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Origen on Prayer
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CHAPTER XX

FORMALITIES OF PRAYER: CONCLUSION

I think it not out of place to add, by way of completing my task in reference to prayer, a somewhat elementary discussion of such matters as the disposition and the posture that is right for one who prays, the place where one ought to pray, the direction towards which one ought except in any special circumstances to look, and the time suitable and marked out for prayer.

The seat of disposition is to be found in the soul, that of the posture in the body. Thus Paul, as we observed above, suggests the disposition in speaking of the duty of praying without anger and disputation and the posture in the words lifting up holy hands, which he seems to me to have taken from the Psalms where it stands thus—the lifting up of my hands as evening sacrifice; as to the place I desire therefore that men pray in every place, and as to the direction in the Wisdom of Solomon: that it might be known that it is right to go before the sun to give thanks to you and to intercede with you towards the dawn of light.

Accordingly it seems to me that one who is about to enter upon prayer ought first to have paused awhile and prepared himself to engage in prayer throughout more earnestly and intently, to have cast aside every distraction and confusion of thought, to have bethought him to the best of his ability of the greatness of Him whom he is approaching and of the impiety of approaching Him frivolously and carelessly and, as it were, in contempt, and to have put away everything alien.

He ought thus to enter upon prayer with his soul, as it were, extended before his hands, and his mind intent on God before his eyes, and his intellect raised from earth and set toward the Lord of All before his body stands. Let him put away all resentment against any real or imagined injurer in proportion to his desire for God not to bear resentment against himself in turn for his injuries and sins against many of his neighbors or any wrong deeds whatsoever upon his conscience.

Of all the innumerable dispositions of the body that, accompanied by outstretching of the hands and upraising of the eyes, standing is preferred—inasmuch as one thereby wears in the body also the image of the devotional characteristics that become the soul. I say that these things ought to be observed by preference except in any special circumstances, for in special circumstances, by reason of some serious foot disease one may upon occasion quite properly pray sitting, or by reason of fevers or similar illnesses, lying, and indeed owing to circumstances, if, let us say, we are on a voyage or if our business does not permit us to retire to pay our debt of prayer, we may pray without any outward sign of doing so.

Moreover, one must know that kneeling is necessary when he is about to arraign his personal sins against God with supplication for their healing and forgiveness, because it is a symbol of submission and subjection. For Paul says; For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father from whom is all fatherhood named in heaven and on earth. It may be termed spiritual kneeling, because of the submission and self-humiliation of every being to God in the name of Jesus, that the apostle appears to indicate in the words: that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth.

It should not be supposed that beings in heaven have bodies so fashioned as actually to possess knees, since their bodies have been described possibly as spherical in form by those who have discussed these matters more minutely. He who refuses to admit this will also, unless he outrages reason, admit the uses of each of the members in order that nothing fashioned for them by God may be in vain. One falls into error on either hand, whether he shall assert that bodily members have been brought into being by God for them in vain and not for their proper work, or shall say that the internal organs, the intestine included, perform their proper uses even in heavenly beings. Exceedingly foolish will it be to think that it is only their surface, as with statues, that is human in form and nothing further underneath.

This much discussion will suffice, then, of kneeling and of seeing that: in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth. To the same effect, it is written by the prophet: To me every knee shall bow. In regard to place, it should be known that every place is rendered fit for prayer by one who prays rightly, for in every place sacrifice is offered to me . . . says the Lord, and I desire therefore that men pray in every place.

But to secure the performance of one’s prayers in peace without distraction, the rule is for every man to make choice, if possible, of what I may term the most solemn spot in his house before he prays, considering in addition to his general examination of it, whether any violation of law or right has not been done in the place in which he is praying, so as to have made not only himself but also the place of his personal prayer of such a nature that the regard of God has fled from it.

And in reference to this matter of place, lengthy consideration leads me to say what may seem to be harsh, but what, if one inquires into it carefully, may possibly not invite contempt, namely that it is a question whether it is reverent and pure to intercede with God in the place of that union which is not unlawful but is conceded by the Apostle’s word by way of indulgence not injunction. For if it is not possible to give oneself to prayer as one ought without devoting oneself to it by agreement for a season, the matter of the place also may possibly deserve to be considered if possible.

Yet there is a certain helpful charm in a place of prayer being the spot in which believers meet together. Also it may well be that the assemblies of believers also are attended by angelic powers, by the powers of our Lord and Savior himself, and indeed by the spirits of saints, including those already fallen asleep, certainly of those still in life, though just how is not easy to say. In reference to angels we may reason thus: If an angel of the Lord shall encamp round about those that fear Him and shall deliver them, and if Jacob’s words are true, not only of himself but to all who have devoted themselves to God, when we understand him to say the angel who delivers me from all evil . . . it is natural to infer that, when a number of men are genuinely met for Christ’s glory, that angel of each man—who is round about each of those that fear—will encamp with the man with whose guardianship and stewardship he has been entrusted, so that when saints assemble together there is a twofold church, the one of men the other of angels.

And although it is only the prayer of Tobit, and after him of Sarah who later became his daughter-in-law owing to her marriage to Tobias, that Raphael says he has offered up as a memorial, what happens when several are linked in one mind and conviction and are formed into one body in Christ? In reference to the presence of the power of the Lord with the church Paul says: you being gathered together with my spirit and with the power of the Lord Jesus, implying that the Lord Jesus’ power is not only with the Ephesians but also with the Corinthians.

And if Paul, while still wearing the body, believed that he assisted in Corinth with his spirit, we need not abandon the belief that the blessed departed in spirit also, perhaps more than one who is in the body, make their way likewise into the churches. For that reason we ought not to despise prayer in churches, recognizing that it possesses a special virtue for him who genuinely joins in.

