Go, sell your possessions, and give them to the poor. Then take up your cross and deny yourself so that you can carry out your prayer without distraction.
If you want to carry out your prayer in a laudable way, deny yourself hour by hour, and bear philosophically all manner of terrible things for the sake of prayer.
Whenever you withstand hardship philosophically, you will find the fruit of this at the time of prayer.
Prayer is rooted in gentleness and the lack of anger.
Prayer is founded on joy and and thanksgiving.
Prayer is a guard against grief and despondency.
Whenever a temptation comes your way or a dispute incites you to release your anger in revenge or shout some unfitting word, recall your prayer and the clarity of discernment you have during it. At once, the uncontrolled emotion within you will cease.
Whatever you do to avenge yourself against a brother who has treated you wrongly will become a hurdle to you in the time of prayer.
While weeping for their sins many people forget the point of tears and get lost in their madness.
Stand with diligence, persist in prayer with resolution, and continually turn away the attacks of cares and worrying thoughts. These vex and throng about you to sap away your resolution.
When demons see you desiring truly to carry out your prayer, they suggest thoughts of various tasks that seem necessary and soon stir up your memory about them, thereby moving the mind to seek after them. When it doesn’t find them, it gets upset and loses heart. When it then stands for prayer, they remind it of memories and these objects of seeking, so that the mind goes slack for this knowledge and loses the prayer that is truly fruitful.
Strive to have your mind stand deaf and speechless at the time of prayer, and you will be able to pray.
Use tears to correct every request, as the Lord takes great delight in receiving a prayer born of tears.
Even if you pour out streams of tears in your prayer, you should never become conceited, as though you were superior to others. After all, your prayer has simply received additional support so that through tears you can more freely confess your sins and find reconciliation with God. Therefore, do not turn into a compulsion what should be a fortress against compulsion. Otherwise you’ll anger further the One who has bestowed on you this gift.
If in trying to approach an earthly burning bush Moses is prevented from coming close until he “removes his sandals from his feet,” how could you, who wish to see and converse with the One who is beyond all perception and concept, not remove every compulsive thought?
Persist first in prayer to receive tears, so that through this grief you can tame the wildness that resides in your soul and so that by “testifying against yourself of your lawlessness to the Lord” you obtain from him release.
The world hardly needs another English translation of this lovely little work of the fourth century monastic theologian Evagrius, but its maxims are so lovely and useful for meditation that I’ve decided to render it, at least in part, into English for my own edification. I may eventually use the translation in an iOS app devoted to centering prayer, though one never knows to what extent one’s schemes will materialize. I’ve used Paul Gehin’s excellent new edition as my base text. In the translation I aim to make it practical for prayer, rather than aiming for perfect formal precision. Here are the first few “chapters”:
If you wish to prepare a “fragrant offering,” you should combine in equal measure diaphanous frankincense, cassia, the aroma onyx, and myrrh, just as the law requires— these are the four virtues. For when these are perfected and present in equal measure, your mind will not be betrayed to the enemy.
A soul purified through the fullness of the virtues makes the rule of the mind in the body and soul secure, thereby making it receptive to the state it seeks.
Prayer is the mind’s conversation with God. If the mind is going to be able to direct itself without distraction towards its Lord and converse with him directly, what state it must receive!
- (Evagrius. Chapitres sur la prière. Sources chrétiennes 589. Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 2017) ↩