Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendour of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.
The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.
The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.
The true light has come, the light that enlightens every man who is born into this world. Let all of us, my brethren, be enlightened and made radiant by this light. Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so filled with it that no one remains in the darkness. Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Symeon the light whose brilliance is eternal.
Rejoicing with Symeon, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, the Father of the light, who sent the true light to dispel the darkness and to give us all a share in his splendor.
Through Symeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which he prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves. As Symeon was released from the bonds of this life when he had seen Christ, so we too were at once freed from our old state of sinfulness.
By faith we, too embraced, Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as he came to us from Bethlehem. Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God incarnate, and because we have seen him present among us and have mentally received him into our arms, we are called the new Israel.
Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in his honour.
“The world has many poor in spirit, but not in the right way; and many who mourn, but over money matters and loss of children; and many who are meek, but in the face of impure passions; and many who hunger and thirst, but to rob another’s goods and to profit unjustly. And there are many who are merciful, but to the body and to its comforts; and clean of heart, but out of vanity; and peacemakers, but who subject the soul to the flesh; and many who suffer persecution, but because they are disorderly; many who are reproached, but for shameful sins. Instead, only those are blessed who do and suffer these things for Christ and following his example. For what reason? ‘Because theirs is the kingdom of heaven,’ and ‘they shall see God,’ and so forth. So that it is not because they do and suffer these things that they are blessed (since those just mentioned do the same), but because they do and suffer them for Christ and following his example.
- St. Maximus the Confessor, Four Hundred Chapters on Love, Third Century, 47
3. God’s gifts through prayer.
Just think, that even if we extended our conversation with God and we prayed and thanked Him throughout our whole life we would still be so far behind in paying back the price due to God in return that we would not even have started to make a reimbursement to our Benefactor. Time is divided into three parts: the past, the present and the future. The Lord’s benevolence is seen in these three stages. If you consider the present, you live in it; the future, is where your hopeful expectations lie; the past, would not exist if He hadn’t made you. You received his kindness when you came into being because of Him, and having been born you received his kindness again, since you live and move “in Him” as the Apostle says. Future hopes also depend on this same action. You are ruler only of the present. Therefore, even if you keep continually thanking God in all things, you would just about manage to give back what you owe for the present, without finding a way to pay back all that you owe for the future or the past. Yet, while we so greatly lack the ability to thank God as much as we should, we don’t even show our gratitude as far as we are able. I’m not even speaking about the whole day; we don’t even give over the least part of the day to be still in the Lord.
Who laid out the earth beneath my feet? Who made the waters passable by intention? Who fixed the heaven for me as a chamber? Who bears the sun like a torch for me? Who sends out springs within the ravines? Who laid out the courses of rivers? Who placed irrational beasts under the yoke to serve me? Who made me overflow with life and thought, despite being nothing but lifeless dust? Who formed this clay into the image of the divine character? Who restored back to its ancient grace the divine image that had been clouded by sin? Having been evicted from paradise, cut off from the tree of life and covered in the ruinous pit of material life, who drew me back to my first happy and blessed state? “There is none who understands” says Scripture. For if we saw all this we would give never-ending and ceaseless thanks throughout the whole length of our life. However, nowadays nearly the whole of the human race is only alert to material things. All their interests are here, all their enthusiasm is in this; this is where all their memory and hope is concentrated. Human nature doesn’t go to bed and doesn’t sleep in its desire to have more of everything in which more can be found. Whether it is in honour or glory, or an abundance of money, or the disease of appetite, in all these things human nature always looks towards having more. Whereas no mention is made at all of the true blessings of God, neither for what is already seen nor for what is promised. However, it’s time for us to turn our attention, as far as it is possible, to the actual meaning of the words of prayer.
4. Vain repetitions: meaning and content
It is obvious that we will gain what we want by learning how to put our request into words. What, then, is the teaching? “When you pray” it says “do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do.” They think that they will be heard because of their many words. The meaning of the teaching is clear of itself, when laid out bare thus, and we don’t need to have a finer understanding of it, except, however, to examine what is meant by the term “vain repetitions”. So that we can avoid doing what is forbidden, by knowing exactly what this means.
