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On Prayer
St. Basil the Great, Bishop and Doctor
Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D.

(PG 32, Sermon 9.  This is one of twenty-four sermons on morals composed of extracts from the writings of St. Basil, and made by Gregory Metaphrastes.  Logotheta.  This, on prayer, is drawn in good part from Basil's early letter to Gregory Nazianzenus, on the way of seeking spiritual perfection.  PG 32, Epistle 2.))

1. Prayer is not made perfect by uttering syllables, O Brethren, but in the purpose of the soul, and in the just actions of a lifetime.  Nor are we to believe that God has need of being reminded through our words.  We are not to think that we complete our prayer by murmuring a number of syllables, but rather, O Brethren, by the purpose of our soul, and in deeds of virtue extending into every action and moment of our life.  Neither are we to think that God needs the reminder of our spoken words; rather are we to believe that He knows our need whether we ask of Him or not.  The ear of God has no need of our cry, since He can see even from the movements of our soul what it is that we seek for.  For have you not heard that Moses was heard by the Lord, though he uttered no sound, but besought the Lord through the unspoken groanings of the spirit within him, and the Lord said to Him: Why cryest thou to me?  (Ex. xiv. 15).  And let those who do not keep to the straight path, yet who, because of the length of their prayers, consider themselves as virtuous, take heed of these words:  And when you stretch forth your hands, I will turn away my eyes from you: and when you multiply prayer, I will not hear (Is. i. 15).  For the words of prayer that are simply uttered are of themselves of no avail unless they are sent upwards from a fervent soul. 

For even the Pharisee prayed thus with himself, but not with God; for, given over to the sin of pride, he thought only of himself.  Because of this the Saviour says: And when you are praying, speak not much, as the heathens; for they think that in their much speaking they may be heard (Mt. vi. 7), and that: In the multitude of words there shall not want sin (Prov. x. 19).  This was the cause of Godís turning away His eyes: when they stretch forth their hands in prayer.  For the very symbols of their supplication are the occasion of His resentment.  It is as if someone should kill the beloved son of another, and then stretch forth to the afflicted father their hands still stained with blood; asking for the right hand of fellowship.  Would not the blood of his son, visible on the hand of his slayer, provoke him rather to just anger?  And such are the prayers of the Jews.  For when they stretch forth their hands in prayer, they but remind God the Father of their sin against His Son.  And at every stretching forth of their hands they but make manifest that they are stained with the blood of Christ.  For they who persevere in their blindness inherit the blood guilt of their fathers.  For they cried out: His blood be upon us, and upon our children (Mt. xxvii. as). 

2. Be mindful then of God, O Man, and keep the fear of Him ever in your heart, and join yourself to all men in communion of prayer; for great indeed is their power to appease God.  For as long as we live this life in the flesh prayer shall be a powerful aid, and as we journey from here it will be an enduring help on the way to the eternity that awaits us.  For as solicitude is a good thing, so likewise to be downcast and despairing, and to doubt of our salvation, are things which hurt the soul. 

Therefore place your hope in the goodness of God, and look for His aid; knowing that if we truly and sincerely turn to Him, not alone will He not cast us off for ever, but even as we pray to Him He will say to us: Here I am (Is. lviii. 9).  For who would do an evil action, or suffer an evil thought, if he believed that God was everywhere, that He is close to those who do such things, and present at every act of ours, and seeing all the counsels of our hearts?  Those who answer that they do not see God, or that they do not care what they do, such men, because of this, are but rushing on to an evil state of soul. 

Peace is the beginning of the purification of the soul, the tongue freed from speaking of the things of men, the eyes no longer dwelling on the beauty of bodies and the elegance of our surroundings, the hearing not undoing the strength of the soul through listening to melodies that were composed for pleasure, nor through the talk of clever and frivolous men, which more than anything else has power to undo the purpose of the soul.  For the mind, when not wasted on outward things, or led astray by the world of the senses, turns inwards on itself, and through this ascends to the thought of God, and lit by that inward beauty becomes unmindful even of nature, and no more troubled by anxiety for its food, or with concern for clothing; at rest from earthís cares, all its zeal is given to gaining the things that are good for ever. 

3. Nor should you let the half of your life go without profit to your soul: lost in the insensibility of sleep; but divide the night time between sleep and prayer.  And let sleep itself be an act of prayer; for even our sleeping dreams are mostly but echoes of our day time thoughts.  What more blessed than that a man as soon as the day dawns should rise and pray, and worship his Creator with hymns and canticles?  And as day begins to brighten to take up our labours, uniting them everywhere to prayer; and with hymns, as with salt, give flavour to our toil.  For the solace of hymns brings with it a cheerful and untroubled state of mind. 

