If you wish to pray as you ought, do not cause grief to any soul. Otherwise you are running in vain.
He says, “Leave your gift before the altar, go, and first be reconciled to your brother.” Then when you come back you will pray without disturbance. For during prayer a grudge will mar the ruling faculty of the mind and cast a shadow over your prayers.
Those who sweep up grudges and grief for themselves while thinking that they are praying are like those who draw water into a jar with holes.
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.
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.
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) ↩
I like to commemorate special occasions with epigrams in Greek or Latin. Here’s the epigram I wrote to commemorate my daughter’s birth.
Gregorio nostro quid dulcius inter amoena?
at nunc Gregorius par sibi laetus habet.
O mea Alexandria, feres tu nomina patrum,
cara, tegas omnes quos tibi dat Dominus.
My friend Kathleen Kirsch has produced this excellent prose rendering:
Amongst all charms, what is sweeter than our Gregory?
But now happy Gregory is gaining an equal.
O my Alexandria, the names of your forefathers you will bear;
My dear, may you shelter all whom the Lord gives you.
Below you find my poetic translation of an excerpt from the Hymn Virg. of Gregory of Nazianzus (carm. 1.2.1a 107–116), where he narrates the creation of Eve:
Πλευρὴν ἐκ λαγόνων μούνην ἕλε, τήν ῥα γυναῖκα
Δειμάμενος, καὶ φίλτρον ἐνὶ στέρνοισι κεράσσας,
Ἀμφοτέροις ἐφέηκεν ἐπ’ ἀλλήλοισι φέρεσθαι·
Οὐ πᾶσ’ οὐδ’ ἐπὶ πάντας, ὅρον δ’ ἐπέθηκε πόθοισιν, 
Ὅν ῥα γάμον καλέουσ’, ὕλης ἀμέτροιο χαλινὸν,
Ὡς μὴ μαιμώωσα, καὶ ἄσχετα μαργαίνουσα,
Προφρονέως ἀγεληδὸν ἐπ’ ἀλλήλοισιν ἰόντων,
Ῥήξειεν μερόπων ἱερὸν γένος ἐκ φιλότητος
Ἀζυγέος, πολέμους δὲ καὶ ἔχθεα πᾶσιν ὀρίνῃ 
Οἶστρος ἀσημάντοισι φορεύμενος ἀφραδίῃσιν.
He took the rib from Adam’s side and made
the wife. He mixed desire in their breasts
and bid them bear themselves to one another,
but not at all without discrimination.
He placed a limit on their loves, what we
call marriage, bridle for unmeasured matter,
lest it go mad, convulsing endlessly,
like animals that read’ly mate in herds,
and wreck the holy race of men through love
unbounded, lest desire unrestrained
should raise up wars and senseless quarrels for all.
- It is not clear how to construe this line; it may be corrupt. ↩