1. Dearly Beloved, each word and deed of Our Saviour Jesus Christ is
for us a lesson in virtue and piety. For this end also did He assume
our nature, so that every man and every woman, contemplating as in a picture
the practice of all virtue and piety, might strive with all their hearts to
imitate His example. For this He bore our body, so that as far as we
could we might repeat within us the manner of His Life. And so
therefore, when you hear mention of some word or deed of His, take care not
to receive it simply as something that incidentally happened, but raise your
mind upwards towards the sublimity of what He
is teaching, and strive to see what has been mystically handed down to
Martha did indeed welcome the Lord; but Mary sat at His feet.
In each sister was an earnest good will. Yet note what each does.
Martha served Him by preparing what would be needed for the refreshment
of His Body; Mary, seated at His feet, listened to His words. The
one ministered to the visible man; the other bowed down before the Invisible.
And the Lord Who was there as both God and Man was pleased with the good
dispositions of both women.
But Martha, busy with her task, cried out to the Lord to speak for her
to her sister, that she should come and help her. Speak to her
therefore, she says, that she may get up and help me. But the
Lord said to her: Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled
about many things. But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen
the best part, which shall not be taken away from her (Lk. x. 38-42).
We have not come here for this purpose, to sit at ease at the table, to
fill our stomachs. We are here to nourish you, with the word of truth,
and by the contemplation of heavenly mysteries. Yet though He did
not turn the one away from her task, He praised the other because of that
to which she had devoted herself.
Here we see the two states placed before us by means of the two women;
the lower, choosing to serve Him in corporeal ministrations which also
is most profitable, and that which, ascending to the contemplation of the
sacred mysteries, is the more spiritual. Take these things spiritually,
you who listen, and choose that which you wish. And should you choose
the way of service, render your service in the Name of Christ. For
He said: As long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you
did it unto me (Mt. xxv. 40). And so whether you receive the
stranger, or feed the poor, or comfort the afflicted, or give help to those
who are in need and in pain, or take care of the sick Christ receives your
service as bestowed on Him. But should you choose to imitate Mary,
who, putting aside the service of bodily need, ascended to the contemplation
of the divine glories, seek truly to do this. Leave the body, leave
the tilling of the earth, and the preparation of what is eaten with bread.
Sit at the feet of the Lord, and give your mind to His words, that you
may become a sharer of the mysteries of the divine nature which Christ
reveals. For to contemplate that which Christ teaches is a work above
the service of corporal need.
2. You have then, Beloved, received both divine teaching and an example
of life. Strive for whichever you will, and be either a servant of
the needy of this world, or a zealous lover of the words of Christ.
And if it be that you strive after both, then from both gather the fruit
of salvation. But the spiritual motive is the first, all the rest
come second; For Mary, He says, has chosen the better part. If then
you would enter in to the mysteries of Christ, let you sit by His feet,
and receive His Gospel, and abandoning your way of life let you live apart
from men and free from all concern; let you have no further thought for
your body, and then you will be enabled to enter into mystic converse with
Him in contemplation of His truth, and so imitate Mary, and gain the highest
And when you pray, see that you ask not for what is alien to your life,
and provoke the Lord. Ask not for money, nor for human glory, nor
power, nor for any of the things that pass away. But seek for the
kingdom of God, and all that is needed for your body will be provided;
as the Lord Himself has said: Seek ye the kingdom of God, and his justice,
and all these things will be added unto you (Mt. vi. 33).
Twofold, Beloved, are the methods of prayer. One is to give praise
to God from a humble heart; the other, the lower, is the prayer of petition.
Therefore, when you pray, do not immediately begin with petitions; otherwise
you may then be accused of praying to God only when in need. So when
you come to pray, leave self behind, leave wife and children. Let
the earth go, and rise up to heaven. Leave behind every creature,
the visible and the invisible, and begin with the praise and glory of Him
Who has made all things. And as often as you offer Him praise be
not wandering here and there in your mind. And choose not your words
from fables, like the Greeks, but from the holy Scriptures, and say: O
Lord, patient and forbearing, I praise Thee because Thou hast spared me
who offend Thee daily; giving to all a season for repentance; and because
of this Thou art silent, and art patient with us, O Lord, that we may offer
glory and praise to Thee who hast care for the salvation of all men.
Thou dost help us, now by fear, now by counsel, now through the prophets,
and last of all through the coming of Thy Anointed; For thou hast made
us, and not we ourselves (Ps. xcix. 3).
3. And when you have praised and glorified God from the Scriptures,
with all your heart, then begin with humility to say: Lord, I am not worthy
to praise Thee, for I have sinned most grievously. And though you
may not be conscious of any fault, yet so must you speak to Him.
