Evagrios the Solitary, Blog 4, 153 Texts On Prayer

In her essay on Evagrios, Konstantinovsky observes that Evagrios sees true prayer as something to be experienced, true prayer is something that we must practice.  Indeed, true prayer is something we must long to practice, as Evagrios teaches us in his closing sentence, “If when praying no other joy can attract you, then truly you have found prayer.”(153)  “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly.  And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.”(61)  Here the footnote tells us that theologian here means someone who has intense longing for God.

Evagrios Blog 1 http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/evagrios-the-solitary-blog-1-asceticism-and-stillness/

Evagrios seeks imageless prayer, prayer that is possible when the ascetic clears his “mind of all persistent, delusional, and obsessive preoccupations” and the passions that are tied to these preoccupations.[1]

When commenting on the Philokalia I feel most inadequate, who do I bother offering any comments, why not just quote most of it, how can I improve on any of it?  When you read what I write, are you learning about the Philokalia, or are you simply reading my thoughts, and learning more about me?  So my humble prayer is after reading my thoughts you will read the Philokalia yourself, and be inspired to pray more, and more deeply.  When you read Evagrios, you read the precursor to the entire Philokalia, and to such works as the Ladder of Divine Ascent, as the other writers rephrase and repeat and reiterate his teachings in a hundred different variations, like a symphony constantly reworking its musical themes.

ON PRAYER: 153 TEXTS

Evagrios compares the persistence of prayer to the seven years of labor by Jacob to gain the hand of Rachel, his gazelle, for Jacob so loved Rachel that the seven years he labored for her hand seemed to him to be but a day.  On his wedding night Leah, her sister, was substituted for Rachel, and Jacob labored yet another seven years for the hand of Rachel.

Evagrios also reminds us of the parable told by Jesus in Luke 18: “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.  In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’  For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?  I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

St. Paul in Philippians exhorts to “pray without ceasing.”  Evagrios teaches that “he who Loves God is always communing with the Father, repulsing every impassioned thought.”

Prayer, Evagrios teaches, is “the practice of the virtues and contemplation.”  Christ did not reject the widow’s mites, so Christ will not reject your prayers, no matter how simple your sincere prayers may be.  Evagrios teaches that “prayer is the communion of the intellect with God.”(3)  “Prayer is the ascent of the intellect to God.”(36)  “When the soul has been purified through the keeping of all commandments, it makes the intellect steadfast and able to receive the state needed for prayer.”(2)  When Moses approached the burning bush he was bade by the angels to remove his sandals, for he was truly standing on sacred ground, so we, when praying, should approach the Lord with reverence and respect, for without respect there cannot be Love.

We pray, Lord, through the writings of the Early Church Fathers we may learn how better to pray, how we may respectfully approach the burning bush of Your Glory.  We pray we may learn to love and eagerly forgive our neighbor, so we may learn to Love God, and we pray we may learn to Love God with all of our heart and with all of our soul and with all of our mind and with all of our strength, so we may learn to love and forgive our neighbor.

We pray that we may fully confess our sins to You, O Lord, that we not neglect confession, that we may eagerly forgive our neighbor, that we may forgive those close to us who grievously wound us, we pray for your grace that we may be able to forgive those whom we find difficult to forgive, we pray for an attitude of forgiving graciousness of all transgressions, faults, and weaknesses of others, rather than the parsimonious pardoning of proper apologies.

We pray we may not plot vengeance against our enemies, for vengeance blocks our prayers.(13)  Christ exhorts that if we go to the altar and remember our brother has something against us, we should “‘leave our gift before the altar and be reconciled with our brother (Matthew 5), and when we return we will pray without disturbance.  For rancor darkens the intellect of one who prays, and extinguishes the light of his prayers.”(21)  “Those who store up grievances and rancor in themselves are like people who draw water and pour it into a sack full of holes.”(22)  We pray our prayers will cool our anger as our prayers will if our prayers are sincere.(24-27)  If we pray to cool our anger, we pray we will pray as the psalmists pray in the Psalms of David, we pray we will pray the Psalms to cool our anger.

We “pray for the gift of tears,” so through our sorrows we may tame what is savage in our souls.(5) “We pray for tears” so our prayers will be heard.  We pray for tears, Lord, for You, Lord, “rejoice greatly when we pray with tears.”(6)  We pray we will pray with “reverence, compunction, and distress of soul as we confess our sins with inward sorrow.”(43)  We pray that we may persevere with patience in our prayers, with the patience and kindness of love and compassion for our neighbor, and for the Love of our Lord.  We pray we may “patiently accept what comes, so we will always pray with joy.”(23)

For what should we pray?  We pray for the “purification of our passions, for deliverance from ignorance and forgetfulness, for deliverance from all temptations, trial and dereliction.”(38)  We pray to “seek righteousness and the Kingdom of God, virtue and spiritual knowledge, we pray for our purification, and we pray for the purification of our neighbor.(39)

Should we pray with a checklist of what we expect from God, should we be angry with God when our prayers are unanswered, when instead of blessings our life is filled with sufferings?  Evagrios warns, “Do not pray for the fulfilment of your wishes, for they may not be the will of God.  But pray as you have been taught, saying, ‘Thy will be done in me.’  Always entreat God in this way, that His will be done.  For He desires what is good and profitable for you, whereas you do not always ask for this.”(31)  “In your prayer seek only righteousness and the kingdom of God, that is, virtue and spiritual knowledge; and everything else ‘will be given to you.’ “(39)  “It is right to pray not only for your own purification, but also for the purification of all your fellow men, and so to imitate the angels.”(40)

“Do not be distressed if you do not at once receive from God what you ask.  He wishes to give you something better – to make you persevere in your prayer.  For what is better than to enjoy the Love of God and to be in communion with Him?”(34)  There are no unanswered prayers, prayer is its own answer.

Evagrios closes his discourse on prayer by observing, “If when praying no other joy can attract you, then truly you have found prayer.”(153)[2]

[1] Julia Konstantinovsky, “Evagrius in the Philokalia of St Macarius and St Nicodemus,” in the Philokalia, A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 190-192.

[2] Evagrios, “On Prayer: One Hundred and Fifty-Three Texts,” In the Philokalia, The Complete Text, compiled by St Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St Makarios of Corinth, Vol. 1, translated and edited by GEH Palmer, Phillip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), pp. 55-71.

About Bruce Strom 127 Articles
I was born and baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran. I made the mistake of reading works written by Luther, he has a bad habit of writing seemingly brilliant theology, but then every few pages he stops and calls the Pope often very vulgar names, what sort of Christian does that? Currently I am a seeker, studying church history and the writings of the Church Fathers. I am involved in the Catholic divorce ministries in our diocese, and have finished the diocese two-year Catholic Lay Ministry program. Also I took a year of Orthodox off-campus seminary courses. This blog explores the beauty of the Early Church and the writings and history of the Church through the centuries. I am a member of a faith community, for as St Augustine notes in his Confessions, you cannot truly be a Christian unless you worship God in the walls of the Church, unless persecution prevents this. This blog is non-polemical, so I really would rather not reveal my denomination here.

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