Please note before reading that this is a paraphrase of the introductory chapter to Origen’s work, On Prayer. I am indebted to William A. Curtis’ translation which was the base for my project.
Things that are so great that mortal men cannot rationally understand, God’s will became possible in the limitless overflow of the Divine grace that God pours onto men, by Jesus Christ the minister of His ultimate grace to us, and through the willing Spirit. So though it’s impossible for humans to gain wisdom, because according to David – God made everything in wisdom; through Jesus it is possible for humans to become wise, because Jesus is wisdom from God and provides righteousness and sanctification and redemption.
Why does man deserve to know God’s wisdom, or who can say what the Lord wills? Because mortal thoughts are weak and our actions are bound to fail; for the flesh weighs down the soul, and the mind with its memory is troubled by it’s earthly temple; and earthly things we can predict with some trouble, but who can reveal the things in heaven? Is there anyone who wouldn’t say that man can’t reveal what goes on in heaven? Yet by the amazing grace of God, the impossible becomes possible; because the man who saw heaven revealed these things, through hearing words that cannot be heard, words that men are not allowed speak. So who can say men can understand the mind of the Lord?
But God also gives us through Christ this which was said to His disciples: “No longer do I call you servants, because the servant knows not what his lord’s will is, but I have called you friends, because all the things I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”; so through Christ the will of God is made known to those who are now His friends rather than his servants. Even more, just like nobody knows what goes on in a man’s mind except for him, neither does anybody know the things of God except for the Spirit of God.
Now if nobody knows the things of God except for the Spirit of God, it’s impossible for man to know the things of God. But see how this is also possible: because we have not received the world’s spirit, but God’s Spirit, this allows us to know the things given to us by God, and we talk about these things with the wisdom of the Spirit, not with human wisdom. But I’m sure you are wondering why I am saying all of this about things impossible for man becoming possible by God, when the topic at hand is Prayer. [In this last sentence Origen is addressing Ambrosius, a man whom he describes as being pious and industrious; and Tatiana a woman who he describes as being discreet and manful, who he believes is not weak like most women just like Sarah in the Old Testament.]
The fact is that I believe putting forth a comprehensive account on prayer is an impossible task because of our weakness. It is something that should be written with accuracy and reverence, and account for how we should pray, and what we should say to God in prayer, and when we should pray. The apostle who saw the revelation wanted to make sure that none would give him credit for anything he did not see or hear. He confessed that he didn’t know how to pray as well as he should, because what we should pray we don’t know how to pray. It’s necessary to not just try to pray, but to pray in the right way in the right manner. Because even though we are now able to understand what we should pray, that’s not enough if we don’t pray in the right manner too.
On the other hand, what good is praying in the right manner if we don’t pray for what we should? What I mean is that the correct topic is the language of prayer, while the correct manner is the personal choice of the one praying. So the first is shown by “Ask for the great things and the little shall be added unto you,” and “Ask for the heavenly things and the earthly shall be added unto you,” and “Pray for them that abuse you,” and “Entreat therefore the Lord of the harvest that He send out workers unto his harvest,” and “Pray that you enter not into temptation,” and “Pray that your flight be not in winter or on a Sabbath,” and “In praying babble not” and verses like them; the latter by “I desire therefore that men pray in every place lifting up holy hands without anger and questioning, and in like manner that women array themselves decently in simplicity, with modesty and discretion, not in gold or pearls or costly raiments, but as becomes women of pious profession, through good works.”. They are instructive as well, for praying in the manner that we should is the passage:
“If then you art offering your gift at the altar and there think you that your brother hath aught against you, leave there your gift before the altar, and go back – first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift;” for what greater gift can be given to God from a rational creature than aromatic words of prayer that are offered from a pure conscience, free from Sin? Similarly instructive is, “Deprive not one another, save by agreement for a season that you may give yourselves to prayer and may be together at another time again, in order that Satan may not have occasion to exalt over you by reason of your incontinence.”
