Chrysostom Ep 2300
2300 (Ep 6,14)
2301 Having drawn up this army, and roused their zeal,—for both these things were requisite, both that they should be drawn up in array and subject to each other, and that their spirit should be aroused,—and having inspired them with courage, for this was requisite also, he next proceeds also to arm them. For arms had been of no use, had they not been first posted each in his own place, and had not the spirit of the soldier’s soul been roused; for we must first arm him within, and then without.
Now if this is the case with soldiers, much more is it with spiritual soldiers. Or rather in their case, there is no such thing as arming them without, but everything is within. He hath roused their ardor, and set it on fire, he hath added confidence. He hath set them in due array. Observe how he also puts on the armor. “Stand therefore,” saith he. The very first feature in tactics is, to know how to stand well, and many things will depend upon that. Hence he discourses much concerning standing, saying also elsewhere, “Watch ye, stand fast.” (1Co 16,13). And again, “So stand fast in the Lord.” (Ph 4,1). And again, “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” (1Co 10,12). And again, “That ye may be able, having done all, to stand.” (Ep 6,13). Doubtless then he does not mean merely any way of standing, but a correct way, and as many as have had experience in wars know how great a point it is to know how to stand. For if in the case of boxers and wrestlers, the trainer recommends this before anything else, namely, to stand firm, much more will it be the first thing in warfare, and military matters.
The man who, in a true sense, stands, is upright; he stands not in a lazy attitude, not leaning upon anything. Exact uprightness discovers itself by the way of standing, so that they who are perfectly upright, they stand. But they who do not stand, cannot be upright, but are unstrung and disjointed. The luxurious man does not stand upright, but is bent; so is the lewd man, and the lover of money. He who knows how to stand will from his very standing, as from a sort of foundation, find every part of the conflict easy to him.
“Stand therefore,” saith he, “having girded your loins with truth.”
(He is not speaking of a literal, physical girdle, for all the language in this passage he employs in a spiritual sense. And observe how methodically he proceeds. First he girds up his soldier. What then is the meaning of this? The man that is loose in his life, and is dissolved in his lusts, and that has his thoughts trailing on the ground, him he braces up by means of this girdle, not suffering him to be impeded by the garments entangling his legs, but leaving him to run with his feet well at liberty. “Stand therefore, having girded your loins,” saith he. By the “loins” here he means this; just what the keel is in ships, the same are the loins with us, the basis or groundwork of the whole body: for they are, as it were, a foundation, and upon them as the schools of the physicians tell you, the whole frame is built. So then in “girding up the loins” he compacts the foundation of our soul; for he is not of course speaking of these loins of our body, but is discoursing spiritually:and as the loins are the foundation alike of the parts both above and below, so is it also in the case of these spiritual loins. Oftentimes, we know, when persons are fatigued, they put their hands there as if upon a sort of foundation, and in that manner support themselves; and for this reason it is that the girdle is used in war, that it may bind and hold together this foundation, as it were, in our frame; for this reason too it is that when we run we gird ourselves. It is this which guards our strength. Let this then, saith he, be done also with respect to the soul, and then in doing anything whatsoever we shall be strong; and it is a thing most especially becoming to soldiers.
True, you may say, but these our natural loins we gird with a leathern band; but we, spiritual soldiers, with what? I answer, with that which is the head and crown of all our thoughts, I mean, “with truth.” “Having girded your loins,” saith he, “with truth.” What then is the meaning of “with truth”? Let us love nothing like falsehood, all our duties let us pursue “with truth,” let us not lie one to another. Whether it be an opinion, let us seek the truth, or whether it be a line of life, let us seek the true one. If we fortify ourselves with this, if we “gird ourselves with truth,” then shall no one overcome us. He who seeks the doctrine of truth, shall never fall down to the earth; for that the things which are not true are of the earth, is evident from this, that all they that are without are enslaved to the passions, following their own reasonings; and therefore if we are sober, we shall need no instruction in the tales of the Greeks. Seest thou how weak and frivolous they are? incapable of entertaining about God one severe thought or anything above human reasoning? Why? Because they are not “girded about with truth”; because their loins, the receptacle of the seed of life, and the main strength of their reasonings, are ungirt; nothing then can be weaker than these.