I believe this strange and newly coined expression was used in order to rein in pointless thoughts and to curb those entrenched in vain desires, i.e. in order to check the foolishness of those who let their desires overflow into unhelpful and idle things. Whatever is sensible and intelligible and tries to be useful is legitimately called speech, whereas whatever spills over into imaginary desires through groundless gratification is properly called “vain repetition” (battologia). Putting it more plainly you could say that “vain repetitions” means chattiness, talking nonsense, babbling and whatever else carries these meanings.
What does this expression advise us to do then? It advises us not to experience the same misfortune of infantile thinking at the time of prayer. Just like people with somewhat flawed intelligence don’t consider how they will actually accomplish something they have in mind, but invent some power based fortunate lot in life for themselves, imagining treasuries and kingdoms and that great cities are named after them. They even envisage in their mind that they really are amongst everything that their vainglorious thoughts have portrayed. Indeed, there are those who are seized by this vainglory even more vigorously, going beyond natural means, they gain wings or shine like stars, or lift up mountains with their bare hands, or make the heaven into a roadway for their use, or exist for thousands of years by becoming young again after growing old, and all sorts of other similar frothy and idle inventions borne by the hearts of those who are more infantile than infants. Accordingly then, when it comes down to it, someone who doesn’t think about whether some of the desired goods are attainable, but idles away in non-existent desires is both foolish and wretched, because he wastes time on these dreams when he could be using the time to do something useful instead. If a person is not intent on benefitting his soul during the time of prayer, but instead has the pretense of including God alongside the impassioned movements of the mind, then he is truly an idler and someone who stutters and repeats himself in vain. Since he is praying for God to cooperate in his own vainglory and become a servant of it.
This is what I’m saying, for instance: Someone approaches God in prayer, and not understanding in his mind the height of the power that he is approaching, mistakenly insults his greatness with his base and lowly request. This is like someone who through extreme poverty or plain boorishness considers clay vessels to be valuable. Then, he approaches a king who is intending to share out honours and riches. However, this person disregards royal petitions, and instead thinks it more fitting for someone of such great worth, to mould something out of clay and create something that he has in mind. Likewise, whoever has not been educated in prayer yet prays like this, does not raise himself up to the height of his Giver, but wants to bring divine power down to the base and earthly level of his own desires. Thus, he exposes his impassioned impulses to the knower of hearts; not so that the incongruous movements of the mind can be cured, but for them to become worse, so that the evil impulses might be carried out with God’s help! For example, he says to God “Since that person grieves me and my heart is ill-disposed towards him, knock him down!” The only thing he doesn’t shout out is, “Let my own passion become Your passion, let my own evil pass over to You”.
Given that in human battles it’s not possible to ally yourself with one side, without sharing in the irritation of the angry against their opponent, it is equally clear that the person, who incites God against his enemy, is also asking God to join him in his wrath and become a participant in his anger. This would mean that the Divine falls into passion, has a human disposition and alters from His good nature into brutal harshness. The same is true of the fame fanatic, or the person who through pride desires to have more than others, or hurries to win a court case, or someone who pursues the winner’s crown in gymnastic competitions, or vies for applause at the theatre, and quite often those who are worn down by the raging passion of youth. All these people do not direct their supplications to God so that they will be freed of the sickness that is ruling over them, but rather pray in order to make the disease overcome them completely. They deem the complete failure in these things to be a great calamity, so really they are using vain repetitions, pleading with God to collaborate with their mind’s own sickness. The worst thing of all is, they want the Divine to be hostile to those who are hostile to them, separating the workings of God into either benevolence (love for mankind) or cruelty. They want Him to be compassionate and gentle with them, yet at the same time bitter and harsh towards their enemies. Oh the folly of those who use vain repetitions! If God is harsh towards them, then he certainly won’t be tame with you! However, if He inclines towards mercy with you, according to your hope, of course, how then can he switch and do the opposite, turning mercy into malice?