Because praying in the correct manner is not possible unless the acts of marriage which keep us from praying are engaged in with more sobriety and less passion, the ‘agreement’ referred to in the passion is about destroying the discord of passion and destroying unrestraint, and preventing the evil glorification of Satan. Again useful in praying in the correct manner is the passage: “If you are standing at prayer, forgive aught that you have against any man;” and also the passage from Paul, “Any man who prays or preaches with covered head dishonours his head, and any woman who prays or preaches with unveiled head dishonors her head” is descriptive of the correct way in which we should pray.
Paul knows all these sayings and could subtly cite from the law and prophets and gospel in each case; but in his modest and truthful way, and because he sees how much was lacking in knowing the correct way to pray, he says “but what we ought to pray we know not how to as we ought,” and adds that people don’t know how to pray as they should because they are ignorant, but that they can learn:
“The Spirit himself more than intercedes with God in sighs unspeakable and He that searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because His intercession on behalf of saints is according to God.” And so the Spirit who cries “Abba Father” in the hearts of the blessed, anxiously knowing that their concerns in the temple can only weigh down sinners, “more than intercedes with God in sighs unspeakable,” because of His love for man He takes our concerns; and in His wisdom seeing us humbled and humiliated, He does not use any common words when He intercedes for us with God, but uses unspeakable words similar to the unutterable words that people cannot speak. But He is not happy with just interceding with God, so the Spirit intensifies His intercession, “more than intercedes,” for those who more than conquer, one of whom I believe was Paul, who says “Nay in all these we more than conquer.”.
He simply interecedes I think for those who are conquered, not for those who are more than conquerers. It is similar to the saying “what we ought to pray we know not how to as we ought, but the Spirit more than intercedes with God in sighs unspeakable,” is the passage “I will pray with the Spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit; and I will sing with the understanding also.”
For we are not even able to understand what we pray unless the Spirit leads us, no more than we can sing properly in real harmony except with the help of the Spirit who understands the depth and power of God. I think it was the realization of not being able to pray properly due to human weakness, which was discovered by hearing the Savior pray to the Father firsthand, that moved one of the disciples to tell the Lord when he had quit praying, “Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples.” The whole passage is: “And it came to pass, as He was at prayer in a certain place, that one of His disciples said to Him when He ceased, ‘Lord, teach us to pray even as John also taught his disciples.'”
Is it possible that a man, who had been taught the law and the prophets and went to the temple all of his life, didn’t know how to pray until he saw the Lord pray? It’s ridiculous to think that he prayed in the traditional Jewish way but saw that he needed more knowledge about prayer. Also what did John teach the people that he baptized, I don’t think he would share his vision for prayer with everyone he baptized, but only with his followers.
Those are the prayers that are really spiritual, because the spirit is praying in the hearts of the saints recorded in Scripture, and they are filled with unspeakably wonderful declarations. In 1 Kings is the partial prayer of Hannah (because not all of it was written down due to her speaking from the heart) when she continued in prayer to the Lord; and the 17th psalm has the title “A prayer of David,” and the 90th psalm is titled “A prayer of Moses, man of God,” and the 102nd “A prayer of a poor man at a time he is weary and pours forth his supplication before the Lord”.
These are prayers because true prayers are spoken with the heart and are filled with declarations of the wisdom of God so that someone might see the truth they proclaim “Who is wise that he shall understand them? And understanding, then he shall fully know them.”. Since it’s such a great feat to write about prayer, in order to think and talk truthfully about such a great subject, we need special guidance from the Father, and the teaching of the Word, and the inner workings of the Spirit, I pray as a man – because I do not by any means give myself any credit for the ability to pray – that I may be granted the Spirit of prayer before I begin writing about it, and I hope that a full and spiritual writing upon the subject may be allowed and that the prayers recorded in the Gospels may be revealed and understood.
So let us now begin our discussion on Prayer.