For save God alone there is no one without sin. We commit many sins,
and the greater part of them we forget. Because of this the Apostle
said: I am not conscious to myself of anything, yet I am not thereby
justified (I Cor. iv. 4); that is, I have committed many sins, and
taken no notice of them. And because of this the prophet also says:
Who can understand sins? (Ps. xviii. 13). So you do not speak falsely
when you say you are a sinner. And if you do know that you are one,
you also sin when you say: I am not a sinner. Say rather: I have
sinned more than other sinners, for I have broken the commandment which
says: When you have done all things commanded of you, say: we are unprofitable
servants; we have done that which we ought to do (Lk. xvii. 10).
So must you think to yourself: I am a profitless servant.
And again: In humility let each esteem others better than himself
(Phil. ii. 3). Pray to the Lord therefore with fear and with
humility. And when you pray to Him from a humble heart let you say:
I give Thee thanks, O Lord, because Thou hast borne with my sins in patience,
and hast left me even till now without chastisement. For I have long
deserved to suffer many afflictions; and to be banished from Thy sight;
but Thy most clement mercy has borne with me in patience. I thank
Thee again, although I am unable to render Thee such thanks as are due
And when you have fulfilled in turn the duty of praise and of humility,
then ask for what you ought to ask for; not for riches, as I said, not
for the glory of this earth, not for health of body: for He made you and
your health is His care, and He knows which state is profitable to each
one, to be healthy or to be infirm. But let you seek, as He has told
us, for the kingdom of heaven. For, as I said before, He will provide
for your body’s needs. For our King is of infinite dignity, and it
is unfitting that anyone should ask of Him what is not becoming.
Be mindful therefore when you pray that you do not bring upon yourself
the anger of God; but seek from Him the things that are worthy of God our
King. And when you pray for the things that are worthy of being asked
of God, cease not from praying till you receive them. For the Lord
has intimated this to us where He says in the Gospel: Which of you shall
have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and shall say to him: friend,
lend me three loaves, because a friend of mine is come off his journey
to me, and I have not what to set before him. And he from within
should answer, and say: Trouble me not, the door is now set shut, and my
children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. Yet if
he shall continue knocking, I say to you, although he will not rise and
give him, because he is his friend; yet because of his importunity, he
will rise, and give him as many as he needeth (Lk. xi. 5-8).
4. Our Lord puts this example before us to teach us that we should
be strong and persistent in faith. He takes the example of one man’s
prayer to another man, that you may learn never to be discouraged, so that
when you pray and do not receive the answer to your prayer, you should
not cease from praying till you do receive it; provided that, as I said,
you ask for what God wishes you to ask. And do not say: I am a sinner,
and therefore He does not listen to me. That you may not lose heart
on this account He says to us: Although he will not give him, because
he is a friend; yet because of his importunity he will give him as many
as he needs.
So henceforth, if a month goes by, or a year, or three years, or four,
or many years, do not give up praying till you receive what you ask for;
but ask on in faith, and be at the same time steadfast in doing good.
It will happen often that someone in his youth strives earnestly for chastity.
Then pleasure begins to undermine his resolution, desires awaken his nature,
he grows weak in prayer, wine overcomes his youth, modesty perishes, and
the man becomes another man. So we change because we have not with
high courage of soul stood firm against our passions. It behoves
us therefore to resist all things, yet we must cry out to God, that He
may bring us aid.
For if a man through folly gives way to evil desires, and betrays himself
to his enemies, God will not aid him, nor hear him, because through sin
he has turned away from God. He who hopes to be helped by God should
have no part with what is unworthy. But he who does not betray what
he owes to God will never be in want of the divine aid. It is just
and fitting that in nothing should we be condemned by our own conscience.
Only then may we cry out for divine aid and cry earnestly, and not with
minds wandering here and there. For one who so prays, not alone shall
he continue unheard by God, but he will also provoke the Lord yet more.
For if a man stands in the presence of a king, and speaks with him, he
will stand there with great trepidation of mind, careful not to let either
his eyes or his mind go wandering. With what greater fear and trembling
should we stand in the presence of God, having our whole mind intent on
Him alone, and on nothing else whatsoever? For He beholds our inward
life; not merely the outward one which men see.
Standing then in God’s Presence, in a manner truly worthy, and laying
before Him all the desires of your heart, cease not to pray till you receive
what you ask for. But should your conscience tell you that you are
praying unworthily, and should you stand in prayer while your mind goes
wandering when you could well pray with recollection, then venture not
to stand thus in the presence of the Lord for fear your prayer becomes
an offence. Should it be however that your soul has become weak through
sin, and that you are unable to pray without distraction, strive with yourself
as best you can, striving manfully before the Lord, having your mind steadfast
on Him, and calling upon Him, and God will have compassion on you, since
it is not because of indifference but through infirmity that you cannot
pray as you ought when you kneel before God. Let him who so strives
with himself in every good work cease not to pray till he obtains what
he asks for; but in making his request let him knock patiently at the door:
For everyone, He says, that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh,
findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened; for that which
you desire to obtain, what is it but salvation in God?
