I give thanks for another day to greet all of you and share a few more thoughts on the Necessity of Prayer, the snippets from the Church Fathers that Fr. Matta has chosen for us.
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov was a monk and bishop in the church of Russia and is revered by the Eastern Church. He suffered ill health but was a prolific writer. He tells us that God does not need our prayers – that He already knows our needs and is already merciful and generous even to those who do not pray.
- I don’t think any of us would dispute the truth of this. But if it is so, why do we ask God for particular things in prayer?
St. Isaac of Nineveh tells us something very similar when he writes that “It is not by reason of our requests that God dispenses his gifts and blessings.” In other words, our prayers do not lead God to “change Him mind” about what good He is going to do (my interpretation – do you agree?).
- In the Old Testament, we encounter stories where holy leaders and prophets prayed and “God repented of the evil” He was going to do (e.g. Exodus 32: 14; Jonah 3: 10). Why do you think the Bible presents God as changing His mind in response to prayer if this is not so?
- Does this awareness impact how I pray when I experience a special need? Has my understanding of prayer grown in this regard in the course of my life?
- Have you known anyone who lost faith because they did not receive what they asked for in prayer? If they came to you and asked you, how would you try to explain this mystery to them?
Saint John Climacus lived in the 6th-7th centuries. Very little is known about his personal life but his book, Ladder of Divine Ascent, is most widely read in the Eastern Church, though he is honored in both the East and the West.
- It is interesting that St. John describes prayer as “a devout, persistent coercing of God”, basing this on parables of Christ. How might we understand this in light of what St. Isaac wrote?
- It is also noteworthy that St. John writes this in the context of instructing us to, “Hold on to the staff of prayer and you will not fall. And even a fall will not be fatal…” (Emphasis mine.) What does our devout “coercing” have to do with the fatality of our falls? Hmm….
I may offer my personal responses to my own questions later in the week…in the meantime, let us continue to read, reflect and pray together. Grace and peace to all…