Yet, the argumentative have opinions, ready to hand, disputing such views. They immediately call upon the words of the prophets to defend their own malice. They say, for example, that David wants sinners to disappear from the face of the earth and wishes for his enemies to be covered with shame and reproach; Jeremiah wanted God to take vengeance on those who opposed him; Hosea asked that his enemies be given a childless womb and dry breasts. They gather up many such scatterings of text from Holy Scripture, contriving to maintain that they should pray against their enemies and that God’s goodness should collaborate with their spite. However, we will take a different path from these people, who, on such grounds, are led to the direct opposite view. To stop them from babbling we will answer each of the things mentioned with what follows.
 Acts 17:28
 Romans 3:11
 Matthew 6:7
 This is one word in the Greek of the New Testament «βαττολογία» <battologia>. It is an unusual and rare word in Greek. It is clear that St. Gregory of Nyssa thought it was not an original Greek word, although it is mentioned in several ancient sources including Aesop, for example. It can be interpreted literally as “Battos-speech. Battos was a King of Cyrene known for his weak voice, stammer and composition of hymns that said the same things over and over again (cf. Herodotus Histories IV). His name became synonymous with stuttering and repetitive speech.
 Here St. Gregory says literally, “interpreting it in better Greek one would say…”
 ὁ δοξομανῶν literally a “glory maniac” someone who is “fame-mad”.
 e.g. Psalm 103: 35 LXX
 e.g. Psalm 70: 13 LXX
 Jeremiah 11:19 LXX
 Hosea 9:14
2. The Benefits of Prayer
If, however, all endeavours are preceded by prayer then sin won’t find a passageway into the soul. When God is remembered continually within the heart, the devices of the enemy are unsuccessful, for righteousness always intervenes where something is disputed. Prayer even keeps a farmer from sin, giving increase to the fruits of the earth from a small measure, so that sin will no longer enter by bringing along the desire for more. The same applies to the traveller, or one setting off to be a soldier or to get married. The same applies to everyone who has an impulse to do anything at all; if he does everything with prayer, he will drive away sin with the success of the undertaking, because there will be nothing opposing it and dragging the soul down towards passion. However, if he keeps away from God and gives himself over completely to his own business inevitably, as someone far from God, he comes under the influence of the adversary, i.e. the devil. Whoever does not unite themselves to God in prayer is separated from him. This, then, is what we should learn first of all in this talk, that we should pray at all times and never give up. For, it is through prayer that one manages to be with God; whoever is with God, has been separated from the devil.
Prayer is a guardian of prudence, a check on anger, a curb of conceit, a cleanser of resentment, a demolisher of envy, a destroyer of injustice, a corrector of impiety. Prayer is the strength of bodies, brings prosperity to homes, law and order to cities, power to reign, victory in war, the security of peace, reunites those who are separated, gives stability to those reunited. Prayer is the seal of virginity, the faithfulness of marriage, the weapon of travellers, the guardian of sleepers, the courage of the wakeful, the good fruit of farmers and the salvation of seafarers. Prayer is the advocate of the accused, release to those in bonds, rest to the weary, comfort to the distressed, happiness to the glad, consolation to those in mourning, the crown of those getting married, a birthday feast, and a shroud to those who are dying. Prayer is speaking with God, the vision of the invisible, the fulfilment of all desires, equal honour with the angels, progress in good, aversion to evil, the rectification of sinners, the enjoyment of present things and the substance of things to come. Prayer made the sea-monster into a dwelling for Jonas, while it brought Ezekias back to life from the gates of death. It changed the flame around the three young men into a fresh wind; raised up a victory for the Israelites over the Amalekites and killed a hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians with an invisible sword in just one night. Thousands of comparable examples can be found of things that have already happened, which make it perfectly clear that of all things of life’s valuables nothing is of higher worth than prayer. However, it is now time to concern ourselves with prayer itself. Even so, let me make yet one more small addition to what I’ve said. Divine Grace has given us many good things of all kinds, the only thing we have to give in return for what we have received is this, to pay back our Benefactor with prayer and thanksgiving.
