Abba John said, “We have put the light burden on one side, that is to say, self-accusation, and we have loaded ourselves with a heavy one that is to say, self-justification.”
The parents of a young girl died, and she was left an orphan; she was called Paesia. She decided to make her house a hospice, for the use of the Fathers of Scetis. So for a long time she gave hospitality and served the Fathers. But in the course of time, her resources were exhausted and she began to be in want. Some wicked men came to see her and turned her aside from her aim. She began to live an evil life, to the point of becoming a prostitute. The Fathers, learning this, were deeply grieved, and calling Abba John the Dwarf said to him, ‘We have learnt that this sister is living an evil life. While she could, she gave us charity, so now it is our turn to offer her charity and to go to her assistance. Go to see her then, and according to the wisdom which God has given you, put things right for her.’
So Abba John went to her, and said to the old door-keeper, ‘Tell your mistress I am here.’ But she sent him away saying, ‘From the beginning you have eaten her goods, and see how poor she is now.’ Abba John said to her, ‘Tell her, I have something which will be very helpful to her.’ The door-keeper’s children, mocking him, said to him, ‘What have you to give her, that makes you want to meet her?’ He replied, ‘How do you know what I am going to give her?’ The old woman went up and spoke to her mistress about him. Paesia said to her, ‘These monks are always going about in the region of the Red Sea and finding pearls.’ Then she got ready and said to the door-keeper, ‘Please bring him to me.’ As he was coming up, she prepared for him and lay down on the bed.
Abba John entered and sat down beside her. Looking into her eyes, he said to her, ‘What have you got against Jesus that you behave like this?’ When she heard this she became completely rigid. Then Abba John bent his head and began to weep copiously. She asked him, Abba, why are you crying?’ He raised his head, then lowered it again, weeping, and said to her, ‘I see Satan playing in your face, how should I not weep?’ Hearing this, she said to him, Abba, is it possible to repent?’ He replied ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘Take me wherever you wish.’ ‘Let us go,’ he said and she got up to go with him. Abba John noticed that she did not make any arrangements with regard to her house; he said nothing, but he was surprised.
When they reached the desert, the evening drew on. He, making a little pillow with the sand, and marking it with the sign of the cross, said to her, ‘Sleep here.’ Then, a little further on, he did the same for himself, said his prayers, and lay down. Waking in the middle of the night, he saw a shining path reaching from heaven to her, and he saw the angels of God bearing away her soul. So he got up and went to touch her feet. When he saw that she was dead he threw himself face downwards on the ground, praying to God. He heard this: ‘One single hour of repentance has brought her more than the penitence of many who persevere without showing such fervour in repentance.’
[Abba John the Dwarf, Apophthegmata Patrum]
Abba John used to say, “The whole company of the holy men is like a garden which is full of fruit-bearing trees of various kinds, and wherein the trees are planted in one earth, and all of them drink from one fountain; and thus is it with all the holy men, for they do not have one rule only, but several varieties, and one man labours in one way, and another man in another, but it is one Spirit which operates and works in them.”
Abba John said, ‘I am like a man sitting under a great tree, who sees wild beasts and snakes coming against him in great numbers. When he cannot withstand them any longer, he runs to climb the tree and is saved. It is just the same with me; I sit in my cell and I am aware of evil thoughts coming against me, and when I have no more strength against them, I take refuge in God by prayer and I am saved from the enemy.’
Prayer is an effective power that brings us into contact with the Christ who is actually present within us. He is the source of every power, blessing, and life: “Whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redempion” (1 Cor 1.30). He who does not use the power of prayer never makes contact with the Christ who is within him. He thus lives alienated from God’s wisdom. He remains deprived of his righteousness, sanctification and redemption. However hard we may try to know Christ without prayer, we would only know him as a Saviour of people, a Redeemer of others, a Sanctifier of saints, a Justifier of sinners. We would remain deprived of all these gifts and graces. We will not receive them unless we first receive Christ through prayer within our lives. We should first make him at rest in our hearts so he may live in us. He should share everything with us and manage all our affairs.
Christ will never unite with one’s thoughts, emotions, will or senses unless he first unites with one’s soul. So man should first open his whole being in prayer that Christ may rest in the recesses of his soul. God has created this soul in his own image for himself that he may own it and rule it completely. He is thus able to manage man’s life and command his thoughts, emotions, will and senses.
Christ becomes king over man’s soul through man’s frequent prayer and the outpouring of his self. He becomes the true centre of its being and movements. At that stage, man will never find rest in anything except in Christ alone, where the image would rest in its own likeness. Since the soul has been created for immortality, it will thus find in Christ, when it unites with him, its ultimate joy. Through his existence, he consummates its own existence and immortality.
[Fr. Matta El Meskeen (the Poor), Orthodox Prayer Life]
Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance, suppresses anger, restrains pride and envy, draws down upon the Holy Spirit into the soul and raises man to heaven.
[Mar Ephraim the Syrian, Moore, Orthodox Prayer]
Prayer is by nature a dialogue between man and God. It unites the soul with its Creator and reconciles the two. Its effect is to hold the world together.
[John of the Ladder, Ladder of Divine Ascent]
We must also know, beloved brethren, that every secret converse, every good care of the intellect directed toward God and every meditation upon spiritual things is delimited by prayer, is called by the name of prayer, and under its name is comprehended; whether you speak of various readings, or the cries of a mouth glorifying God, or sorrowing reflection on the Lord, or making bows with the body, or psalmody in verses, or all other things from which the teaching of genuine prayer comes. From genuine prayer, the love of God is born, for love comes of prayer.
[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Homily 63, Ascetical Homilies]
He also said, “To flee from the things of the body is a good thing; for the person who is close to the war against the body is like somebody standing above a very deep pit. Whenever it seems fit to the enemy, he easily throws the person down. But if he is some distance from bodily matters, he is like one far removed from the pit, so that even if the enemy drags him along to throw him down, even while he is dragging and coercing him, God sends him help.”
[Abba Poemen, Apophtegmata Patrum]
Abba Poemen said about Abba John the Short that he besought God, and the passions were taken away from him, he then became without a care. Going to an elder, he announced to him, “I see myself reposing, with no battle to fight.” The elder said to him, “Go and beseech God for the battle to come upon you, for it is by fighting battles that the soul makes progress.” The battle came, and he no longer prayed for it to be taken away; he said, “Lord, give me patience in the battles.”
An elder said, “Reading, watching, and prayer stabilise a wandering mind; hunger, labour and isolation quench burning desire; psalm-singing, long-suffering, and mercy put anger to rest, if these things are activated at the appropriate times and in due proportion. For that which is disproportionate or not in due season is short lasting and harmful rather than beneficial.