Sayings & Stories of the Desert Fathers
On Unceasing Prayer
The brethren asked the abbot Agatho, saying, “Father which virtue in this way of life is most laborious?” And he said to them, “Forgive me, but to my mind there is no labor so great as praying to God: for when a man wishes to pray to his God, the hostile demons make haste to interrupt his prayer, knowing that their sole hindrance is in this, a prayer poured out to God. With any other labor that a man undertakes in the life of religion, however instant and close he keeps to it, he has some rest: but prayer has the travail of a mighty conflict to one’s last breath.”
They asked the abbot Macarius, saying, “How ought we to pray?” and the old man said, “There is no need of much speaking in prayer, but often stretch out your hands and say, ‘Lord, as Thou Will and as Thou knowest, have mercy upon me.’ But if there is war in your soul, add, ‘Help me.’ And because He knows what we need, He shows us His mercy.”
A brother visited an elder who had second sight and pleaded with him, “Pray for me, Father, for I am weak.” In answer the elder said to the brother, “One of the holy ones once said that he who takes oil in his hand to anoint a sick person first partakes of the richness of the oil himself. Likewise, he who prays for a brother, even before that one benefits, receives a portion of benefit himself through his disposition to love. Let us then pray for each other, my brother, so we might be healed; for this the apostle advocates, saying, ‘Pray for one another that you may be healed”’ [Jas 5:16].
An elder was asked, “What is ‘to pray without ceasing?” [1 Thess 5:17], and he replied, “It is the petition sent up to God from the very foundation of the heart requesting what is appropriate. For it is not only when we stand for prayer that we are praying; true prayer is when you can pray all the time within yourself.