Saint Gregory of Nyssa – On Prayer (1)

 1. Introduction: The need for Prayer

ImageTeaching 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.

[Translated from the original Greek by Marina M. Robb]  Read part two


[1] 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.

[2] Rom. 12: 11

[3]  Col. 3:5

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