2302 And the Municheans again, seest thou, how all the things they have the boldness to utter, are from their own reasonings? “It was impossible,” say they, “for God to create the world without matter.” Whence is this so evident? These things they say, grovening, and from the earth, and from what happens amongst ourselves; because man, they say, cannot create otherwise. Marcion again, look what he says. “God, if He took upon Him flesh, could not remain pure.” Whence is this evident? “Because,” says he, “neither can men.” But men are able to do this. Valentinus again, with his reasonings all trailing along the ground, speaks the things of the earth; and in like manner Paul of Samosata. And Arius, what does he say? “It was impossible for God when He begat, to beget without passion.” Whence, Arius, hast thou the boldness to allege this; merely from the things which take place amongst ourselves? Seest thou how the reasonings of all these trail along on the ground? All are, as it were, let loose and unconfined, and savoring of the earth? And so much then for doctrines. With regard to life and conduct, again, whoremongers, lovers of money, and of glory, and of everything else, trail on the ground. They have not their loins themselves standing firm, so that when they are weary they may rest upon them; but when they are weary, they do not put their hands upon them and stand upright, but flag. He, however, who “is girt about with the truth,” first, never is weary; and secondly, if he should be weary, he will rest himself upon the truth itself. What? Will poverty, tell me, render him weary? No, in nowise; for he will repose on the true riches, and by this poverty will understand what is true poverty. Or again, will slavery make him weary? No, in nowise, for he will know what is the true slavery. Or shall disease? No, nor even that. “Let your loins,” saith Christ, “be girded about, and your lamps burning” (Lc 12,35), with that light which shall never be put out. This is what the Israelites also, when they were departing out of Egypt (Ex 12,11), were charged to do. For why did they eat the passover with their loins girded? Art thou desirous to hear the ground of it? According to the historical fact, or according to its mystical sense, shall I state it? But I will state them both, and do ye retain it in mind, for I am not doing it without an object, merely that I may tell you the solution, but also that my words may become in you reality. They had, we read, their loins girded, and their staff in their hands, and their shoes on their feet, and thus they ate the Passover. Awful and terrible mysteries, and of vast depth; and if so terrible in the type, how much more in the reality? They come forth out of Egypt, they eat the Passover. Attend. “Our Passover hath been sacrificed, even Christ,” it is said. Wherefore did they have their loins girded? Their guise is that of wayfarers; for their having shoes, and staves in their hands, and their eating standing, declares nothing else than this. Will ye hear the history first, or the mystery? Better the history first. What then is the design of the history? The Jews were continually forgetting God’s benefits to them. Accordingly then, God tied the sense of these, His benefits, not only to the time, but also to the very habit of them that were to eat. For this is why they were to eat girded and sandalled, that when they were asked the reason, they might say, “we were ready for our journey, we were just about to go forth out of Egypt to the land of promise and we were ready for our exodus.” This then is the historical type. But the reality is this; we too eat a Passover, even Christ; “for,” saith he, “our Passover hath been sacrificed, even Christ.” (1Co 5,7). What then? We too ought to eat it, both sandalled and girded. And why? That we too may be ready for our Exodus, for our departure hence.
