Prayer That Never Ends

This is the 42nd blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Prayer as Prayer as Relationship with God (VI).

St. Paul famously said that we should pray without ceasing.  And while this teaching was seized upon by the spiritual champions in Orthodoxy, that phrase about prayer occurs in a sentence which commands constancy in joy and thanksgiving as well, though these other elements are not as often mentioned in the spiritual literature.  To quote St. Paul in context:

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”   (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

In their book, IN THE SPIRIT OF HAPPINESS, the Monks of New Skete commented:

“Unceasing prayer, then, is not a technique.  To isolate Saint Paul’s admonition, to take it out of its context, does violence to his intent.  Surrounding the admonition are two other exhortations that express how he conceived unceasing prayer:

Be happy always:     Greet everyone and everything openly and cheerful, even in adversity.  Sing together joyfully.

Pray without ceasing:    Don’t forget to pray; be open to God’s presence.  Don’t stop praying together just because difficulties arise, or when everything’s fine.  Pay attention and avoid distractions.

Be grateful in all circumstances:    Be generous and appreciative, find something positive, even during reversals and setbacks.  Display your unity and heal your divisions by giving thanks in prayer and eucharist.

For this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.  (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; translation New Skete) “     (p 188)

And while the exhortation to pray without ceasing became a way of life for monastics, it was not envisioned as being a way of life only for monastics.  St. Gregory Palamas (d. 1359AD) says:

“Let not one think, my fellow Christian, that only priests and monks need to pray without ceasing and not laymen. No, no; every Christian without exception ought to dwell always in prayer.”     (Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church , kindle Loc. 3605-8)

Origen (d. ca 254AD) back in the 3rd Century said:

“He prays unceasingly who combines prayer with necessary duties and duties with prayer.  Only in this way can we find it practicable to fulfill the commandment to pray always.  It consists in regarding the whole of Christian existence as a single great prayer.  What we are accustomed to call prayer is only a part of it.”     (Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 212)

Next:  Prayer That Never Ends (II)

The Humble Spider

The spider is a creature which many modern folk fear.  Interestingly in THE PHILOKALIA the Fathers several times call us to contemplate the spider and praise it for its virtues.   St. John of Karpathos (7th C ?) says:

“Think of the spider and compare it with a human being. Nothing is more weak and powerless than a spider. It has no possessions, makes no journeys overseas, does not engage in litigation, does not grow angry, and amasses no savings. Its life is marked by complete gentleness, self-restraint and extreme stillness. It does not meddle in the affairs of others, but minds its own business; calmly and quietly it gets on with its own work. To those who love idleness it says, in effect: ‘If anyone refuses to work, he should have nothing to eat’ (2 Thess. 3:10).

The spider is far more silent than Pythagoras, whom the ancient Greeks admired more than any other philosopher because of the control that he exercised over his tongue.  Although Pythagoras did not talk with everyone, yet he did speak occasionally in secret with his closest friends; and often he lavished nonsensical remarks on oxen and eagles. He abstained altogether from wine and drank only water.

The spider, however, achieves more than Pythagoras: it never utters a single word, and abstains from water as well as from wine. Living in this quiet fashion, humble and weak, never going outside or wandering about according to its fancy, always hard at work – nothing could be more lowly than the spider. Nevertheless the Lord, ‘who dwells on high but sees what is lowly’ (Ps. 113: 5-6. LXX), extends His providence even to the spider, sending it food every day, and causing tiny insects to fall into its web.”  (The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 9154-68)

See also:  The Spider: Stillness of Heart