1. Introduction: The need for Prayer
Teaching on prayer is given to us through the word of God. Here his worthy disciples, who eagerly sought knowledge of prayer, were shown how they could become familiar in God’s hearing, through the words of prayer. However, I will be so bold as to make a small correction to what is written; because the present gathering does not need to know how to prayer, but rather that you must prayer at all times. This is something that many will not have heard before, as most people have neglected and abandoned this sacred and godly work of prayer in their lives. For this reason, I think it is best to insist, through words, that we should continue steadfastly in prayer as the Apostle says. Then, we will hear the divine voice, which will show us a way of presenting our entreaty to the Lord. I see that while everything in this present life is keenly pursued (everybody has their attentions somewhere or other) no-one pursues the benefits of prayer. For example, a street trader starts selling first thing in the morning before his fellow traders get there, so that he can get to the customers before they do. The customer does the same. He doesn’t go to a place of prayer, but runs to the market-place instead; because there is something that he had his eye on and he doesn’t want to lose out to someone else. Since everybody just wants to make a profit and to get ahead of others, prayer time is stolen by these other pursuits and given over to commerce instead.
This is done by the craftsman, the person of letters, the person accused in court and the person called upon to judge; each one of them has given themselves completely and wholeheartedly over to the work at hand and completely forgotten the work of prayer, considering that spending time with God is detrimental to his work. The craftsman thinks that alliance with God is useless and futile, so he sets prayer aside and places his hopes in his own physical hands, forgetting altogether Who gave him those hands. Again, the person who carefully composes words for himself, doesn’t consider the Giver of the words, but thinks he brought about this condition himself. He becomes so devoted to himself and his students’ lessons, that he thinks that no good thing can come through God’s actions and prefers his own studies to prayer. Likewise, all the other trades and professions, by having only bodily and earthly concerns, prevent the soul from concentrating on greater and more heavenly works.
Consequently, there is much sin in life and this is always being added to and increasing. Sin enters into all human endeavours, since everyone has completely forgotten God and none of these pursuits come into contact with the benefits of prayer. Greed then enters into commerce, and greed is idolatry. Thus, the farmer doesn’t determine his crop growing according to his essential needs, but he is always expanding his endeavours further, and thus leaves the door wide open for sin to enter into his work, by reaching over into the pastures of others. This is where seemingly incurable disputes over land boundaries sprout up, because people have been captured by the disease of greed. This is where anger, and the impulse towards evil arise, and this why people start attacking each other, often to the point of bloodshed and slaughter.
Likewise, running to the courts also serves manifold sin, and finds thousands of advocates of injustice. The judge, either wittingly sways the scales of justice, according to the inducement received, or unwittingly sanctions injustice when led astray by those who deceitfully confuse truth with meddlesome officiousness. However, why should one list each and every of the many and various ways that sin blends into people’s lives? There is only one cause of sin: the fact that people do not arm themselves with the sympathy and support of God in all their undertakings.
 The language reflects that of Rom 8: 26 where two phrases are juxtaposition “how we should pray” and “as we ought”. Here the interpretation being that even if we prayer in the “right” way, concentrating on the ‘content’ of prayer, but that we don’t pray in the right spiritual condition or all the time, it is of no benefit.
 Rom. 12: 11
 Col. 3:5
John was the son of the priest Zacharias and of Elizabeth. Until its 30th year, he lived an ascetic life in the desert of Judaea completely devoted to prayer, contemplation and spiritual and moral perfection.
His clothing was of camel hair and he wore a leather belt and his food was locusts and honey.
With a figure that was tanned, serious, dignified and dynamic, John was immediately seen as a person who was extraordinary and spectacular. He had all the qualities of a great and imposing preacher of God’s word. So it is with great grace he preached to the multitudes.
Rained thunderbolts and hit hard down upon the arrogance of of the Pharisees, who underneath their external dress of false holiness hid the most disgusting wounds of hardness of the soul and filthiness. In general, his teaching can be summarised in his short phrase “repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand” thus preparing the way or our Lord Jesus Christ and his work of salvation. When Christ started his public ministry, the people gradually left John and started to follow Christ. This turn offence in a teacher or philosopher who was not of a Christian spirit. May well have caused great bitterness and brought forth thorns of jealousy and envy, however, for John this court was a source of great joy and delight. The Lord said that no man stand taller than John the Baptist. This feast was established in the fifth century.