Moral. Let not any one of them that eat this Passover look towards Egypt, but towards Heaven, towards “Jerusalem that is above.” (Ga 4,26). On this account thou eatest with thy loins girded, on this account thou eatest with shoes on thy feet, that thou mayest know, that from the moment thou first beginnest to eat the Passover, thou oughtest to set out, and to be upon thy journey. And this implies two things, both that we must depart out of Egypt, and that, whilst we stay, we must stay henceforth as in a strange country; “for our citizenship,” saith he, “is in Heaven” (Ph 3,20); and that all our life long we should ever be prepared, so that when we are called we may not put it off, but say, “My heart is fixed.” (Ps 108,1). “Yes, but this Paul indeed could say, who knew nothing against himself; but I, who require a long time for repentance, I cannot say it.” Yet that to be girded is the part of a waking soul, hearken to what God says to that righteous man, “Gird up now thy loins like a man, for I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto Me.” (Jb 38,3). This He says also to all the prophets, and this He says again to Moses, to be girded. And He Himself also appears to Ezekiel (Ez 9,11), Sept). girded. Nay more, and the Angels, too, appear to us girded (Ap 15,6), as being soldiers. From our being girded about, it comes that we also stand bravely as from our standing our being girded comes.
For we also are going to depart, and many are the difficulties that intervene. When we have crossed this plain, straightway the devil is upon us, doing everything, contriving every artifice, to the end that those who have been saved out of Egypt, those who have passed the Red Sea, those who are delivered at once from the evil demons, and from unnumbered plagues, may be taken and destroyed by him. But, if we be vigilant, we too have a pillar of fire, the grace of the Spirit. The same both enlightens and overshadows us. We have manna; yea rather not manna, but far more than manna. Spiritual drink we have, not water, that springs forth from the Rock. So have we too our encampment (Ap 20,9), and we dwell in the desert even now; for a desert indeed without virtue, is the earth even now, even more desolate than that wilderness. Why was that desert so terrible? Was it not because it had scorpions in it, and adders? (Dt 8,15). “A land,” it is said, “which none passed through.” (Jr 2,6).. Yet is not that wilderness, no, it is not so barren of fruits, as is this human nature.
2303 At this instant, how many scorpions, how many asps are in this wilderness, how many serpents, how many “offsprings of vipers” (Mt 3,7) are these through whom we at this instant pass! Yet let us not be afraid; for the leader of this our Exodus is not Moses, but Jesus.
How then is it that we shall not suffer the same things? Let us not commit the same acts, and then shall we not suffer the same punishment. They murmured, they were ungrateful; let us therefore not cherish these passions. How was it that they fell all of them? “They despised the pleasant land.” (Ps 106,24). “How ‘despised’ it? Surely they prized it highly.” By becoming indolent and cowardly, and not choosing to undergo any labors to obtain it. Let not us then “despise” Heaven! This is what is meant by “despising.” Again, among us also has fruit been brought, fruit from Heaven, not the cluster of grapes borne upon the staff (Nb 13,23), but the “earnest of the Spirit” (2Co 1,22), “the citizenship which is in Heaven” (Ph 3,20), which Paul and the whole company of the Apostles, those marvelous husbandmen, have taught us. It is not Caleb the son of Jephunneh, nor Jesus the son of Nun, that hath brought these fruits; but Jesus the Son of “the Father of mercies” (2Co 1,3), the Son of the Very God, hath brought every virtue, hath brought down from Heaven all the fruits that are from thence, the songs of heaven hath He brought. For the words which the Cherubim above say, these hath He charged us to say also, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” He hath brought to us the virtue of the Angels. “The Angels marry not, neither are given in marriage” (Mt 22,30); this fair plant hath He planted here also. They love not money, nor anything like it; and this too hath He sown amongst us. They never die; and this hath He freely given us also, for death is no longer death, but sleep. For hearken to what He saith, “Our friend Lazarus is fallen asleep.” (Jn 11,11).
