Do not seek the sublime gifts of God while still praying to Him for help in order that He may come and save you from sin, for, if the place of the heart is undefiled and pure, the divine gifts come of themselves. Whoever depends on his own knowledge but still possesses his own will gains only hatred, and those who hear sorrow in their heart simply cannot be of the Spirit. Whoever considers the words of Scriptures and practices them according to his own knowledge, thinking intently to himself that this is how reality is, is ignorant of God’s glory and wealth. Whereas one who considers them and says, “I do not know what they mean, for I am human,” offers glory to God. In this person the wealth of God abides in accordance with his capacity and understanding.
[Abba Isaiah of Scetis, Discourse 6]
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]