’s throne and make any request, they will receive it of Him, He Himself acting as Mediator and leading them into the Father’s Presence.
For this is the meaning of the words in my Name; for we cannot draw near unto God the Father save by the Son alone. For through Him we have obtained access in One Spirit unto the Father (Eph 2:18), according to the Scripture. Therefore also He says: I am the Door: I am the Way: no one comes unto the Father but by Me (John 14:6). For inasmuch as the Son is also God, together with the Father He conveys good gifts to the Saints, and associates Himself with Him in granting us the portion of the blessed. Moreover, the inspired Paul most evidently confirms our belief herein by writing these words: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. And in right of His titles, Mediator, High Priest, and Advocate, He conveys to the Father prayers on our behalf, for He gives us all boldness to address the Father.
In the Name then of Our Saviour Christ we must make our requests, for so will the Father most readily grant them, and will give to those that ask good gifts, that we may take them and rejoice therein. So being fulfilled with spiritual graces, and enriched with the grant of knowledge from Him through the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts, we shall gain a very easy triumph over every strange and abominable lust; and thus being active in good works, and attaining to the practice of every virtue with fervent zeal, and strengthened with everything whatsoever that makes for sanctification, we rejoice with exceeding joy at the prospect of the reward that awaits us; and, dismissing the despondency that springs from an evil conscience, we have our hearts enriched with the joy that is in Christ. This did not enter into the life of the men of old time; they never practiced this manner of prayer, for they knew it not. But now is it ordained for us by Christ, at the appropriate season, when the time of the accomplishment of our redemption was fulfilled, and the perfect fruition of all good was gained for us by Him. For just as the Law accomplished nothing, and as righteousness according to the Law was incomplete, so also was the mode of prayer inculcated thereby.
[St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, Book XI]
Oh! that I might repose in You! Oh! that You would enter into my heart, and inebriate it, that I may forget my ills, and embrace You, my sole good! What are You to me? In Your pity, teach me to utter it. Or what am I to You that You demand my love, and, if I give it not, are angry with me, and threaten me with grievous woes? Is it then a slight woe to love You not? Oh! for Your mercies’ sake, tell me, O Lord my God, what You are to me. Say unto my soul, I am Your salvation. So speak, that I may hear. Behold, Lord, my heart is before You; open it’s ears, and say unto my soul, I am Your salvation. After this voice let me haste, and take hold of You. Hide not Your face from me. Let me die—lest I die—only let me see Your face.
Narrow is the mansion of my soul; You enlarge it, that You may enter in. It is ruinous; You repair it. It has that within which must offend Your eyes; I confess and know it. But who shall cleanse it? or to whom should I cry, except You? Lord, cleanse me from my secret faults, and spare Your servant from the power of the enemy. I believe, and therefore do I speak. Lord, You know. Have I not confessed against myself my transgressions unto You, and You, my God, have forgiven the iniquity of my heart? I contend not in judgment with You, who are the truth; I fear to deceive myself; lest my iniquity lie unto itself. Therefore I contend not in judgment with You; for if You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall abide it?
[Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Chapter 5]
Let us consider, beloved, how the Master continually calls our attention to the future resurrection, the first fruits of which He has made the Lord Jesus Christ by raising Him from the dead. Let us consider, beloved, the kind of resurrection that occurs at regular intervals. Day and night give us examples of resurrection. The night sleeps, the day rises; the day departs, the night comes on. Let us take the crops. The sowing – how and in what manner does it take place? The sower goes out and puts each of the seeds into the soil: when they fall on the soil, they are dry and bare, and decay. But once they have decayed, the Master’s wondrous Providence makes them rise, and each one increases and brings forth multiple fruit.
[St. Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians]
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]
Abba John used to say, “The whole company of the holy men is like a garden which is full of fruit-bearing trees of various kinds, and wherein the trees are planted in one earth, and all of them drink from one fountain; and thus is it with all the holy men, for they do not have one rule only, but several varieties, and one man labours in one way, and another man in another, but it is one Spirit which operates and works in them.”
This Nativity night bestowed peace on the whole world;
So let no one threaten;
This is the night of the Most Gentle One – Let no one be cruel;
This is the night of the Humble One – Let no one be proud.
Now is the day of joy – Let us not revenge;
Now is the day of Good Will – Let us not be mean.
In this Day of Peace – Let us not be conquered by anger.
Today the Bountiful impoverished Himself for our sake;
So, rich one, invite the poor to your table.
Today we receive a Gift for which we did not ask;
So let us give alms to those who implore and beg us.
This present Day cast open the heavenly doors to our prayers;
Let us open our door to those who ask our forgiveness.
Today the Divine Being took upon Himself the seal of our humanity,
In order for humanity to be decorated by the Seal of Divinity.
[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Nativity Sermon]