Philokalia 5

Dear friends,

As a gift to our supporters. We would like to offer a part of the Philokalia Volume 5 on our website as it is inspirational for our spiritual lives and we would like to make it freely available to the world.

Please keep in mind, this is an original translation and copyright is owned by our monastery. Please do not distribute outside of this website without prior permission.

The full volume of the Philokalia can be purchased through our website or Amazon and kindle.

This snip is also available as a free audio book through our youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oB7jeu_Be4

HOW ALL CHRISTIANS SHOULD PRAY WITHOUT CEASING

HOW ALL CHRISTIANS SHOULD PRAY WITHOUT CEASING

My Christian brothers, let no one think that only the clergy and monastics have the duty to pray unceasingly and at all times, but not the people in the world. No, this is not so! All of us Christians have the universal duty to be engaged in prayer always. For as the most-holy Philotheos, Patriarch of Constantinople writes in the life of St. Gregory of Thessaloniki, St. Gregory had a dear friend by the name of Job, who was a very simple man and quite virtuous, and one day St. Gregory was conversing with him about prayer and how absolutely every Christian should struggle constantly in prayer and even pray unceasingly, just as the Apostle Paul universally enjoins all Christians to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). And as the Prophet David also says, despite the fact that he was a king and had all the responsibility and care of his kingdom, I have seen the Lord always before me (Ps. 15:8). That is, ‘I see the Lord always before me noetically, by means of prayer.’ Moreover, Gregory the Theologian teaches all Christians, saying that we must remember the name of God in prayer more often than we breathe. And thus, while speaking about these and other things to his friend Job, St. Gregory also says how we too must be obedient to the precepts of the saints, and how not only should we pray at all times, but also teach everyone else, both monastics and laypeople, both the wise and the ignorant, both men, women, and children, and encourage them all to pray without ceasing. When he heard these things, the elder Job thought of it as something new and began to dispute it and tell the saint that praying unceasingly is only for ascetics and monastics who are outside of the world and away from its distractions, but not for the people in the world who have so many cares and obligations. Again, St. Gregory gave him yet other testimonies and proofs in opposition, but somehow the elder Job was not persuaded. So St. Gregory, wishing to avoid talkativeness and contention, grew silent, and each of them went to his own cell.

Then later, while Job was praying alone in his cell, an angel of the Lord appeared before him, sent from God who desires for all men to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). And through the angel, He put him to great shame because he had quarrelled with St. Gregory and resisted illustrious things from which the salvation of Christians is effected, and he ordered him on behalf of the Holy God to take heed to the following: from then on he must take care not to say anything against any such work so beneficial to the soul (ψυχωφελέστατον ἔργον), for this is opposed to the will of God. Moreover, neither should he accept in his intellect any thought opposed to the teaching of St. Gregory or think differently from him. Then that most simple elder Job went immediately to the saint and fell down at his feet seeking forgiveness for all his opposition and contention, and he made known to Gregory all that the angel of the Lord had told him. Do you then see, my brethren, how all Christians, young and old,  have the common duty to pray at all times with the noetic prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”? And how they should accustom their intellect and heart to say it always? And further consider how God is so well pleased by this endeavor and how it brings such benefit that in His utmost love for mankind He even sent an angel from heaven to reveal this to us so that we might no longer have any doubts about it.

But what might people in the world say? “We are caught up in so many affairs and worldly cares, and how is it even possible for us to pray unceasingly?”

And my reply to them is this: that God has not commanded us to do anything impossible, but rather to do all that is in our power. So then, it is possible for every one that diligently seeks the salvation of his soul to achieve this. For if it were impossible, it would be completely impossible for everyone in the world, and there would not be so very many people in the world who have achieved it. Among so many, let Constantine the Wonderful, the father of the above St. Gregory, serve as an example. He was immersed in royal matters, was called the father and teacher of the Emperor Andronikos, and was involved in all of the imperial affairs on a daily basis – let alone the affairs of his own household, for he was very wealthy, owned many properties, and had servants and children and a wife – and yet despite all these cares, he was so inseparable from God and so devoted to noetic and unceasing prayer, that he usually forgot the things that the emperor and the magistrates of the palace would say to him regarding imperial affairs, and he used to ask again about these same matters once or twice. Oftentimes the other magistrates who did not know the reason were confused at his behavior and reproached him for being so quick to forget and for bothering the emperor with his second set of questions. But the emperor, knowing the reason, defended him and said, “The illustrious Constantine has his own thoughts and they do not let him attend to our words concerning temporary and vain affairs; rather the intellect of the blessed man is fixed on true and heavenly things and because of this he forgets the earthly ones. For all of his attention is set on prayer and on God.” Thus, Constantine was revered (as is described by the most-holy Patriarch Philotheos) and beloved both to the emperor and to all the highest ranking officials and magistrates of the empire. At the same time, he was loved by God, who even made this renowned man worthy to work miracles.