Seest thou then the fruits of “Jerusalem that is above”? (Ga 4,26). And what is indeed more stupendous than all is this, that our warfare is not decided, but all these things are given us before the attainment of the promise! For they indeed toiled even after they had entered into the land of promise;—rather, they toiled not, for had they chosen to obey God, they might have taken all the cities, without either arms or array. Jericho, we know, they overturned, more after the fashion of dancers than of warriors. We however have no warfare after we have entered into the land of promise, that is, into Heaven, but only so long as we are in the wilderness, that is, in the present life. “For he that is entered into his rest hath himself also rested from his works as God did from His.” (He 4,10). “Let us not then be weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Ga 6,9). Seest thou how that just as He led them, so also He leads us? In their case, touching the manna and the wilderness, it is said, “He that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack.” (Ex 16,18). And we have this charge given us, “not to lay up treasure upon the earth.” (Mt 6,19). But if we do lay up treasure, it is no longer the earthly worm that corrupts it, as was the case with the manna, but that which dwelleth eternally with fire. Let us then “subdue all things,” that we furnish not food to this worm. For “he,” it is said, “who gathered much had nothing over.” For this too happens with ourselves also every day. We all of us have but the same capacity of hunger to satisfy. And that which is more than this, is but an addition of cares. For what He intended in after-times to deliver, saying, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Mt 6,34), this had He thus been teaching even from the very beginning, and not even thus did they receive it. But as to us, let us not be insatiable, let us not be discontented, let us not be seeking out for splendid houses; for we are on our pilgrimage, not at home; so that if there be any that knows that the present life is a sort of journey, and expedition, and, as one might say, it is what they call an entrenched camp, he will not be seeking for splendid buildings. For who, tell me, be he ever so rich, would choose to build a splendid house in an encampment? No one; he would be a laughing stock, he would be building for his enemies, and would the more effectually invite them on; and so then, if we be in our senses, neither shall we. The present life is nothing else than a march and an encampment.
Wherefore, I beseech you, let us do all we can, so as to lay up no treasure here; for if the thief should come, we must in a moment arise and depart. “Watch,” saith He, “for ye know not at what hour the thief cometh” (Mt 24,42-43), thus naming death. O then, before he cometh, let us send away everything before us to our native country; but here let us be “well girded,” that we may be enabled to overcome our enemies, whom God grant that we may overcome, through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom together with the Holy Ghost, be unto the Father glory, strength, honor forever and ever. Amen).
2400 and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; withal taking up the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ep 6,14-24)
2401 “Having girded your loins,” saith he, “with truth.” What can be the meaning of this? I have stated in the preceding discourse, that he ought to be lightly accoutered, in order that there should be no impediment whatever to his running.
“And having on,” he continues, “the breastplate of righteousness.” As the breastplate is impenetrable, so also is righteousness, and by righteousness here he means a life of universal virtue. Such a life no one shall ever be able to overthrow; it is true, many wound him, but no one cuts through him, no, not the devil himself. It is as though one were to say, “having righteous deeds fixed in the breast”; of these it is that Christ saith, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.” (Mt 5,6). Thus is he firm and strong like a breastplate. Such a man will never be put out of temper.
“And having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” It is more uncertain in what sense this was said. What then is its meaning? They are noble greaves, doubtless, with which he invests us. Either then he means this, that we should be prepared for the gospel, and should make use of our feet for this, and should prepare and make ready its way before it; or if not this, at least that we ourselves should be prepared for our departure. “The preparation,” then, “of the gospel of peace,” is nothing else than a most virtuous life; according to what the Prophet saith. “Thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear.” (Ps 10,17). “Of the gospel,” he says, “of peace,” and with reason; for inasmuch as he had made mention of warfare and fighting, he shows us that this conflict with the evil spirits we must needs have: for the gospel is “the gospel of peace”; this war which we have against them, puts an end to another war, that, namely, which is between us and God; if we are at war with the devil, we are at peace with God. Fear not therefore, beloved; it is a “gospel,” that is, a word of good news; already is the victory won.
“Withal taking up the shield of faith.”
By “faith” in this place, he means, not knowledge, (for that he never would have ranged last,) but that gift by which miracles are wrought. And with reason does he term this “‘faith’ a shield”; for as the shield is put before the whole body, as if it were a sort of rampart, just so is this faith; for all things yield to it.
“Wherewith ye shall be able,” saith he, “to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.”
For this shield nothing shall be able to resist; for hearken to what Christ saith to His disciples, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove.” (Mt 17,20). But how are we to have this faith? When we have rightly performed all those duties.
