Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why We Need to Pray by St. Gregory of Nyssa

Christ the Divine Word gives us instruction on prayer. To His worthy disciples who diligently seek the knowledge of prayer, He shows how to gain the favor of God's hearing through the words of the prayer "Our Father, who art in heaven." And I will dare add to what is written. The present gathering needs to learn not only how to pray but that we must, by all means, pray. Perhaps, this has not yet been understood by many. For many in daily life have neglected and passed over this sacred and divine work of prayer. About this matter, therefore, it seems good to me to testify as strongly as possible that first of all we must, as the Apostle says, "persevere in prayer" (Rom 12:12) and thus, secondly, we must listen to the Divine Voice which defines how to offer our supplication to God.

[What is that "Divine Voice"? How often do I pray? Do I feel like I am too busy? Are other things in my life keeping me from prayer? Do I have faith that God can help me through prayer?]

For I see that in the present life everything else is busily pursued. One person fixes his soul on this matter and another on that. But the benefit of prayer is not eagerly sought after. The merchant rises early for business. He fights to show his goods to buyers and to beat his competitors. He tries to be the first to serve the customer and sell off his things. In the same spirit the buyer, too, thinks about how not to lose out on what he needs, nor to be preceded by another. He runs not to the place of prayer but to the place of trade. All are equally possessed by the desire for gain. They struggle to keep ahead of their neighbor. And so the hour of prayer, stolen away by intense cares, is given over to business.

[If I feel that I am too busy for prayer what are these "intense cares?"]

All seem to act the same way -- the craftsman, the orator, the one who files a lawsuit, as well as the one who happens to be the judge. Each devotes his whole self to what is at hand and forgets the work of prayer. He considers engagement with God a harm compared to the work before him. For whoever practices a craft thinks God's alliance is useless and unprofitable for one's current business. He therefore forsakes prayer, putting all hope in his own hands and forgetting Him who has given us hands. The orator, too, while carefully crafting his speech, does not consider Him who has given us speech. Instead, as if he had brought himself into existence, he relies wholly on himself and his pupils' studies. He thinks that nothing good will accrue to him through God's action, estimating study to be preferable to prayer.

[Do I think time with God is worth my time? What can I give up to make more time for prayer?]

In a similar way other occupations, through care for material and earthly things, cut off the soul's engagement with what is better and heavenly. It is for this reason that life is engulfed by sin, entangling all human affairs and forever increasing in dimension. And that because forgetfulness of God prevails over all things. People do not connect the benefit of prayer to their pursuits. Greed enters into business. Yet "greed is idolatry" (Col 3:5).

[What kind of sin do I observe in my daily life? What role do I pay in it? How well do I know my own sinfulness? How do I experience greed?]

Accordingly, the farmer does not measure tilling the land by his essential needs. He gives wide entrance to sin in his occupation by always extending his efforts to achieve more and by spreading out to what belongs to others. From this cause disputes arise that are difficult to resolve. Those who are possessed by the same sickness, namely greed, conflict with one another over boundary lines. This is the source of tempers, evil impulses, and violent acts against one another that end up many times in bloodshed and murder.

[What kind of disputes to I find myself in? What causes them? ]

In the same way disputes in the courts, finding a myriad of ways to promote injustice, serve the manifold wiles of sin. The judge either tips the scales of justice willingly for a gift, or ratifies injustice involuntarily by being deceived through the subtleties of those who distort the truth. But of what value is it for us to detail each instance through which sin is mixed with human life in complex and diverse ways? For the cause of sin is none other than that people do not engage God's compassionate help with their burning concerns.

[Is it possible that a better relationship with God could help me deal with the nature of the world I must interact with?]

However, if prayer precedes labors, sin will not find entrance into the soul. When the remembrance of God is established in the heart, the wiles of the adversary remain futile. And everywhere in disputed matters justice acts as mediator. Prayer keeps the farmer from sin, bringing about ample crop to a small plot, so that sin will no longer find entrance together with the desire for more. So also in the case of the traveler, or one sent to perform some service or arrange a marriage.

It is the same with everyone who intends to do something: if he does everything with prayer, he will be prevented from committing sin. Nothing contrary will drag the soul down into passion and the undertaking will be successful. But if one gives oneself wholly to one's affairs, he distances himself from God. Then, necessarily, one who departs from God must in all ways come under the influence of the adversary. One who does not unite himself with God through prayer is separated from God. Therefore, it is necessary first to learn from the word of Scripture that we "must always pray and not lose heart" (Lk 18:1). For unity with God occurs through prayer. Whoever is united with God is separated from the adversary.

[Saint Gregory is trying to tell us that prayer is essential for a virtuous life. Without prayer we find ourselves separated from God - sometimes angry, sometimes despondent, and often unfulfilled. It is through prayer that we can find the peace we seek (not less difficulties) as we go about our daily task. Prayer is the way we find unity with God he says. As Orthodox Christians this is our aim, theosis.
For help on prayer visit our website on prayer and see your spiritual father for guidance.]

Trans. Theodore G. Stylianopoulos, 2003


  1. Could you please indicate the source of this text? Thank you.

    Gheorghe F.

  2. It was published by GOAA Dept of Education.


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