St. John Climacus On Prayer. Part 1

Step 28: On Prayer by St. John Climacus from: THE LADDER OF DIVINE ASCENT . Part I

Step 28

On holy and blessed prayer, the mother of virtues, and on the attitude of mind and body in prayer

Part 1

1. Prayer, by reason of its nature, is the converse and union of man with God, and by reason of its action upholds the world and brings about reconciliation with God; it is the mother and also the daughter of tears, the propitiation for sins, a bridge over temptations, a wall against afflictions, a crushing of conflicts, a work of angels, the food of all the bodiless spirits, future gladness, unending activity, a source of virtues, a means of obtaining graces, invisible progress, food of the soul, enlightenment of the mind, an axe against despair, a demonstration of hope, a cure for sorrow, the wealth of monks, the treasure of hesychasts, the reduction of anger, the mirror of progress, the disclosure of stature, an indication of one's condition, a revelation of future things, and a sign of glory. For him who truly prays, prayer is the court, the judgment hall and the tribunal of the Lord before the judgment to come.

2. Let us rise and listen to what that holy queen of the virtues cries with a loud voice and says to us: Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and ye shall find rest for your souls and healing for your wounds. For my yoke is easy1 and is a sovereign remedy for great sins.

3. If we wish to stand before our King and God and converse with Him, we must not rush into this without preparation, lest, seeing us from afar without weapons and clothing suitable for those who stand before the King, He should order His servants and slaves to seize us and banish us from His presence and tear up our petitions and throw them in our face.

4. When you are going to stand before the Lord, let the garment of your soul be woven throughout with the thread of obliviousness to wrongs. Otherwise, prayer will bring you no benefit.

5. Let your prayer be completely simple. For both the publican and the prodigal son were reconciled to God by a single phrase.

6. The work of prayer is one and the same for all, but there are many kinds of prayer and many different prayers. Some converse with God as with a friend and master, interceding with praise and petition, not for themselves but for others. Some strive for greater [spiritual] riches and glory and for confidence in prayer. Others ask for complete deliverance from their adversary. Some beg to receive some kind of rank; others for complete forgiveness of debts. Some ask to be released from prison; others for remission from offences.

7. Before all else, let us list sincere thanksgiving first on the scroll of our prayer. On the second line, we should put confession and heartfelt contrition of soul. Then let us present our petition to the King of all. This is the best way of prayer, as it was shown to one of the brethren by an angel of the Lord.

8. If you have ever been under trial before an earthly judge, You will not need any other pattern for your attitude in prayer. But if you have never stood before a judge yourself and have not seen others being cross-questioned, then learn at least from the way the sick implore the surgeons when they are about to be operated on or cauterized.

9. Do not be over-sophisticated in the words you use when praying, because the simple and unadorned lisping of children has often won the heart of their Heavenly Father.

10. Do not try to be verbose when you pray, lest your mind be distracted in searching for words. One word of the publican propitiated God, and one cry of faith saved the thief. Loquacity in prayer often distracts the mind and leads to phantasy, whereas brevity1 makes for concentration.

11. If you feel sweetness or compunction at some word of your prayer, dwell on it; for then our guardian angel is praying with us.

12. Do not be bold, even though you may have attained purity; but rather approach with great humility, and you will receive still more boldness.

13. Though you may have climbed the whole ladder of the virtues, pray for forgiveness of sins. Listen to the cry of Paul regarding sinners: Of whom I am chief.3

14. Oil and salt are seasonings for food; and tears and chastity give wings to prayer.

15. If you are clothed in all meekness and freedom from anger, you will not have much trouble in loosing your mind from captivity.

16. Until we have acquired genuine prayer, we are like people teaching children to begin to walk.

17. Try to lift up, or rather, to enclose your thought within the words of your prayer, and if in its infant state it wearies and falls, lift it up again. Instability is natural to the mind, but God is powerful to establish all things. If you persevere indefatigably in this labour, He who sets the bounds to the sea of the mind will visit you too, and during your prayer will say to the waves: Thus far shall ye come and no further.4 Spirit cannot be bound; but where the Creator of the spirit is, everything obeys.

18. If you have ever seen the Sun5 as you ought, you will also be able to converse with Him fitly. But if not, how can you truly hold converse with what you have not seen?

19. The beginning of prayer consists in banishing by a single thought6 the thoughts that assault us at the very moment that they appear; the middle stage consists in confining our minds to what is being said and thought; and its perfection is rapture in the Lord.

