In this blog we have two quotes from St. John Chrysostom (d. 408AD) on prayer. We encounter the variety of metaphors he used to help explain what prayer is: a weapon, a haven, a treasury, a wealth, a harbor, and a foundation. We also in these metaphors see his creativity in addressing issues of prayer. He is not advocating a technique, but wants his flock to understand the richness of prayer, the multitude of reasons why we pray and the abundance of benefits we receive from prayer.
“Prayer is a great weapon, prayer is a wonderful adornment, security and haven, a treasury of good things, wealth beyond threat. When we make requests of human beings, we need an outlay of money, servile flattery, much to-ing and fro-ing and negotiating. Often, in fact, it is not possible to make a direct approach to their lordships personally to grant a favor: it is necessary first to wait upon their ministers of managers or administrators with money and words and every other means, and only then through them to be in a position to receive the request. With God, on the contrary, it is not like this: it not so much on recommendation of others as on our own request that he grants the favor.” (St. John Chrysostom, OLD TESTAMENT HOMILIES Vol 3, p 125)
Chrysostom takes an example about what prayer is like from what would have been the experience of his flock in the world of the Roman Empire. Prayer is request and petition before God. St. John describes how when we need a favor from others we may have to do a great amount of work to get them to agree to our request, including an outlay of money or enlisting the help of others to intercede with the person whose help we seek.
But, Chrysostom says, not so with God. We can approach Him directly in prayer. We don’t need intercessors, or to make a huge cash outlay. St. John says God welcomes our prayers and is more favorable to our own requests rather than our relying on others to petition for us.
In another passage he also implores us to pray especially for those who are not believers.
“The more impious they are, all the more let us intercede for them and beg God that they may some day give up their madness. For this will be acceptable in the presence of God, our Savior, ‘… who wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’ Therefore, let us never stop making intercession on their behalf. For prayer is a mighty weapon, an unfailing treasure, a wealth which is never expended, a harbor that is always calm, a foundation for tranquility.
Prayer is the root and source and mother of ten thousand blessings. It is more powerful than the empire itself.” (St. John Chrysostom, THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE NATURE OF GOD, p 156)
“More powerful than the empire itself.”
To paraphrase Chrysostom in our modern age: Our prayer is more powerful than the United States of America itself. Do we believe this? Or are we so awed with our country’s military might and great wealth that we think our prayer is insignificant. It is not the strength of our military or all its technology and weapons, nor the amount of wealth of our nation that moves God. He is however moved by our humble prayers.
This is something for those of us who are Christian and live in America to think about, especially this July 4th Independence Day. Do we really believe that prayer is more powerful than our military? Do we believe our prayers are worth more than all the wealth of the richest country in the world? Do we believe that “In God we trust”? How many of us will spend the day in prayer, or even remember to pray once during the day?
Next: What is Prayer? (VII)