Joanna's selections from Reader Daniel's emailings.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
"On the Necessity of Constant Prayer for all Christians in General", by St. Gregory Palamas
Sent: Sunday, November 27, 2016 1:58 PM
Subject: From The Life of St. Gregory Palamas
On the Necessity of Constant Prayer for all Christians in General
From The Life of St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, the Wonderworker by St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain
(Translation by St Gregory Palamas Monastery, Hayesville, Ohio.)
Let no one think, my Christian Brethren, that only
persons in holy orders, or monks, are obliged to pray unceasingly and at
all times, but not laymen. No, no! It is the duty of all us Christians
to remain always in prayer. For see what His
Beatitude the patriarch of Constantinople, Philotheus, writes in the
life of St. Gregory of Salonica. That saint had a beloved friend, Job by
name, a most simple man, but extremely virtuous. Once, talking with
him, the prelate said of prayer that every Christian
in general ought always to labor in prayer, and to pray unceasingly, as
is commanded by the Apostle Paul to all Christians in general: Pray without ceasing (I Thes. 5:17); and as the Prophet David says
of himself, regardless of his being a king and having the care of all his kingdom: I behold the Lord always before me (Ps.
15:8), meaning I always mentally see the Lord before me in my prayer.
the Theologian teaches all Christians and tells them that we should more
often remember the name of God in prayer than inhale air.
Saying this and much else to his friend Job, the holy prelate added that
in obedience to the commands of the saints, we not only should always
pray ourselves, but we should teach all others to do the same, all
people in general: monks and laymen, the wise and
the simple, men, women, and children, and induce them to pray
Hearing this, it seemed to the elder Job a new stunt and he began to
argue, saying to the saint that to pray unceasingly was only fit for
ascetics and monks living outside the world and its vanities, but not
for lay people who have so many cares and so much
work. The saint brought in new testimonies in confirmation of that truth
and new irrefutable proofs of it, but the elder Job was not convinced
by them. Then St. Gregory, avoiding useless words and love of argument,
was silent, and after that each went to his
Later on, as Job was praying in his cell, there appeared to him an Angel sent from God, who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (Tim.
2:4), and rebuking him for having
contradicted St. Gregory and opposed an obvious fact on which the
salvation of Christians depends, he admonished him in the name of God to
attend to himself in future and beware of saying to anyone anything in
disparagement of that soul-saving work, thus opposing
himself to the will of God, and that even in his mind he ought not to
harbor a thought contrary to this and should not allow himself to think
otherwise than St. Gregory had told him. Then the most simple elder Job
at once hastened to St. Gregory and, falling
at his feet, asked his forgiveness for contradicting him and for his
love of dispute, and disclosed to him everything that had been said to
him by the Angel of God.
Do you see, my brethren, that it is the duty of all Christians, small and great, always to practice the mental prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me! so
that their mind and heart may acquire the habit
of always uttering those holy words. Let this convince you how pleasing
this is to God and what great good derives from it, since He, out of His
infinite love for men, sent a heavenly Angel to tell us this, so that
no one should have any doubt about it.
But what do laymen say? "We are burdened by worldly matters and cares; how is it possible for us to pray unceasingly?"
I reply to them that God has not commanded anything impossible for us,
but only such things as we can do. Therefore, this can also be
accomplished by everyone seeking the salvation of his soul. For if it
were impossible it would be impossible for all lay people
in general, then we should not find such a large number of persons who
have achieved in the world this work of unceasing prayer duly. One of
the representatives of a whole line of such people is the father of St.
Gregory of Salonica, that amazing Constantine
who, although he was leading a court-life, was called the father and
teacher of the emperor Andronicus, and daily was occupied with state
affairs, besides his household duties, having a large fortune and a
troop of slaves, as well as a wife and children, nevertheless
was constantly with God and so attached to unceasing mental prayer that
he often forgot that the emperor or the courtiers were talking to him
about imperial affairs and frequently asked about one and the same thing
twice or even more. This disturbed the other
courtiers who, not knowing the cause of it, rebuked him for forgetting a
matter so quickly and worrying the emperor by his repeated questions.
But the emperor, knowing the cause of it, defended him and said:
"Constantine has his own thoughts which sometimes
prevent him from paying full attention to our affairs."
