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Origen on Prayer
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CHAPTER XI

THE OBJECTS OF PRAYER

Everyone who asks for the earthly and little things from God disregards Him who has enjoined the asking of heavenly and great things. God is incapable of bestowing anything either earthly or little. Should anyone suggest instances to the contrary in which the material things bestowed upon the saints in the past as a result of prayer, and indeed the express language of the Gospel when it teaches that the earthly and the little are to be added unto us, we may reply to him as follows.

When someone bestows upon us a particular material object, we should not say that the person has bestowed upon us the shadow of the object, for it is unintentional to present two things, object and shadow. The giver’s intention is to give a material object; our receipt of its shadow is a consequence of the gift. In like manner if, with mind grown nobler, we have discerned the gifts that are principally given to us by God, we shall most properly describe as consequences of the great and heavenly spiritual gifts of grace the material things which are given to each of the saints for his good or in proportion to his faith or according as the Giver wills, and wisely does He will, even though we are unable to describe a cause and reason worthy of the Giver for each of His gifts.

Greater fruit had been borne by Hannah’s soul in being turned from sterility than was her body in conceiving Samuel. Diviner had been the offspring begotten by Hezekiah’s mind than that which was begotten of the material seed of his body. Higher had been the deliverances of Esther and Morecai and the people from spiritual plots than was that from Haman and his conspirators. Mightier was the prince that sought to ruin her soul, whose power Judith had cut through than he whom she met in Holophermes.

Who would not acknowledge that in the spiritual blessing which comes home to all the saints and which Isaac spoke of to Jacob, “God give you of the rain of heaven,” a higher rain had fallen to Ananiah and those with him than the material rain that overcame Nebuchadnezzar’s flame? Greater had been the muzzling of the unseen lions by the prophet Daniel so that they were unable to work anything against his soul, than that of the visible lions to which all of us who read the passage have understood it to refer.

And who as a saint, becoming a fit recipient of the holy spirit, had ever, like Jonah, escaped the belly of a monster that swallowed every fugitive from God and which has been defeated by Jesus our Savior? It need not cause surprise if, to keep the metaphor, the corresponding shadow is not given to all who receive objects capable of making shadows, while to some a shadow is what is given. Students of questions relating to sundials and of the relation of shadows to the illuminating body clearly observe what is the case with bodies generally, that at a particular time some projectors are shadowless, others are short shadowed, others are more or less long-shadowed.

It is therefore not astonishing that, as the Giver’s plan is to bestow the principal things in accordance with certain unutterable and mystic guiding principles and suitable to the recipients and occasions, when the principal objects are being given there should sometimes go with them no shadows at all for the recipients. At other times shadows are but few; at other times shadows which are smaller in comparison accompany different objects.

As the presence or absence of the shadow of bodies neither pleases nor pains the man whose object of search is solar beams, he possesses his chief necessity in being illumined or freed from shadow or in having more or less of shadow as the case may be. If the spiritual things are ours, and we are being illumined by God for complete possession of true blessings, we shall not quibble over a matter so paltry as concerns the shadow.

For material and physical things count as fleeting feeble shadow, in no way comparable to the saving holy gifts of the God of All. What comparison is there between material riches and the riches that are in every word and all wisdom? Who in his senses would compare health of flesh and bone with health of mind, strength of soul, and consistency of thought—things which, if kept in measure by God’s word, make bodily sufferings a paltry scratch, and even slighter if we can grasp it.

He that has discerned the meaning of the beauty of the bride whom the bridegroom Word of God loves, a soul blooming with more than heavenly and more than mundane beauty, will be ashamed to dignify with the same name of beauty the physical beauty of woman or child or man. For of beauty in the strict sense flesh is not capable, being deformity throughout. For all flesh is as grass, and the glory thereof, which is manifest in the so called beauty of women and children, is according to the prophet’s language compared to a flower, “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.”

Again, who that has perceived the nobility of the sons of God shall any longer give the name of nobility to what passes as such among men? After contemplating Christ’s kingship over kings, how shall the mind not dispel all kingship upon earth? When the human mind, so far as capable while still bound to a body, has once beheld as clearly as may be an army of angels, and among them chief-commanders of the Lord’s hosts, and archangels and thrones and lordships and principalities and more than heavenly authorities, and has come to understand that it can obtain from the Father their equivalent, how shall it not despise those things which though frailer than shadow are the admiration of the foolish, even if they should all be given to it, as most shadowy and in comparison insignificant, and look beyond in order not to fall short of obtaining the true principalities and diviner authorities?

We should therefore pray for the principal and truly great and heavenly things, and as for those concerned with the shadows accompanying the principal, commit them to the God who knows before we ask Him what things, by reason if our perishable body, we have need.

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