5. Do you desire to know, Beloved, how the saints endured in patience,
and yielded not to despair? The Lord called Abraham when he was still a
young man, and brought him out of the land of the Assyrians into Palestine,
and said to him: I shall give this land to thee, and to thy seed after
thee, and as the stars of heaven shall thy seed be, which shall not be
numbered (Gen. xiii. 15, 16). And the number of his many years
went on, and his nature died, and death stood by his door, and yet he did
not say: ‘Lord, You promised me many children, and You foretold that I
would be the father of many peoples. And the impulses of nature have
withered away; and to my wife because of her age nothing remains of the
nature of woman. So Your prophecy was false. For what hope
have we since we are both old?’ But he did not say this, nor did
he think it in his heart, but remained unshaken in faith; and while his
body grew old, his hope grew young. As his body became weaker and
gave him grounds for despairing, his faith gave strength to his soul and
his body. ‘It is God,’ he said, ‘who has promised. He is the
Lord of nature; otherwise it could not come to pass. It is He Who
makes possible what is impossible; for He has made all things; and all
that is He changes as He wills.’
Imitate the faith of Abraham. After his nature had withered, and
its powers were at an end, then the promise of the Lord took life.
Let us consider ourselves, for example. We pray earnestly for a year;
and then we cease. We fast for two years; and then we cease to fast.
Let us not grow faint in face of the promise of God. For He Who promised
this man that his seed would be multiplied has promised us that He will
give us what we ask for. For He says: Come to me, all you that
labour, and are burthened, and I will refresh you (Mt. xi. 28).
For when you were far from Him He pitied you as you toiled under the weary
burthen of your sins, and called you and relieved you of it, and then gave
you rest. And you, have you no faith in Him? Even should we keep
silence our conscience would not suffer us. For we do not doubt that
He has power to relieve us; but we care not to take upon us His yoke, which
is light and sweet; nor enter by the narrow way to the kingdom of heaven;
but prefer rather to carry the burthen of our sins, and to walk by the
broad way of the pleasures of the senses, and to enter in at the wide gate
that leads to destruction.
But, you will say, how often have I prayed, and I have not been answered?
Because you have always prayed badly; either without faith, or with a distracted
mind, or for the things that were not expedient for you. And if at
times you prayed for what was expedient for you, you did not persevere.
For it is written: In patience shall you possess your souls (Lk.
xxi. 19), and again: He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall
be saved (Mt. x. 22).
6. God sees into the hearts of those who pray. What need
then, someone will say, that we should ask God for what we need?
Does He not know already what we need? Why then should we pray?
God does indeed know what things we need, and with generosity provides
all we need for the refreshment of our bodies, and since He is good He
sends down His rains upon the just and the unjust alike, and causes His
sun to shine upon the good and the bad (Mt. v. 45), even before we ask
Him. But faith, and the power of virtue, and the kingdom of heaven,
these you will not receive unless you ask for them in labouring and steadfastness.
We must first long for these things. Then when you desire them,
you must strive with all your heart to obtain them, seeking them with a
sincere heart, with patience, and with faith, not being condemned by your
conscience, as praying without attention or without reverence, and so in
time, when God wills, you will obtain your request. For He knows
better than you when these things are expedient for you. And perhaps
He is delaying in giving them to you, designing to keep your attention
fixed upon Him; and also that you may know that this is a gift of God,
and may safeguard with fear what is given to you. For what we come
by with much labour we are zealous to defend; as losing it we lose also
our labour; and treating lightly the gift of God we become unworthy of
life eternal. For what did it profit Solomon so quickly to receive
the gift of wisdom and then lose it?
7. Do not then lose heart if you do not speedily obtain your request.
For if it were known to Our Good Master that were you at once to receive
this favour that you would not lose it, He would have been prepared to
give it to you unasked. But being concerned for you, He does not
do this. For if he who received a single talent, and hid it safely,
was condemned because he did not put it to profit, how much more would
he have been condemned had he lost it? Keeping this in mind, let us continue
to give thanks to the Lord whether we receive speedily or slowly that which
we pray for. For all things whatsoever the Lord may do He orders
all to the end of our salvation; only let us not through faintheartedness
cease from our prayers. It was because of this the Lord spoke the
parable of the Widow who persuaded the judge through her steadfastness
(Lk. xviii. 2-5): that we also through our steadfastness in prayer may
obtain what we ask for.
By this we also show our faith, and our love of God, since though we
do not quickly receive what we ask for, yet we remain steadfast in praising
Him and giving thanks. Then let us give Him thanks at all times,
so that we may be found worthy of receiving His everlasting gifts; since
to Him all praise and glory is due for ever and ever. Amen.