Reflections on prayer in the writings of Evagrius Ponticus In this video, Fr. Adrian Podaru talks about prayer in the writings of Evagrius the Solitary (4th century): “Do not pray that what you will should be done, because your will is not in full harmony with the will of God. Pray instead as you were taught, saying, Let your will be done in me…”
Fr. Dr. Adrian Podaru is Lecturer in Patristics at the Faculty of Orthodox Theology in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
Evagrius says in a memorable phrase: “If you are a theologian, you pray truly; and if you pray truly, you are a theologian.” “Do not pray that what you will should be done, because your will is not in full harmony with the will of God. Pray instead as you were taught, saying, Let your will be done in me (cf Mt 6:10, 24:2). He wills only what is good and profitable for the soul; but that is not always what you seek.” “I have often prayed, requesting that something I thought was good for me be done for me, insisting on my request, and irrationally attempting to force God’s will. And thus I did not leave it to him who knows what is profitable to arrange (cf 1Cor 10:23). And when I eventually received what I asked for, I was very sorry that I did not ask for the will of God to be done; for the matter did not turn out as I had imagined”. Another quotation: “It is just to pray not only for your own purification, but especially for your own kindred, so as to imitate the angelic mode”. A third one: “You are not able to pray purely if you are enmeshed in material affairs and shaken about by constant cares, because prayer is the putting aside of thoughts” [153 Chapters on Prayer].
We note the following from these three texts: when you pray and ask with all your heart for God to fulfill your requests, you put yourself first, considering your judgment to be infallible, and seeing God only as a good accessory to fulfill your wishes . When you ask for virtue for yourself, add to your request the others who are around you. Prayer, as Saint Justin Popovich would say later, summarizing this idea of Evagrius but formulating it in other words, must always be personal-catholic, personal-collective, I pray for myself, but at the same time for the others, never exclusively for me.
Pure prayer is a peak reached especially by monastics as ones who have broken away from the world, from its cares and seductions, free from these they become prayer, but the lay people also tend towards this pure prayer, and when we participate in the Divine Liturgy we ask this when we sing in the Cherubic Hymn “setting aside every worldly care…” In other words, what becomes a constant habit for the monastics, it is given to the laymen especially in the liturgical context. Characteristic of Evagrius is the prayer which is devoid of any form, of any image, of any sensible vision. “God is entirely spirit”, says Evagrius. Therefore, any image or form that may appear during prayer can be, and most of the time is, deceptive, coming from the evil one who can appear as an angel of light.
Here I have two texts that I read for you: “Do not yearn to see angels or powers or Christ through the senses, so as not to become completely insane by receiving a wolf instead of a shepherd (cf. Jn 10:11-12), and worshipping your enemies the demons.” The second text: “blessed is the nous [mind] that, at the time of prayer, has acquired perfect formlessness.” Pure prayer can only have the one who has separated himself from everything that is created both from the sphere of the sensible and from the sphere of the intelligible and who speaks with God without any intermediary, as Adam spoke with God in the Garden of Eden. The fruit of this direct conversation with God is the true knowledge of God, the true theology, as Evagrius puts it in a memorable phrase: “If you are a theologian, you pray truly; and if you pray truly, you are a theologian.”