Intercessory Prayer (III)

This is the 32nd  blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Intercessory Prayer (II).

St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD), one of the most prolific of the Eastern Patristic writers, and also one of the favorites among Orthodox Christians, offers the following thoughts on intercessory prayer.  Like most of the early Fathers he did believe there was a correct way to pray as well as a wrong way.  Commenting on Psalm 141, he writes:

“The  psalmist also produces such a cry, and hence says, Lord, I cried to you, hearken to me; and he asks to be heard for this reason: in my crying to you.  Note also another virtue of prayer: he asks to be heard not from the vehemence of his prayer but even from the offering of such a prayer as to be worthy of those unsleeping eyes.  Now, what kind of prayer is that?  Your praying not against your enemies, nor for wealth and material advantage, nor for influence and reputation, nor for anything passing, but for those unending and immortal things.  ‘Seek the Kingdom of god,’ Scripture says, remember, ‘and all these things will be given to you as well.’   In my crying to you:  do you see how he wishes us also to call with zeal and enthusiasm? …

St. Paul’s Escape from Damascus

Aware of this then, we should throw up against him our zeal, and never pray against our enemies, but rather imitate the apostles.  They suffered countless calamities, remember, then were thrown into prison, and after risking the ultimate fate they had recourse to prayer in the words, ‘Have regard to their threats.’  And then what?  Surely they did not say, ‘Smash them,’ or ‘Kill them,’ as many people frequently say in calling down curses?  By no means.  Instead, what?   ‘Allow your servants to speak your word with confidence.’ How and in what fashion?  By killing the schemers, by doing away with them and consigning them to ruin?  Not at all.  Instead, how?  ‘By working signs and wonders through your holy servant Jesus.’  (Acts 4:29-30)  

Martyrdom of St. Stephen

Do you see prayer characterized by sound values, demanding no punishment of enemies despite such calamities?  These men, however, acted this way while still alive and breathing; Stephen, on the other hand, though on the point of being snatched from the present life, not only begged no harm to fall on them, but even those stoning and destroying him he was anxious by his prayer to rescue from the wrath due to this sin, saying, ‘Do not hold this sin against them.’ (Acts 7:59) 

40 Martyrs of Sebaste

Consequently, what excuse, what defence do they deserve who pray against their enemies?  How would such prayer be heard when offered contrary to the laws of God?  Let us then not say anything of that kind: we ought not merely not pray against our enemies but lift God’s anger against them.  Hence Scripture says, ‘I wish men to pray in every place, raising holy hands without argument or controversy,’ (1 Tim 2:8) that is, even if you have an enemy, quench your wrath, and thus make your approach to the Lord, and not only say nothing by word of mouth against him but even purge your mind of the poison.  If your prayer is like that, and you call on God with zeal, even before your prayer is finished you will be heard.  This is what the psalmist also asks for in saying, Heed the sound of my appeal in my crying to you.  God’s own promise says, after all, ‘While you are still speaking I shall say, Lo, here I am.’ (Is 58:9)”  (St. John Chrysostom, COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS   Vol II, pp 278-279)

Next:  Intercessory Prayer (IV)

God’s Righteous Ones

“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,

and no torment will ever touch them.

In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,

and their departure was thought to be a disaster,

and their going from us to be their destruction;

but they are at peace.

For though in the sight of others they were punished,

their hope is full of immortality.

Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,

because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;

like gold in the furnace he tried them,

and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.

In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,

and will run like sparks through the stubble.

They will govern nations and rule over peoples,

and the Lord will reign over them forever.

Those who trust in him will understand truth,

and the faithful will abide with him in love,

because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones,

and he watches over his elect.”

(Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9)