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On Earnest Prayer
St. Ephraim, Deacon and Doctor of the Church
Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D.
(Santi Ephraim Syrii Hymni et Sermones, Th.J.Lamy, Tom. IV., p. 126, Sermo de Reprehensione et Oratione, 
an exhortation adapted to his simple country hearers, but filled with divine wisdom..)
PSALM cxxii

1. Mercy comes down from on high. Let us all turn our eyes on high. From the heaven of heavens comes salvation. Let us give thanks to Him Who dwells in heaven. In one of his psalms, David spoke words that sum up the whole of prayer: To thee have I lifted up my eyes; who dwellest in heaven (cxxii. 1).  And He humbled himself, that we like Him should humble ourselves. As the eyes of servants turn continually towards their masters, to see, should they be sad, that they also may appear dutiful and sad. Should they be joyful, their servants also appear joyful. Again David speaks, and adds a phrase like the one that preceded it: As the eyes of the handmaid are on the hands of her mistress: so that, if she is happy, she may cheerfully approach her. But should her mistress be sad, her maid creeps away in fear and hides herself; and where she sees her gloomy and severe, she flies from her anger: So are our eyes unto Thee, the Lord our God.

I cannot, David is saying, exult and rejoice before Thy face, till Thou hast mercy upon me: for I see that Thou art angry. Let us recall to mind these words of David, and let us meditate upon them within us, and let us say: Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.

2. But since we know not how we are to pray, in accord with the will of God, the Holy Spirit teaches us through David how we are to pray to Thee. Therefore, my brethren; you who are listening to me, let us be pupils of David. For if he does not teach us, and if we do not heed his teaching, all the prophets and apostles will not avail to persuade us. In this time of sadness we all grieve under the rod of an angry God, until He shall again rejoice us Who now chastises us.  We shall not rejoice with a full heart, until the anger of God has turned away from us. Let us therefore stand in earnest prayer before the Most High, Whose Throne is in the heavens. Since he looketh upon the earth; let us be in fear of Him Who looketh down on us. Let us not assemble together in a careless manner in His holy house, to stand in His Presence: for He is not pleased with the careless, but with the efforts of those who love Him.

3. On a day appointed for prayer, let your prayer not be disturbed. Do not neglect prayer in order to go out in the streets to talk and argue. And should some one come to chatter with you, be wise; bid him be silent, saying to him: ‘Today we are supposed to pray; we must do what is imposed on us.’ Praying and disputing in talk, what, I would like to know, have they in common? Petition and deception; it would be strange that these two should be heard together. Fasting and loud talk; that these should be associated, I find astonishing. And that chastity and wantonness should be found together would wholly amaze me.

It is not becoming, O prudent man, to pray with a double mind; nor that we should divide our heart, keeping one part for the Church, another for the street. Who can deceive God, Who searcheth hearts? And who shall hide his thoughts from Him Who knows all things that are hidden? Who shall give his mind to good and evil thoughts, thinking that no one will know of them? That you should pray, and then go out to talk and argue; that is a very foolish thing to do. To talk and argue, coming at the same time to worship God; that is the doing of the foolish of heart.

4. If you would learn how you must act, so that you may neither injure yourself, nor be rebuked because of your prayer, I shall give you counsel. Decide for yourself in what I tell you; and it will be well for you if you do as I say. If you have made up your mind to come and pray before God, make this pact with yourself: that in coming from your home to the place of prayer, that for the whole duration of your journey to the house of prayer, and petition, you will not waste your time with some companion, but, that from the beginning to the end of your journey, you will sanctify the time with prayer.

And when you stand before God in prayer, do not pray with a mind that is disturbed and filled with unrest and, since the church is holy, neither should you stand in it with a mind that is defiled; and while the Scriptures are being read, do not let your thoughts turn to the tumult outside. Incline your ear and your mind to hearing the words of the prophets, and turn your face and turn your senses towards the Apostles, as they cry to you: ‘Gird thy soul, and be strengthened that thou may hear the Gospel of thy Lord.’ Do not listen with indifference to the Gospel of the Truth. Should you be slothful in God’s Presence, He will send you away without a reward.

For reflect: If a worker in your field neglected the harvest; when he afterwards came for his wage you would remember that he was lazy, and you would not pay him as you would a diligent servant, who gave you satisfaction. All we children of the Faith are workers in the field of the Divinity, and everyone who comes to pray, comes to the field of God. Prayer to God bears fruit. Let us not neglect it, and lose its fruits. He who offers up sincere and earnest prayer, reaps and gathers in its fruits. He who is slothful in prayer, will be a stranger to its fruits. Let us see then that our mouth does not pray in a negligent manner. It greatly profits us to pray, and to know also what kind of prayer we are offering: for there is power in the prayer of a just man. Over anger especially prayer is always victorious. In his time of illness the sick man looks for help and healing, and submits himself to those who will help him; how much more should we, who are sick through sin, compose our soul and pray with mind and heart? For we have need of two things: to be freed from our afflictions, and to be forgiven our sins.

Great is the power of prayer. Let us not be slothful in prayer. Prayer bears fruit. Let our prayer not become unworthy. Let us speak to others of prayer; if laziness does not prevent us; and if we are ready of speech, let us praise it. Perhaps some amongst us here in the congregation will murmur to themselves: What is the meaning of this correction, which makes nothing of our labour? Let the grumbler, whoever he is, listen; and he will learn that this is good and profitable for him. For it is enough that it serves to show us that the taste of pleasure does not satisfy us. Let us not think too much of the fleeting things of this world, rather let us be steadfast in our love of spiritual things, which are profitable to the soul. For by the help of things spiritual, the things of this world are also made profitable. Fields are cultivated, when souls are not neglected. And when souls are cultivated, fields do not remain fruitless; though we know that spiritual works will not take the place of the plough.

5. Without health of body, material things are of no benefit to you. Without streams of prayer, what you have sown will not be watered. Without the help of prayer you shall not reap what you sow. Without the mercy of the Creator, there can be no good, no blessing. Be earnest then in prayer, and your barns will overflow. Winter and summer be earnest in prayer; for winter and summer prayer is necessary for us. Winter reminds us to pray, that we shall not want for the dew and the rain. Summer urges us to pray, that our fields and our barns may be blessed. The day cries to us: Give thanks to Him Who gives light to the labourers; the night tells us to give glory to Him Who gives rest to the weary. He has made a holy house for those who dwell here; that they may learn the way of holiness. The multitudes in the streets teach us that the Church must speak judgement in quiet; and with uplifted voice She cries: ‘Take thought for your life.’ The Cross, with arms outstretched, has compassion on its adorers. The Exalted and the Most High inclines His ear to our prayer, and the Angels of His mercy visit us one by one. Let us, my brethren, with our whole heart, give thanks for all these things. For it is through prayer that all graces work in us. We are inexcusable (Rom. 1. 20); but God is just. We are all sinners; our Creator is pure and free of all fault. We are evil to one another; but our Maker is merciful. Glory be to Him Who in His mercy bears with us who rebel against Him. Amen.