“Prayer safeguards chastity, controls anger, and restrains arrogance”

The divine Word teaches us how to pray, explaining to disciples worthy of him, and eagerly longing for knowledge of prayer, what words to use to gain a hearing from God.

Those who fail to unite themselves to God through prayer cut themselves off from God, so the first thing we have to learn from the Word is that we “need to pray continually and not lose heart.” Prayer brings us close to God, and when we are close to God we are far from the Enemy. Prayer safeguards chastity, controls anger, and restrains arrogance. It is the seal of virginity, the assurance of marital fidelity, the shield of travelers, the protection of sleepers, the encouragement of those who keep vigil, the cause of the farmer’s good harvest and of the sailor’s safety. Therefore I think that even if we spent the whole of our lives in communion with God through thanksgiving and prayer, we should still be as far from adequately repaying our benefactor as we should have been had we not even desired to repay him.

Time has three divisions: past, present, and future. In all three we experience the Lord’s kindly healings with us. If you consider the present, you live in him; if you consider the future, your hope of obtaining what you look forward to is in him; if you consider the past, you would not have existed had you not been created by him. Your birth is his kindly gift to you, and after birth his kindness toward you continued, since as the apostle says you live and move in him. On this same kindness depend all your hopes for the future. Only over the present have you any control. Therefore, even if you give thanks to God unceasingly throughout your life you will hardly meet the measure of your debt for present blessings, and as for those of the past and future, you will never find a way of repaying what you owe.

And yet we, who are so far from being capable of showing due gratitude, do not even give thanks to the best of our ability. We fail to set aside, I say not the whole day, but even the smallest portion of the day, to be spent with God.

Who restored to its original beauty that divine image in me that was blurred by sin? Who draws me back to the blessedness I knew before I was driven out of paradise, deprived of the tree of life, and submerged in the abyss of worldliness? As scripture says, “There is no one who understands.” If we realize these things we would give thanks continually, endlessly, throughout the whole of our lives.

St Gregory of Nyssa

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6 Responses to “Prayer safeguards chastity, controls anger, and restrains arrogance”

  1. Darrin Hunter says:

    I’m Orthodox but these type of statements from the saints seem so gnostic and disheartening. Certain words, worthiness, eagerness must be acquired just to gain a hearing from God.

    The other thing is, it seems to me, that the repeated admonition to constant prayer, with tears and the passive acceptance of all suffering, trial, sickness, hardship as from God, means that if the Orthodox had converted most people on earth a few centuries after Christ, there would’ve been little or no drive toward vaccines, medication, space travel, computers, air travel, etc. I mean the father’s could hardly accept the fact of marital desires, let alone a striving for anything lofty in this world but God.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Greetings, Darrin. Thank you for visiting the blog and for sharing your comment. You might be interested to read the entire homily from which the excerpt is taken (different translation, though): Homilies on the Lord’s Prayer (I)

      Could you elaborate on why you find this excerpt so discouraging and gnostic. Upon rereading, I find it a fairly mild homiletical exhortation of a bishop to his congregation to attend to prayer. Do you think St Gregory is overstating his case?

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    • I think you’ve misunderstood the first paragraph. His meaning is clearer in a different translation: “The Divine Word teaches us the science of prayer. And to the disciples worthy of it, who eagerly asked to learn to pray in such a way as to win the favour of the Divine hearing, this science is proposed in the words that prayer should take.” It’s the beginning to a homily on the Lord’s prayer. St. Gregory is simply saying that the disciples asked Jesus the best way to pray to God. He’s hardly saying that you need to know some secret words before God will listen to you.

      Your other concern is understandable, but a little misguided. The way Orthodox spirituality is popularly presented, it does seem like it’s only useful for monks. But I don’t think the fathers shunned secular study, not even the more hesychastic ones. Note that St. Gregory Palamas knew Aristotle and the natural science of his time very well. Further consider that St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite, who compiled the Philokalia, was a diligent student of human anatomy and physiology (if I recall correctly, he included some diagrams of the heart that he drew to the back of the Handbook of Spiritual Counsel as an appendix). I agree things like “Death to the World” give the misleading vibe that Orthodoxy is totally otherworldly. This is why it’s a lot better to read the saints themselves than popular presentations of them.

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  2. Steven says:

    Regarding the objection to the disheartening nature of the selected writing, I think the admonition should be understood in light of God’s love for us as embodied in Jesus Christ. When disheartened by our sin and unworthiness, we look to the crucified Christ and remember that the scriptures command us to have firm confidence in Jesus that He will bring us to eternal life because of His worthiness and because of His love. Our role, as I understand it, is to lay hold of that firm confidence (the definition of ‘believe’ in the Greek), and work to turn our lives into a continual love offering to the God who first loved, and continues to love, us. We must be reminded of our own unworthiness though, lest pride set in and spoil the confidence we have and turn it into the sort of pride the Pharisees fell into. I think this is something along the lines of what Jesus spoke of when He said the Father would prune the fruitful to make them bear even more fruit. I think without this hermeneutic of love (as Fr. Aidan once said elsewhere), such admonitions will make no sense and will in fact be quite discouraging. Please correct me, Fr. Aidan, if I am mistaken.

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