“By the darts of the evil one,” he means, both temptations, and vile desires; and “fiery,” he says, for such is the character of these desires. Yet if faith can command the evil spirits, much more can it also the passions of the soul.
“And take the helmet,” he continues, “of salvation,” that is, of your salvation. For he is casing them in armor.
“And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” He either means the Spirit, or else, “the spiritual sword”: for by this all things are severed, by this all things are cleft asunder, by this we cut off even the serpent’s head.
Ep 6,18-20. “With all prayer and supplication,” saith he, “praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints; and on my behalf that utterance may be given unto me, in opening my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”
As the word of God has power to do all things, so also has he who has the spiritual gift. “For the word of God,” saith he, “is living, and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.” (He 4,12). Now mark the wisdom of this blessed Apostle. He hath armed them with all security. What then is necessary after that? To call upon the King, that He may stretch forth His hand. “With all prayer, and supplication, praying at all seasons in the Spirit”; for it is possible “to pray” not “in the Spirit,” when one “uses vain repetitions” (Mt 6,7); “and watching thereunto,” he adds, that is, keeping sober; for such ought the armed warrior, he that stands at the King’s side, to be; wakeful and temperate:—“in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints; and on my behalf that utterance may be given unto me in opening my mouth.” What sayest thou, blessed Paul? Hast thou, then, need of thy disciples? And well does he say, “in opening my mouth.” He did not then study what he used to say, but according to what Christ said, “When they deliver you up, be not anxious how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak” (Mt 10,19): so truly did he do everything by faith, everything by grace. “With boldness,” he proceeds, “to make known the mystery of the Gospel”; that is, that I may answer for myself in its defense, as I ought. And art thou bound in thy chain, and still needest the aid of others? Yea, saith he, for so was Peter also bound in his chain, and yet nevertheless “was prayer made earnestly for him.” (Ac 12,5). “For which I am an ambassador in chains, that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak”; that is, that I may answer with confidence, with courage, with great prudence.
Ep 6,21. “But that ye also may know my affairs, how I do, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known to you all things.”
2402 As soon as he had mentioned his chains, he leaves something for Tychicus also to relate to them of his own accord. For whatever topics there were of doctrine and of exhortation, all these he explained by his letter: but what were matters of bare recital, these he entrusted to the bearer of the letter. “That ye may know my affairs,” that is, may be informed of them. This manifests both the love which he entertained towards them, and their love towards him.
Ep 6,22. “Whom I have sent unto you,” saith he, “for this very purpose, that ye may know our state, and that he may comfort your hearts.”
This language he employs, not without a purpose, but in consequence of what he had been saying previously; “having girded your loins, having on the breastplate,” &c., which are a token of a constant and unceasing advance; for hear what the Prophet saith, “Let it be unto him as the raiment wherewith he covereth himself, and for the girdle wherewith he is girded continually” (Ps 109,19); and the Prophet Isaiah again saith, that God hath “put on righteousness as a breastplate” (Is 59,17); by these expressions instructing us that these are things which we must have, not for a short time only, but continually, inasmuch as there is continual need of warfare. “For it is said the righteous are bold as a lion.” (Pr 28,1). For he that is armed with such a breastplate, it cannot be that he should fear the array that is against him, but he will leap into the midst of the enemy. And again Isaiah saith, “How beautiful are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings.” (Is 52,7). Who would not run, who would not serve in such a cause; to publish the good tidings of peace, peace between God and man, peace, where men have toiled not, but where God hath wrought all?
