The Desert Fathers talked of prayer based on how they lived and experienced it. They did not refer to prayer as a concept nor did they study it as an intellectual subject. As such their sayings reflect a personal real life encounter with God in a life dedicated to prayer. They are therefore, invaluable to anyone dedicated to establishing their own prayer life, following the example of these champions of prayer.

The Nature of Prayer

“Prayer is by nature a dialog between man and God. It unites the soul with its Creator and reconciles the two. Its effect is to hold the world together”

 St. John Climacus

(Ladder of Divine Ascent 28.1)

“Hold on to the staff of prayer and you will not fall. And even a fall will not be fatal, since prayer is a devout, persistent coercing of God”

St John Climacus

(Ladder of Divine Ascent 28.63)

The Benefits of Prayer

“Virtues are formed in prayer. Preserves temperance, suppresses anger, restrains pride and envy, draws the Holy Spirit into the soul and raises man to Heaven”

St. Ephraim

(J Chryssavgis. In the Heart of the Desert. World Wisdom Press. 2008)

As he was dying, Abba Benjamin said to his disciples: “If you observe the following you can be saved: ‘Be joyful at all times! Pray without ceasing! And give thanks for all things!’”

Abba Benjamin

(J Chryssavgis. In the Heart of the Desert. World Wisdom Press. 2008)

“Let us therefore, believe in Him and approach Him in truth so that He may speedily bring us to full and authentic health. For He promised that He would give to those who asked Him the Holy Spirit”

St. Macarius the Great

(Homilies 20.1-8, in Spiritual Homilies)

How to pray

With Sincerity

“Sometimes during a long-continued prayer only a few minutes are really pleasing to God, only a few moments constitute true prayer and true service to God. The chief thing in prayer is the nearness of the heart to God, as proved by the sweetness of God’s presence in the soul”

St. John of Kronstadt in Moore

(Matthew the poor. Orthodox Prayer Life. SVS press. 2003)

Abba Macarius was asked, “How should one pray? The Old man replied: “There is no need at all to make long discourses. It is enough to stretch out one’s hand and to say: “Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy’. And if the conflict grows fiercer, say: ‘Lord, help!’ He knows very well what we need and He shows us His mercy”

Abba Macarius

(J Chryssavgis. In the Heart of the Desert. World Wisdom Press. 2008)

A brother said to Abba Anthony: “Pray for me.” The old man said to him: ”I will have no mercy on you, nor will God have any, if you do not pray to God.”9

Abba Anthony the Great

(J Chryssavgis. In the Heart of the Desert. World Wisdom Press. 2008)

Abba Amoun of Nitria came to see Abba Anthony and asked him: “Since my rule is stricter than yours, then how is it that your name is better known among people than mine is?” Abba Anthony replied: “It is because I love God more than you do.”

Abba Anthony the Great

(J Chryssavgis. In the Heart of the Desert. World Wisdom Press. 2008)

With the Scriptures

“Meditation on the scriptures teaches the soul the discourse with God… Without the pursuit of Holy Scriptures the mind can never approach God”

St Isaac the Syrian. The Four Books

In Silence

“I advice you to sit down in solitude… without reciting psalms and without prostrations. If you are able to do so, pray with your heart alone, and by all means spend the night sitting in your delightful meditation”

St Isaac the Syrian. The Four Books

“And so we should be silent when we ought and to pray with a cry, just as long as the mind is concentrated on God… so also the soul should be totally concentrated on asking and on a loving movement toward the Lord, not wandering and dispersed by its thoughts but with concentration wait expectantly for Christ”

St Macarius the Great

(Matthew the poor. Orthodox Prayer Life. SVS press. 2003)

Prayer is not easy and only grasped with time

The brothers asked Abba Agathon: “Among all good works, which is the virtue that requires the greatest effort?” He answered: “Forgive me, but I think that there is no greater labour than that of prayer to God. For every time a person wants to pray, one’s enemies, the demons, want to prevent one from praying, for they know that it is only by turning away from prayer that they can hinder one’s journey. Whatever good works a person undertakes, if one perseveres in them, one will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.

Abba Agathon

(B Ward. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Cistercian Pub.1984)

“No one can offer prayer of a proper intensity and sincerity unless he is seeking to live in the following way. First of all, there must be no anxiety about the bodily needs. Not even the recollection of a piece of business, let alone any worry about it. There must be no detraction, no gossip: above all no anger or wrongful sorrow, for these cannot but disturb the spirit: no lust of the flesh: no love of money.

Therefore before we begin to pray, we ought to try to be the kind of people whom we wish God to find when we pray. Whatever we do not want to creep into our time of prayer, we must try to keep out of the heart when we are not praying”

Abba Isaac the Bishop

(Conferences of John Cassian 9.3)

“When desires, or illness, or exhaustion, or fear play on your mind, so as to hold you back from: Joy of hope and the desire to please God. Then it your own soul you are serving and not the will of God”

St. Isaac the Syrian

(Matthew the poor. Orthodox Prayer Life. SVS press. 2003)


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