There was also a great multitude of similar persons who, living in the
world, were wholly devoted to mental prayer, as is testified in the
historical records of them. Therefore, my Christian brethren, with St.
Chrysostom I implore you for the sake of the salvation
of your souls, do not neglect the work of such prayer. Imitate those of
whom I have told you and follow them as far as possible. At first it may
seem very difficult to you, but be assured, as from the face of
Almighty God, that the very name of our Lord Jesus
Christ, constantly invoked by you, will help you to overcome all
difficulties and in course of time you will get accustomed to this work
and will taste how sweet the name of the Lord is. Then you will know
from experience that this work is not only not impossible
and not difficult, but on the contrary, both possible and easy. That is
why St. Paul, knowing better than we the great blessing that prayer
brings to us, commanded us to pray unceasingly. He would not have bound
us by such an obligation if it had been extremely
difficult and impossible, knowing beforehand that in that case, by not
being able to perform it, we should inevitably prove disobedient to him
and transgressors of his commandment, and should thereby deserve
condemnation and punishment. And this could not
have been the intention of the apostle.
Besides, take also into consideration the means of prayer, how it is
possible to pray unceasingly, namely by praying with the mind. and this
we can always do if we want to. For even when we are sitting at some
manual work, or what we walk, or take food, or
drink, we can always pray with the mind and perform mental prayer,
pleasing to God, true prayer. Let us work with our body and pray with
our soul. Let our outward man perform his bodily labors and our inward
man be consecrated to the service of God, and never
slack up in that spiritual work of mental prayer, as the God-man Jesus
also commands us, saying in the Holy Gospel: But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to
thy Father, which is in secret (Matt. 6:19). The closet of our
soul is our body; our doors are our five senses. The soul enters into
its closet when the mind does not wander to and fro among worldly
matters and things, but remains within our heart.
Our senses are closed and remain so when we do not allow them to cling
to outward sensible things, and in this way our mind remains free from
every worldly attachment and through secret mental prayer is united with
God our Father.
And thy Father who seeth in secret shall reward tayer and
rewards by manifest and great gifts. For that prayer too is a true
and perfect prayer which fills the soul with divine grace and spiritual
gifts, like myrrh which, the more tightly you stop the vessel, the more
fragrant it makes that vessel. so too with prayer: the more closely you
confine it within your heart, the more it
abounds in Divine grace.
Blessed are those who practice that heavenly labor, for through it they
conquer every temptation of the wicked demons as David conquered proud
Goliath. By it are quenched the inordinate desires of the flesh, as the
three youths quenched the flame of the furnace.
By this work of mental prayer the passions are tamed, as Daniel tamed
the wild beasts. By it, the dew of the Holy Spirit is drawn down into
your heart, as Elias drew down rain on Mount Carmel. This mental prayer
ascends to the very throne of God and is preserved
in gold phials and, like a censer, wafts its fragrance before the Lord,
as St. John the Theologian saw in Revelation: Four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps and golden
vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints (Rev. 5:8).
This mental prayer is a light enlightening the soul of man and inflaming
his heart with the fire of love for God. It is a chain uniting God to
man, and man to God. O, incomparable grace
of mental prayer! It puts man into the position of a constant converser
with God. O, truly wonderful and most wonderful work! Bodily you have
dealings with men and mentally you converse with God.
The Angels have no sensible voice, but mentally they offer constant
adoration to God. In this consists all their activity and to this their
whole life is consecrated. So too you, brother, when you enter into your
closet and shut the door, i.e. when your mind
does not wander hither and thither, but enters into your heart, and your
senses are confined and isolated from the things of this world, and
thus you always pray, then you are like the holy Angles, and your
Father, seeing your secret prayer, which you offer
Him in the recess of your heart, will reward you openly with great
And what more do you wish when, as I said, you are mentally always
before the face of God and constantly converse with Him — converse with
God, without whom no man can be blessed, either here or in the other
And finally, my brother, whoever you may be, after taking this book in
your hands and reading it through, if you wish to experience effectually
the benefit which the soul derives from mental prayer, I pray you
warmly not to forget when you begin to perform
that prayer, by a single outcry: Lord, have mercy! to offer to God a
petition for the sinful soul of him who worked a little on the
composition of this book and of him who paid for the printing and
publishing, for they are in great need of your prayer, so
that they may obtain the mercy of God for their souls, as you for yours.