From the Orthodox Synaxarion
Saint Basil the Great was the founder and organizer of coenobitic monasticism. His rules, and the reforms introduced by Saint Theodore the Studite, are still in place to this day.
Of course, Saint Basil was not involved with monasticism in an amateur fashion. He was himself a monk and lived the monastic life for a good many years. Even from the time when he was studying in Athens, he planned to withdraw into the desert with his friend Saint Gregory the Theologian, when they had completed their studies. Later he was to regard the time he spent studying as a waste. He wrote in an epistle to Efstathios of Sevasteia: “I spent a great deal of time on futile efforts and consumed almost all my youth in vain pursuits, where I dedicated myself to the acquisition of the teachings of the wisdom which God has withered.
When I awoke, as it were from a deep sleep, I looked towards the wondrous light of the Gospel, saw the uselessness of the wisdom of the obsolete rulers of this age, mourned my miserable life and prayed to be given guidance to be introduced into the dogmas of true devotion. More than anything, I took care to correct my own way of life, which had become somewhat distorted from my acquaintance with unsavoury people. So when I had read the Gospel and therein encountered the teaching that the most important requirement for perfection is to sell off one’s possessions and give the proceeds to our impoverished brethren, to spare no thought for the present life, and for the soul to lack all inclination for the things of this world, I prayed to find one of the brethren who had chosen this way of life, so that I could pass the brief storm of this life on earth with him”.
And since his friend Gregory, despite their agreement, did not follow him into the desert, Basil distributed the greater part of his possessions among the poor and, in 360, set out alone to Pontos, to his family farm, on the River Iris, where his sister and mother were living the ascetic life. Here they had established two small monastic communities, one for men, the other for women.
His friend Gregory wished to learn how they spent their days there in the desert and Basil answered with his epistle number 2. He writes: “ What I myself do, day and night, in this remote spot, I am ashamed to write. I have abandoned the pastimes of the town, as the causes of myriad evils, but I have not yet been able to cast off my self”. Nevertheless, he goes on to stress that their aim was to follow in the footsteps of Christ, Who showed the way of salvation: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Matth. 16, 24). This is why Basil himself, together with his companions, attempted to apply all the things which would make them able to follow Christ. These were:
1. We must strive after a quiet mind. Just as the eye cannot ascertain an object put before it if it wanders restlessly up and down and sideways, without fixing a steady gaze upon it, so a mind distracted by a thousand worldly cares will be unable to clearly apprehend the truth… Now, one way of escaping all this is withdrawal from the world, that is, not bodily separation, but the severance of the soul’s affection for the body, and to live without city, home, goods, society, personal possessions, means of living, business dealings, or human learning, so that the heart may receive every imprint of divine teaching. To prepare of the heart involves unlearning evil doctrines.
It is smoothing the wax tablet before attempting to write on it. Now, solitude is of the greatest use for this purpose, inasmuch as it stills our passions, and gives our reason the opportunity to uproot them from the soul. For just as animals are more easily controlled when they are tamed, so lust and anger, fear and sorrow, the soul’s mortal enemies, are better brought under the control of reason, after being calmed by inaction, and where there is no continuous stimulation. What state can be more blessed than to imitate on earth the choirs of angels? To begin the day with prayer, and honour our Maker with hymns and songs? As the day brightens, to undertake our labours, praying all the while, and to season our work with hymns, as if with salt.
Soothing hymns compose the mind into a cheerful and calm state. Quietude, then, as I have said, is the first step in our sanctification. The tongue purified from the gossip of the world; the eye unexcited by beautiful colours or appealing shapes; the ear not relaxing the tone of mind through subtle songs, nor by that particular mischief, the talk of light-weight men and jokers. So the mind, saved from dissipation from the outside… falls back upon itself, and thereby ascends to the contemplation of God”.[To Be Continued]