An old man used to say, “Spread abroad the Name of Jesus in humility, and with a meek heart; show your feebleness before Him, and He will become strength unto you.”
The old man (Abba Muthues) used to say, “Who sold Joseph?” They said unto him, “His brethren” and the old man said unto them, “No, it was humility that sold him. For he never said, ‘I am your brother’, and he never answered them, but held his peace. He sold himself by his humility, and this humility made him governor over the land of Egypt.”
Although prayer is a spiritual sense implanted in man’s soul, in the very core of its self-consciousness, many people never pray. Prayer thus remains dormant for a whole lifetime. A man may die without ever having been aware of the self or of its affinity to God. St. Jude the Apostle described such souls as “wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved for ever” (Jude 1.13).
This is a very serious matter. Prayer is not merely a sense to be used to organise our lives in this age alone. It is implanted in our nature that, through it, we may ascend to God and achieve union with him. We may thus pass from this fleeting perishable life to an eternal life with God.
It seems as if we were created for prayer. Prayer is the only bond that links us to God. It stands before our hearts as the eternal life, which is our hope. Prayer is the condition in which we discover our own divine image, on which the stamp of the Holy Trinity is impressed. When we lose prayer, we actually lose the glory of our image, and we no longer resemble God in any way. God draws us to himself through prayer, and through prayer we mysteriously travel toward him in a manner too deep to understand. In fact, through prayer we draw God to ourselves, and he comes to us and makes his home with us.
To God, love is not an emotion but a self-offering. In prayer, God offers us himself. God offered himself when he created us in his own image. Through prayer, he offers us union with himself so that he may become totally ours, and we may become totally his.
Prayer opens up our lives towards God: “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them” (Is 63.9). Prayer also opens up God’s life to us: “The Spirit himself intercedes for us [during prayer] with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8.26).
[Fr. Matta El-Meskeen, Orthodox Prayer Life]
The transcendent gifts of the Christian life are manifold. Some are general, like the second birth, redemption for the forgiveness of sins, justification by grace, sanctification by the blood of Christ. Others are personal, like the gift of love, humility, piety, the glowing of spirit in constant intimacy with the Lord, and so forth. The strength and efficacy of all these gifts, however, can never be manifested except through prayer.
By prayer, the effect of Christ’s nature becomes manifest in us. By prayer, the power of his death and life appears in our works and behaviour. By prayer, the sweet savour of Christ is scented in our words and thoughts. It is even scented in our quietude and silence as well.
The work of Christ to redeem from sin, to save from sin, and to bring victory over evil can never appear except through a life of prayer. Neither can the living testimony of the new birth be brought about without such life. Without a life of prayer, all attempts to declare these divine actions in man’s nature become false, theoretical, and a product of the ego or self-will. In such a case, the old Adam remains as he is with his inclinations, passions and earthly nature.
We should then accept these facts about prayer and set our hearts to them. We should resolve firmly to apply them with all our strength, which will cost us much effort and sacrifice. But whatever the sacrifice or effort, we will surely attain to all the transcendent mysteries of Christ – such mysteries as were previously only a matter of hearing.
This can be realised only when prayer becomes our supreme concern, our main preoccupation, which outweighs all other cares; our duty, which challenges all other duties; our pleasure, which surpasses every other pleasure. We would then pray at all times, in all circumstances, in all places, in all conditions. We would pray in an insatiable hunger for constant contact with Christ. In all this we would be urged by his words, deeds, actions, and character – as he said, “Learn from me” (Mt 11.29).
[Fr. Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life]
[On this day, the 7th of Bashons in the Coptic calendar, the commemoration of the departure of St. Athanasius the Apostolic is celebrated. May the prayers of this great Father be with us.]
If, then, it is by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ that death is trampled underfoot, it is clear that it is Christ Himself and none other Who is the Archvictor over death and has robbed it of its power. Death used to be strong and terrible, but now, since the sojourn of the Saviour and the death and resurrection of His body, it is despised; and obviously it is by the very Christ Who mounted on the cross that it has been destroyed and vanquished finally.
When the sun rises after the night and the whole world is lit up by it, nobody doubts that it is the sun which has thus shed its light everywhere and driven away the dark. Equally clear is it, since this utter scorning and trampling down of death has ensued upon the Saviour’s manifestation in the body and His death on the cross, that it is He Himself Who brought death to nought and daily raises monuments to His victory in His own disciples.
How can you think otherwise, when you see men naturally weak hastening to death, unafraid at the prospect of corruption, fearless of the descent into Hades, even indeed with eager soul provoking it, not shrinking from tortures, but preferring thus to rush on death for Christ’s sake, rather than to remain in this present life? If you see with your own eyes men and women and children, even, thus welcoming death for the sake of Christ’s religion, how can you be so utterly silly and incredulous and maimed in your mind as not to realize that Christ, to Whom these all bear witness, Himself gives the victory to each, making death completely powerless for those who hold His faith and bear the sign of the cross?
No one in his senses doubts that a snake is dead when he sees it trampled underfoot, especially when he knows how savage it used to be; nor, if he sees boys making fun of a lion, does he doubt that the brute is either dead or completely bereft of strength. These things can be seen with our own eyes, and it is the same with the conquest of death. Doubt no longer, then, when you see death mocked and scorned by those who believe in Christ, that by Christ death was destroyed, and the corruption that goes with it resolved and brought to end.
[St. Athanasius the Great, On the Incarnation]
If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have laboured long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honour, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honours the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honour the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.
[St. John Chrysostom, Paschal Homily]