By Father Cleopa
Prayer is the mother and empress of all good deeds. How come? Well, doesn’t the great Apostle Paul say: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity”? Doesn’t he say that?
So, according to the Holy Fathers, the greatest of good deeds isn’t prayer, but charity. Why then did the Holy Fathers state that prayer was the mother of all good deeds? Because it brings charity (love) into your soul, too. The love for God and for one’s neighbor does not enter our soul in any other way but by praying.
For instance: let’s say you have upset someone – or someone has upset you – and you start mentioning him during prayer; before long, you will see that the hatred between you too is lifting. By prayer, enmity is cut off and one wins the other one over and brings him to understanding, to union. This is why St. Maximus says: “When you see that someone hates you or wrongs you – with or without reason – start mentioning him during prayer”. But do not mention him to wish him any harm whatsoever, because if you do, it will fall upon you. Say this: “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me and my brother (his name), as it is because of my sins that he has become angry with me. Because my brother is my mirror and he sees all my badness“.
This is what St. John of the Ladder says, too: “Do not ever blame your brother when you pray for him, neither ask for his punishment” – as some people do when they include their enemies’ names in the lists that they mention during Church prayers. That is not allowed! Even if you do put names of people under “enemies” — do you know how the Church prays for them? The Church prays for enemies so that they become wiser and that their sins will be forgiven; it prays to God to bring them to the Truth, to make them gentle and change their ways without ever harming them.
This is how the Church prays. Never will the Church wish any harm to anybody. As God wants all the people to be saved… When we have some problem, we think X hates us — but not the Church! She doesn’t make any distinction in these matters. She prays equally for all, so that they become good.
This is why I told you that prayer was called the mother of all good deeds, because what it brings into our soul is the greatest of all good deeds: the love for God and for one’s neighbor.
Listen to what the divine Father Maximus the Confessor – who was the “pinnacle of theology” and the “balance sheet of Orthodox theology” of the 6th century said – in the Philokaly, as well as in his book called “Ambigua“, with which he surpassed in thinking even St. Dionysius the Areopagite, also called the “Heaven bird”: “All good deeds help man to earn the love for God, but none of them do as prayer does.” This is why prayer is called “the mother of all good deeds”; because it brings forth the greatest of all good deeds: love.
All good deeds draw man closer to God, but prayer “joins” them to one another. It is like making a door or a cabinet from different boards – and you see that the different parts that came out of the long plane fit together, but they won’t attach to one other until you add glue. And once you put on the glue, you make them all one piece. That is what prayer is like, too.
Prayer not only draws man closer to God, but attaches him to Him and makes him one Spirit with Him. It is what the great Apostle Paul says: “he which is joined to an harlot is one body… but he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.” This spiritual “welding” that unites man with God is achieved through prayer.
But when we say “prayer”, we shouldn’t think that all of our praying is genuine prayer. If I say my prayer only with my tongue or mouth, while my mind wanders off, I only deceive myself when I pray. Because God, during our prayers, does not only look at what the lips and the tongue say, but searches through our mind and heart.
The prayer that we say with our mouth and lips is also good to a certain extent – as it, too, finds its grounds if we look at the Holy Scripture. When the Apostle Paul says: let us offer… the fruit of our lips, he indicates the prayer of one’s mouth; or when you see that the Holy Scripture says: I cried unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication – it talks about the prayer of one’s tongue and voice. When you read that the Prophet says: And I have glorified Him with my tongue – this is again about the prayer that is done with one’s mouth; or: Lord, hear my prayer and let my call to You reach You – it is always about the prayer of one’s lips. Or: Hear, oh, Lord, my prayer and overlook not my supplication – again, what the Holy Scripture talks about here is praying with one’s mouth.
But you should know that according to the Holy Father Gregory of Nyssa, the great philosopher and brother of Great Basil, [what I have just described] is the outermost frontier of prayer; or better said – to help you grasp the idea better – it is the lowermost step of the ladder of prayer. We all know that in order to climb up a ladder, we need to place our foot on the first step, first – but there is so much more left, to climb!
Now – the ladder of prayer goes ever higher. In its growing, prayer has no limits, because it is ever joining God. And just as God is limitless in the height of His features and endless in kindness and holiness, so prayer, in its spiritual growth, goes ever higher and has no boundary!
Prayer isn’t the only one that is limitless; so are all the virtues that are born from God – precisely because they are born forth from limitless God. Faith, hope, love, charity – they are all limitless, because they are born from a God whose kindness is unlimited.
(To be continued)