And just as Jesus’ power and the spirit of Paul and similar men, and the angels of the Lord who encamp round about each of the saints, are associated and join with those who genuinely assemble themselves together, so we may conjecture that if any man be unworthy of a holy angel and give himself up through sin and transgressions in contempt of God to a devil’s angel, he will perhaps, in the event of those like him being few, not long escape that providence of those angels which oversee the church by the authority of the divine will and will bring the misdeeds of such persons to general knowledge; whereas if such persons become numerous and meet as mere human societies with business of the more material sort, they will not be overseen.

That is shown in Isaiah when the Lord says: neither if you shall come to appear before me; for I will turn away my eyes from you, and even if you multiply your supplication I will not pay attention.

For in place of the already mentioned twofold company of saintly men and blessed angels there may, on the other hand, be a twofold association of impious men and evil angels. Of such a congregation it might be said alike by holy angels and by pious men: I sat not down with the council of vanity, and with transgressors I will not enter in; I hated the church of evildoers and with the impious I will not sit down. I think that it was also for such a reason that the people in Jerusalem and the whole of Judea, having come to be in a state of great sinfulness, became subject to their enemies through the abandonment by God and the overshielding angels and the saving work of saintly men—having become people who have abandoned the Law.

For whole gatherings are at times thus abandoned to fall into temptation in order that even that which they seem to have may be taken away from them. Like the fig tree that was cursed and taken away from the roots because it had not given fruit to the hungering Jesus, they wither and lose any little amount they once had of lively power according to faith.

So much for what seem to me to have been necessary observations in considering the place of prayer and in setting forth its special virtue in respect to place in the case of the meetings of saintly men who come together reverently in churches. A few words may now be added in reference to the direction in which one ought to look in prayer. Of the four directions, the North, South, East, and West, who would not at once admit that the East clearly indicates the duty of praying with the face turned towards it with the symbolic suggestion that the soul is looking upon the dawn of the true light?

Should anyone, however, prefer to direct his intercessions according to the aperture of the house, whichever way the doors of the house may face, saying that the sight of heaven appeals to one with a certain attraction greater than the view of the wall, and the eastward part of the house having no opening, we may say to him that since it is by human arrangement that houses are open in this or that direction but by nature that the East is preferred to all the other directions, the natural is to be set before the artificial. Besides, on that view why should one who wished to pray when in the open country pray to the East in preference to the West? If, in the one case it is reasonable to prefer the East, why should the same not be done in every case? Enough on that subject.

I have still to treat the topics of prayer, and therewith I purpose to bring this treatise to an end. Four topics which I have found scattered throughout the Scriptures appear to me to deserve mention, and according to these everyone should organize their prayer. The topics are as follows: In the beginning and opening of prayer, glory is to be ascribed according to one’s ability to God, through Christ who is to be glorified with Him, and in the Holy Spirit who is to be proclaimed with Him.

Thereafter, one should put thanksgivings: common thanksgivings—into which he introduces benefits conferred upon men in general—and thanksgivings for things which he has personally received from God. After thanksgiving it appears to me that one ought to become a powerful accuser of one’s own sins before God and ask first for healing with a view to being released from the habit which brings on sin, and secondly for forgiveness for past actions. After confession it appears to me that one ought to append as a fourth element the asking for the great and heavenly things, both personal and general, on behalf of one’s nearest and dearest. And last of all, one should bring prayer to an end ascribing glory to God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. As I already said, I have found these points scattered throughout the scriptures.

The element of glorious ascription occurs in these words in the one hundred and third psalm:—O Lord, my God, how exceedingly you are magnified. You have put on praise and majesty, who are He that wraps himself in light as in a mantel, who stretches out the heaven like a curtain, who roofs His upper chambers with waters, who makes clouds His chariot, who walks on wings of winds, who makes winds His angels and flaming fire His ministers, who lays the foundations of the earth for its safety—it shall not swerve for ever and ever; the deep is a mantle of His vestment; on the mountains shall waters stand; from your rebuke shall they flee; from the sound of your thunder shall they shrink in fear.

Indeed most of the psalm contains ascription of glory to the Father. But anyone may select numerous passages for himself and see how broadly the element of glorious ascription is scattered. Of thanksgiving, this may be set forth as an example. It is found in the second book of Kings, and is uttered by David, after promises made through Nathan to David, in astonishment at the bounties of God and in thanksgiving for them. It runs: Who am I, O Lord my Lord, and what is my house, that you have loved me to this extent? I am exceeding small in your sight, my Lord, and yet you have spoken on behalf of the house of your servant for a long time to come. Such is the way of man, O Lord my Lord, and what shall David go on to say more to you? Even now you know your servant, O Lord. For your servant have you wrought and according to your heart have you wrought all this greatness to make it known to your servant that he should magnify you, O Lord my Lord.

Of confessions we have an example in: From all my transgressions deliver me. And elsewhere: My wounds have stunk and been corrupt because of my folly. I have been wretched and bowed down utterly; all the day have I gone with sullen face. Of petitions we have an example in the twenty-seventh psalm: Draw me not away with sinners, and destroy me not with workers of unrighteousness, and the like. And it is right as one began with ascription of glory, to bring one’s prayers to an end in ascription of glory, singing and glorifying the Father of all through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit—to whom be glory unto eternity.

Thus, Ambrosius and Tatiana, studious and genuine brethren in piety, according to my ability I have struggled through my treatment of the subject of prayer and of the prayer in the Gospels together with its preface in Matthew. But if you press on to the things in front and forget those behind and pray for me in my undertaking, I do not despair of being enabled to receive from God the Giver a fuller and more divine capacity for all these matters, and with it to discuss the same subject again in a nobler, loftier, and clearer way. Meanwhile, however, you will peruse this with indulgence.

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