20. One kind of joy occurs at the time of prayer for those living in a community, and another comes to those who pray in stillness. The one is perhaps somewhat elated, but the other is wholly filled with humility.

21. If you constantly train your mind never to wander, then it will be near you during meals too. But if it wanders unrestrained, then it will never stay beside you. A great practises of high and perfect prayer says: 'A had rather speak five words with my understanding,'7 and so on. But such prayer is foreign to infant souls. Therefore, imperfect as we are, we need not only quality but a considerable time for our prayer, because the latter paves the way for the former. For it is said: 'Giving pure prayer to him who prays8 resolutely, though it be soiled, yet performed with labour.'

22. Soiled prayer is one thing, its disappearance is another, robbery another, and blemish another. Prayer is soiled when we stand before God and picture to ourselves irrelevant and inopportune thoughts. Prayer is lost when we are captured by useless cares. Prayer is stolen from us when our thoughts wander before we realize it. Prayer is blemished by any kind of attack or interruption that comes to us at the time of prayer.

23. If we are not alone at the time of prayer, then let us imprint within ourselves the character of one who prays. But if the ministers of praise are not with us, we may make even our outward attitude conform to a state of prayer. For in the case of the imperfect, the mind often conforms to the body.

24. For everyone, and especially for those who have come to the King in order to receive remission of their debt, unutterable contrition is necessary. As long as we are still in prison, let us listen to Him who speaks to Peter:9 Put on the garment of obedience, cast off your own wishes and, stripped of them, approach the Lord in your prayer, invoking His will alone. Then You will receive God, Who guides the helm of your soul and pilots you safely.

25. Rise from love of the world and love of pleasure, la aside cares, strip your mind, renounce your body; because prayer is nothing other than estrangement from the world, visible and d invisible. For what have I in heaven? Nothing. And what have I desired on earth beside Thee? Nothing, but to cling continually to Thee in prayer without distraction. To some, wealth is pleasant; to others, glory; to others, possessions; but my wish is to cling to God, and to put the hope10 of my dispassion in Him.

26. Faith gives wings to prayer, and without it we cannot fly up to Heaven.

27. We who are passionate must constantly pray to the Lord. For all the dispassionate have progressed from passion to dispassion.

28. Though the judge did not fear God, yet because a soul, widowed from Him through sin and a fall, troubles Him, He will avenge her of her adversary, the body, and of the spirits who make war upon her.11 Our good Redeemer attracts to His love those who are grateful by the quick satisfaction of their petitions. But He makes ungrateful souls remain in prayer before Him for a long time, in hunger and thirst for their petition; for an ill-conditioned cur, when once it gets its bread, makes off with it and leaves the giver.

29. Do not say, after spending a long time at prayer, that nothing has been gained; for you have already gained something. And what higher good is there than to cling to the Lord and persevere in unceasing union with Him?

30. A convict does not fear his sentence of punishment so much as a fervent man of prayer fears this duty of prayer. So if he is wise and shrewd, by remembering this he can avoid every reproach, anger, worry, and interruption, affliction, satiety, temptation, and distracting thought.

31. Prepare yourself for your set times of prayer by unceasing prayer in your soul, and you will soon make progress. I have seen those who shone in obedience and who tried, as far as they could, to keep in mind the remembrance of God, and the moment they stood in prayer they were at once masters of their minds, and shed streams of tears, because they were prepared for this beforehand by holy obedience.

32. Psalmody in a crowded congregation is accompanied by captivity and wandering of the thoughts; but in solitude, this does not happen. However, those in solitude are liable to be assailed by despondency, whereas in congregation the brethren help each other by their zeal.

1 Cf. St. Matthew xi, 28-30.
2 Gk. μονολογία, repetition of a single word or sentence.
3 1 Timothy i, 15.
4 Cf. Job xxxviii, 11.
5 I.e. the Sun of Righteousness.
6 Gk. μονολογίστως.This may mean by single words of prayer.
7 I Corinthians xiv, 19; the passage continues, 'than ten thousand Words in a tongue'.
8 Cf. I Kings ii, 9 (the Septuagint differs from the A.V. and R.V. here).
9 Vid. Acts xii, 8.
10 Cf. Psalm lxxii, 26-28.
11 Vid. St. Luke xviii, 1-7.

from: THE LADDER OF DIVINE ASCENT by St. John Climacus HOLY TRANSFIGURATION MONASTERY, Boston Massachusetts, 1991, pp. 212-220.