From Fr. Stephen’s Blog, I am linking a post on the boldness of prayer. I’m copying a passage from Mar Jacob of Serugh, from the 6th century. Fr. Stephen wrote: “It is a meditation on the ‘boldness’ of prayer and its measureless worth. I trust that readers may find it an encouragement in the life-long struggle.”
I find this very encouraging. It’s ever a struggle for me to put importance in prayer and find it stimulating to read the same texts each day. Yet when I let my heart focus on the power of the words I’m praying, I know that none of it is in vain or wasted time standing before my icon shelf.
“Prayer reveals the deep things of the Divine,
by it one enters to behold the mystery of hidden things.
It is the key able to open all doors.
From it one can clearly see what is hidden,
by it the soul can approach to speak with God,
it raises up the mind so that it reaches the Majesty.
It is easy for prayer to learn the mysteries of the divinity,
for it can go in and out unhindered by the angelic powers:
no angel is as swift-winged as prayer,
nor do the seraphim fly up with it as it ascends;
it whispers its words in the ears of the Lord, without any intermediary,
it murmurs in the heart, and God hears it in his exalted place.
Where it ascends not even the Watchers have ever reached,
for it is capable of approaching the very Divinity.
The seraph hides its face fromm the divine Being with its wings,
but prayer stands there unveiled before the Majesty:
nothing at all stands in the way between it and the Lord,
for it converses with him and he hears it gladly.
The Watchers tremble and the heavenly hosts in their modesty are held back,
whereas prayer goes in and relates its affairs before God.
The cherubim are harnessed and cannot see him whom they bear,
but prayer goes up and speaks with him lovingly.
In its love prayer speedily attains the exalted place,
in its love prayer advances to be raised up above the heavenly orders.
The cherub is afraid to raise its eyes to the Majesty,
being harnessed in its modesty with the pure yoke of flame;
the ranks of fire do not approach the Hidden One,
whereas prayer has authority to speak with him.
Prayer enters closer in than they and speaks unashamed;
above the myriads of heavenly hosts does it pass in flight, unhindered by their ranks.
As though to a close relation prayer reveals its secret to the Lord of the Watchers,
asking of him what is appropriate in all sorts of activities.
Prayer does not bend down to the angels to speak with them,
for it asks God himself, and he bids the angels attend to its affairs.”
Blessed are those who manage to imitate the humble earth, which, while it is stepped on by everyone, lifts everyone with its love and nurtures them with affection like a good mother, which has also provided the material for our flesh. It accepts with joy anything we throw away, good fruits as well as dirty trash, converts them quietly into vitamins and, with its fruits, offers them back plentifully to both good and evil people, without discrimination.
Those who neglect their spiritual duties without excuse and show indifference to their minor sins will very soon be leveled like the trees that are brought down suddenly from an army of worms and not from a single axe. There is no stronger man in the world than he who fights against the murderer (the devil), mercilessly thrashing and uprooting his passions, thereby being set spiritually free from his enslavement.
“The closest thing to a definition of hell given in Scripture is not the imagery of burning gehenna, but in a statement Christ makes in the Gospel of John. “This is condemnation, that Light has come into the world, and men preferred darkness to the Light” (John 3:19). This image is, for me, far more poignant than the lake of fire and such. The weakness found in the frightening, graphic imagery of the fire, gnashing of teeth, etc., are their passive character. It is easily translated into something that is done to us. It might even imply that one would have wanted things to be different.”
“The verse in John implies just the opposite – hell (condemnation) is what it is – only because we want it so. As a priest this portrayal of condemnation has been by far the most helpful approach in dealing pastorally with people. It is not the threat of what someone (God) may do to them, but the existential reality of what you are doing to yourself – even now.”
“For some, thinking about hell as a choice sounds absurd. They reason within themselves, “Who would willingly choose hell?” I think to myself, “Plenty of people – I meet them all the time and sometimes I am one of them…”
“St. Silouan of Mt. Athos (+1938) heard from God, “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.” It ranks among the most peculiar sayings in the lives of any of the saints. For him, it meant that he was to enter into the despair and darkness of others, in prayer, but not to despair himself. He was to pray for the world as though we were responsible for the sins of all. He was, like Christ, to follow love to its complete conclusion and extend his love to the uttermost. This is the love that we see on the Cross – the love of God that reaches even to the depths of hell.”
In the book In the World of the Church, Paul Evdokimov notes:
Berdiaev [Nikolai Berdiaev, a 19th century Russian religious and political philosopher] stressed with reason that the Gospel is infinitely more severe toward wealth, exploitation, and social disorder than toward any sexual failing. The real problem of social obligation has been repressed and replaced by a veritable obsession with matters sexual, even up to our time. According to the Gospel, it is the rich who will not enter the Kingdom, while repentant prostitutes enter ahead of the righteous and their influence. ( pg. 87)