Once (as the most-holy Philotheos says in the Life of Saint Gregory, his son) he boarded a sailboat with his whole family to visit an anchorite practicing hesychasm in an area above Galata,[1] for the sake of his prayers and blessing, and on the way, he asked his servants if anyone had brought any food for them to bring to that Abba as a gift. They told him they had forgotten due to the rush and that they had brought nothing with them. The blessed man grew a little sad but said nothing, and only went a little further up the sailboat, dipped his hand in the sea and with silent and noetic prayer he asked God, the Master of the sea, to grant him a catch of fish. And shortly after (O how marvellous are the works, Christ our King, with which You wondrously glorify Your servants!) he pulled his hand out of the sea holding a gigantic sea bass, which he then tossed into the boat before his servants, saying, “Look how our Lord has cared for us and for the Abba, His servant, that He has sent him something to eat!” Do you see, my brethren, with what kind of glory Jesus Christ glorifies His servants who are always present with Him and who call upon His all-holy and sweetest name at all times?

And was not the righteous St. Evdokimos also living in Constantinople, involved in the empire and imperial affairs? Did he not associate with the emperor and with the magistrates of the palace, with countless cares and distractions? For all that, he still always had the noetic prayer inseparable from his thought (λόγος) (as Symeon Metaphrastes narrates in his life), and thus the thrice-blessed one, while living amidst the world and worldly things, lived a truly angelic life beyond this world and was made worthy by God, who rewards His servants, to receive a blessed and divine end as well. And so many others, impossible to count, were in the world and yet completely devoted to this noetic and saving prayer, as we can find in the stories written about them. And so, my fellow Christians, I, together with St. John Chrysostom, beseech you for the sake of our souls’ salvation, do not be neglectful of this work of prayer. Imitate those about whom we have spoken and follow their example as much as possible. And if this initially seems difficult to you, be certain and fully assured, as from the very face of God Almighty, that this same name of our Lord Jesus Christ which we call upon unceasingly each and every day will ease all of our difficulties; and after much time, as we grow accustomed to it and learn to sense the sweetness in it, then we will know by experience that it is neither impossible nor difficult, but both possible and easy. And for this reason, St. Paul, who knew better than us the great benefit that prayer brings, enjoined us to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). And he would never advise us to do something so difficult or impossible that we could not do it, only for us to appear as disobedient transgressors of his injunction as a consequence, and so be condemned through it. But the intent of the Apostle when he said, Pray without ceasing, was for us to pray with our intellect, and it is possible for us to do this constantly. For while we are doing handicrafts, while we are walking, while we are sitting, while we are eating, and while we are drinking, we can always pray with our intellect and engage in noetic prayer that is true and well-pleasing to God.

Let us work with the body and pray with the soul. Let the outer man carry out every bodily service and the inner man be completely dedicated to the worship of God and never absent from this spiritual work of noetic prayer. As the God-Man Jesus Christ commanded us in the Holy Gospel, saying, But you, when you pray, go into your chamber (ταμεῖον), and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret (Mt. 6:6). The chamber of the soul is the body. The doors of our body are the five senses. The soul enters its chamber when the intellect does not wander here and there anxious about matters of the world, but is found within our heart. Moreover, our senses are shut and remain sealed when we do not let them fixate upon sensible and visible things. And in this manner our intellect remains free from every earthly pursuit, and through hidden and noetic prayer you are united with God your Father. And then, the Lord says, Your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. God, who knows the hidden things sees your noetic prayer and rewards it with manifest and magnificent gifts. For this is the prayer that is true and perfect, and it fills the soul with divine grace and spiritual gifts, just like myrrh: the further you close it into a vessel, the more fragrant it becomes. And so it is with prayer: the further you seal it within your heart, the more it is filled with divine grace.

Blessed and happy are they who have made a habit of this heavenly work, for by it they conquer every temptation of evil demons, just as David conquered the proud Goliath (1 Sam. 17:51). By it they quench the unruly desires of the flesh, just as the Three Youths quenched the flame of the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:16-28). By this work of noetic prayer they soothe the passions, just as Daniel calmed the wild lions (Dan. 6:18). By it the dew of the Holy Spirit descends upon their hearts, just as Elijah brought down rain upon Mount Carmel. This noetic prayer is what ascends up to the throne of God and is kept in golden bowls so that the Lord may be censed by it, as John the Theologian says in the Apocalypse, And the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (Rev. 5:8). This noetic prayer is a light that ever illumines the soul of man and ignites his soul with the flames of the love of God. It is the chain that keeps and binds man to God.

O how incomparable is the grace of noetic prayer! It causes man to converse with God at all times. O how truly wonderful and extraordinary it is! For you to be together with men in the body and together with God with the intellect! The angels do not have material voices, but with their intellect they offer unto God unceasing doxology. This is their work. To this is their whole life dedicated. So you too, brother, when you go into your chamber and shut the door, that is, when your intellect is not dispersed here and there, but enters into your heart, and your senses are sealed and not fixed upon the things of this world, and when you  pray in this manner with your intellect perpetually, then you become like the holy angels, and your Father, who sees your secret (μυστική) prayer, which you offer unto Him in the secret place of your heart, you shall be rewarded great spiritual gifts openly. But what greater and better thing could you desire than to be together with God at all times noetically, as we have said, and to converse with Him unceasingly? Without Him no man can be blessed either here or in the next life. And so, brother, whoever you may be, when you receive the present book in your hands, I fervently beseech you: remember to make supplication before God with one “Lord, have mercy”, both for the sinful soul of him who has put his labor into this book and for him who has paid for its printing. They are in great need of your prayers. This is so that they may find divine mercy for their souls, and you for your own. May God grant this; may He grant it indeed.

[1] A neighborhood in Constantinople located at the northern shore of the Golden Horn.

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