And before eating let us offer prayer, in thanksgiving for the gifts God now gives us, and for those we are yet to receive; and pray likewise when we have eaten, giving thanks for what we have received, and for the gifts that are promised us. 

That is sublime prayer which brings to the soul a clear notion of God; for this is the indwelling of God: through recollection to have God abiding within you.  By this we become a temple of God, as long as this state of recollection is not broken by earthly thoughts, or the mind agitated by unlooked for emotions, but turning from all things to God; repelling all feelings that lead to desire, and giving itself to those that lead to virtue. 

And what dawn is to others let midnight be to the athlete of the service of God; when the nightís peace gives most leisure to the soul, and no sights or sounds enter to trouble the heart.  Then the mind, alone with itself and with God, amends itself in the recollection of its sins, giving itself rules that it may avoid evil, and imploring Godís help that it may fulfil all that it desires to do. 

4.  And this the history of Moses also conveys to us; for the happenings relating to him which are recorded there are as it were symbols of manís state in this world.  For there events did not proceed at an even pace: now they went well, and now because of failing strength the warriors strove with less power.  For when Moses held his arms uplifted, Israel overcame (Ps. xxviii. 9).  But should his arms drop down, then the Amalec prevailed.  This means that when our power of action weakens and falters, then will our ancient enemy prevail against us.  But when it is uplifted, and again set upright, our power to see through him becomes stronger.  For God uplifts the soul that seeks the things that are above, and lays low the soul that seeks His help to gain the things of the body. 

He then who comes to the temple of God, let him speak no evil, nor talk of trifling things, nor shameful things.  Away with such things!  In his temple, as David says, all shall speak his glory (Ps. xviii).  His angels are present who shall record the words.  The Lord is present Who sees the hearts of those who enter.  The prayer of each one is open to the sight of God; the prayer of the man who from his heart, or from his understanding, is seeking the things of heaven; and the prayer of the one who speaks the words superficially and as it were with the edges of his lips, while his heart is far from God.  And if he does pray he is begging for health of body, or for riches, or for the glory of this world.  Not of these things should we speak, but, as the Scripture tells us: In his temple all shall speak his glory. 

But wonder of wonders! The heavens show forth the glory of God (Gal. vi. 8).  It is the task of the angels to give glory to God.  To give glory to the Creator is the whole duty of the entire host of heaven.  For every creature, whether it speaks or is silent, whether in heaven or on earth, gives glory to its Maker.  We pity the men who hasten from their homes and hurry to the temple as though to receive something; and there pay no heed to the word of God, and, without any discernment of their own inward life, they neither sorrow at the remembrance of their sins, nor have any fear of the judgement, but, smiling and shaking hands with each other they turn the house of prayer into a place of endless gossiping; heedless of what the psalmist solemnly tells us: In his temple all shall speak his glory.  But you not alone do not speak it, you become a distraction to your neighbour, turning his attention to you.  God has no need of thy glory; but He desires that you become worthy to receive His glory.  And: What things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap. 

5. We should give thanks to God for the good things He gives us, and not bear it with bad grace that He measures His giving.  Should He grant us to be in union with Him: this we shall receive as a most perfect and joyful gift; should He delay this, let us suffer the loss in patience.  For He disposes of our lives more perfectly than we could order them. 

The halcyon is a sea bird which nests by the shore, laying its eggs in the sand, and bringing forth its young in the middle of winter; when the sea beats against the land in violent and frequent storms.  But during the seven days while the halcyon broods: for it takes but seven days to hatch its young: all winds sink to rest, and the sea grows calm.  And as it then is in need of food for its young ones, the most bountiful God grants this little creature another seven days of calm: that it may feed its young.  Since all sailors know of this, they give this time the name of the halcyon days. 

These things are ordered by the Providence of God for the creatures that are without reason, that you may be led to seek of God the things you need for your salvation.  And when for this small bird He holds back the great and fearful sea, and bids it be calm in winter, what will He not do for you made in His own image?  And if He should so tenderly cherish the halcyon, how much more will He not give you.  when you call upon Him with all your Heart? 

Let us then be resolved, Brethren that as in our other needs so also in time of temptation, not to count on human expectations or seek help there, but let us send upwards our entreaties, and with sighs and tears, with earnest prayer, with long watching.  And in this manner shall we obtain deliverance from our affliction; rejecting human help as vain, and keeping a firm hope in Him Who alone has power to save us.  To Him let us offer glory and adoration, together with the Eternal Father, and the Life-Giving Spirit, now and for ever, world without end.  Amen.