Wednesday, September 26, 2007

more Chrysostom on prayer

In his fourth homily on Hannah, St. John discusses at length the practical application of frequent prayer:
Blessed David also practised [prayer], and hence said, "Seven times a day I praised you for the judgments of your righteousness." Now, if a king, a man immersed in countless concerns and beset from every quarter, beseeches God so many times a day, what excuse or pardon would we have, with so much free time on our hands, not to implore him incessantly, especially as this puts us in a position to reap such benefit? . . .

How is it possible, you ask, for a man of the world, tied to the bench, to pray three times a day and betake himself to church? It is possible and quite simple: even if heading off to church is not manageable, it is possible even for the man tied to the bench to stand there in the vestibule and pray. After all, there is not such need for words as for thoughts, for outstretched hands as for a disciplined soul, for deportment as for attitude, since Hannah herself was heard not for uttering a loud and clear cry but for calling out loudly inside in the heart: "Her voice was not audible, but the Lord hearkened to her," the text says, note. Many other people also did this in many cases, despite the officer calling out from inside, threatening, ranting and raving, while they stood in the porch making the sign of the cross and saying a few prayers in their mind, and then going in and transforming and soothing him, turning him from wild to mild. They were not prevented from praying like this by the place or the time or the absence of words. Do likewise yourself: groan deeply, recall your sins, gaze towards heaven, say in your mind, "Have mercy on me, O God," and you have completed your prayer. The one who said "Have mercy," after all, gave evidence of confession, and acknowledged their own sins: it belongs to sinners to have mercy shown. The one who said "Have mercy on me" received pardon for their faults: the one to whom mercy has been shown is not punished. The one who said "Have mercy" attained the kingdom of heaven: the one on whom God will have mercy he not only frees from sin but also judges worthy of the future goods.

Accordingly, let us not make excuses, claiming a house of prayer is not close by: if we have the right dispositions, the grace of the Spirit made us personally temples of God, and there is ease for us in every respect. Our worship, after all, is not of the kind that formerly prevailed among the Jews, which was long on appearance but short on reality. In that case, you see, the worshiper had to go up to the temple, buy a turtle-dove, get hold of wood and fire, take sword in hand, appear before the altar, and carry out many other requirements. In our case, on the other hand, it is not like that: wherever you are, you have the altar with you, the sword, and the victim, you yourself being priest and altar and victim. In other words, wherever you are, you can set up the altar, giving evidence only of an attentive will, place being no obstacle, time no hindrance; even if you do not go down on your knees, do not strike your breast or raise your hands to heaven, and merely demonstrate an ardent disposition, you have completed the whole of the prayer. It is possible for a woman with distaff in hand working at the loom to gaze towards heaven in her mind and call upon God with ardor; it is possible for a man venturing into the marketplace and walking by himself to pray with attention, and for someone else seated at the workbench sewing skins to direct his soul to the Lord; it is possible for a servant making purchases and running hither and yon, or standing in the kitchen, when there is no possibility of going to church, to pray attentively and ardently. Place is not something God is ashamed of: he looks for one thing only, a fervent mind and sober spirit. . . .

In saying this, I exhort you unceasingly to keep up the habit of visiting the churches and praying at home in tranquility, and when time allows going on your knees and stretching out your hands. If, however, we are caught up by reason of time or place with a crowd of people, let us not on that account abandon prayer, but in the fashion I mentioned to your good selves pray and beseech God in the conviction of gaining your petition nonetheless with that prayer. I said as much, not for you to applaud and marvel, but for you to practise this yourselves, night time and day time, interspersing the time of work with prayers and petitions.

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