Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Chrysostom on prayer without ceasing

In St. John Chrysostom's second homily on Hannah, he writes:
But how is it that the text says that "she continued" her prayer? Surely the woman's length of prayer was short . . . . She kept saying the same thing over and over again, and did not stop spending a long time with the same words. This, at any rate, is the way Christ bade us pray in the Gospels: telling the disciples not to pray like the pagans and use a lot of words, he taught us moderation in prayer to bring out that being heard comes not from the number of words but from the alertness of mind. So how is it, you ask, that if our prayers must be brief, he told them a parable on the need to pray always, namely, the one about the widow who by the constancy of her request wore down the cruel and inhumane judge, who had fear neither of God nor of men, by the persistence of her appeal? and how is it that Paul exhorts us in the words, "Persevere in prayer," and again, "Pray without ceasing"? I mean, if we must not reach to lengthy statements, and must pray constantly, one command is at variance with the other.

It is not at variance, however--perish the thought; it is quite consistent: both Christ and Paul bade us make brief and frequent prayers at short intervals. You see, if you extend your prayers to great length without paying much attention in many cases, you would provide the devil with great security in making his approach, tripping you up and distracting your thoughts from what you are saying. If, on the other hand, you are in the habit of making frequent prayers, dividing all your time into brief intervals with your frequency, you would easily be able to keep control of yourself and recite the prayers themselves with great attention.
His argument here is quite plain and is repeated in many Orthodox sources. I'm not sure how or where it was lost somewhere between the fourth century and today's Evangelical thinking about prayer, but it bears consideration in any case.


washer said...

could you tell me where you found St. Chrysostom's homilies on Hannah. I also heard a scholar refer to unceasing prayer in ST. John's homily on the passage in Thessalonians,but couldn't find it either.

Trevor Peterson said...

Chrysostom's Old Testament Homilies Vol 1. It's published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.