Evagrius, On Prayer 28–30

28

Do not go about your prayer only by external postures. Instead, continually direct your mind with great reverence to an awareness of spiritual prayer.

29

Sometimes when you stand for prayer you will immediately pray well. Other times, you won’t obtain your aim even after striving hard. This is so that you will seek still further. Then, once you obtain it, you will hold this virtue inviolately.

30

When an angel is present, all those that besiege us depart at once and the mind finds itself much relaxed and praying in a healthy way. But other times the normal battle takes place, and the mind fights and refuses to relax, because it is stirred up by various compulsions. And yet, when it searches further, it will find what it seeks, for to the “one who knocks vigorously, the door will be opened.”

Evagrius, On Prayer 28–30

28

Do not go about your prayer only by external postures. Instead, continually direct your mind with great reverence to an awareness of spiritual prayer.

29

Sometimes when you stand for prayer you will pray well immediately. Other times, you won’t obtain your aim even after striving hard. This is so that you will seek still further. Then, once you obtain it, you will hold this virtue inviolately.

30

When an angel is present, all those that besiege us depart at once and the mind finds itself much relaxed and praying in a healthy way. But sometimes the normal battle takes place, and the mind fights and refuses to relax, because it is stirred up by various compulsions. And yet, when it searches further, it will find what it seeks, for to the “one who knocks vigorously, the door will be opened.”

Evagrius, On Prayer 23–27

23

If you are patient, you will always pray with joy.

24

While you are praying as you ought, situations will come to mind where you will think that you are entirely justified in using anger. Yet quite simply, there is no justified anger against your neighbor. If you examine the situation, you’ll find that it is possible for it to be resolved well even without anger. So use every means at your disposal not to break out in anger.

25

See to it that while you think you are curing another you do not become incurable yourself and thereby cut off the growth of your prayer.

26

By being sparing with anger you will find yourself spared. You will show yourself to be prudent and will be counted among those who truly pray.

27

As you are defending yourself against anger, you should never give into lust. Lust provides fuel to anger, which in turn disturbs the eye of the mind and ruins the state of prayer.

Evagrius, On Prayer 20–22

20

If you wish to pray as you ought, do not cause grief to any soul. Otherwise you are running in vain.

21

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.

22

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.

Evagrius, On Prayer 17–19

17

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.

18

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.

19

Whenever you withstand hardship philosophically, you will find the fruit of this at the time of prayer.

Evagrius, On Prayer 1–3

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.1 In the translation I aim to make it practical for prayer, rather than aiming for perfect formal precision. Here are the first few “chapters”:

1

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.

2

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.

3

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!

  1. (Evagrius. Chapitres sur la prière. Sources chrétiennes 589. Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 2017)