But what is the “preparation of the Gospel”? Let us hearken to what Jn saith, “Make ye ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” (Mt 3,3). But again there is need also of another “preparation” after baptism, so that we may do nothing unworthy of “peace.” And then, since the feet are usually a token of the way of life, hence he is constantly exhorting in this language, “Look, therefore, carefully how ye walk.” (Ep 5,15). On this account, he would say, let us exhibit a practice and example worthy of the Gospel; that is, make our life and conduct pure. The good tidings of peace have been proclaimed to you, give to these good tidings a ready way; since if ye again become enemies, there is no more “preparation of peace.” Be ready, be not backward to embrace this peace. As ye were ready and disposed for peace and faith, so also continue. The shield is that which first receives the assaults of the adversary, and preserves the armor uninjured. So long then as faith be right and the life be right, the armor remains uninjured.
(He discourses, however, much concerning faith, but most especially in writing to the Hebrews, as he does also concerning hope. Believe, saith he, in the good things to come, and none of this armor shall be injured. In dangers, in toils, by holding out thy hope and thy faith to protect thee, thou wilt preserve thy armor uninjured. “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that seek after Him.” (He 11,6). Faith is a shield; but wherever there are quibbles, and reasonings, and scrutinizings, then is it no longer a shield, but it impedes us. Let this our faith be such as shall cover and screen the whole frame. Let it not then be scanty, so as to leave the feet or any other part exposed, but let the shield be commensurate with the whole body.
“Fiery darts.” For many doubtful reasonings there are, which set the soul, as it were, on fire, many difficulties, many perplexities, but all of them faith sets entirely at rest; many things does the devil dart in, to inflame our soul and bring us into uncertainty; as, for example, when some persons say, “Is there then a resurrection?” “Is there a judgment?” “Is there a retribution?” “But is there faith?” the apostle would say, “thou shalt with it quench the darts of the devil. Has any base lust assaulted thee? Hold before thee thy faith in the good things to come, and it will not even show itself, yea, it will perish.” “All the darts”; not some quenched, and others not. Hearken to what Paul saith, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed to us-ward.” (Rm 8,18). Seest thou how many darts the righteous quenched in those days? Seemeth it not to thee to be “fiery darts,” when the patriarch burned with inward fire, as he was offering up his son? Yea, and other righteous men also have quenched “all his darts.” Whether then they be reasonings that assault us, let us hold out this; or whether they be base desires, let us use this; or whether again labors and distresses, upon this let us repose. Of all the other armor, this is the safeguard; if we have not this, they will be quickly pierced through. “Withal,” saith he, “taking up the shield of faith.” What is the meaning of “withal”? It means both “in truth,” and “in righteousness,” and “in the preparation of the gospel”; that is to say, all these have need of the aid of faith.
And therefore he adds further, “and take the helmet of salvation”; that is to say, finally by this shall ye be able to be in security. To receive the helmet of salvation is to escape the peril. For as the helmet covers the head perfectly in every part, and suffers it not to sustain any injury, but preserves it, so also does faith supply alike the place of a shield, and of a helmet to preserve us. For if we quench his darts, quickly shall we receive also those saving thoughts that suffer not our governing principle to sustain any harm; for if these, the thoughts that are adverse to our salvation, are quenched, those which are not so, but which contribute to our salvation, and inspire us with good hopes, will be generated within us, and will rest upon our governing principle, as a helmet does upon the head.
2403 And not only this, but we shall take also “the sword of the Spirit,” and thus not only ward off his missiles, but smite the devil himself. For a soul that does not despair of herself, and is proof against those fiery darts, will stand with all intrepidity to face the enemy, and will cleave open his breastplate with this very sword with which Paul also burst through it, and “brought into captivity his devices” (2Co 10,5); he will cut off and behead the serpent.
“Which is the word of God.”
By the “word of God” in this place, he means on the one hand the ordinance of God, or the word of command; or on the other that it is in the Name of Christ. For if we keep his commandments, by these we shall kill and slay the dragon himself, “the crooked serpent.” (Is 27,1). And as he said, “Ye shall be able to quench the fiery darts of the evil one”; that he might not puff them up, he shows them, that above all things they stand in need of God; for what does he say?
“With all prayer and supplication,” he says, these things shall be done, and ye shall accomplish all by praying. But when thou drawest near, never ask for thyself only: thus shalt thou have God favorable to thee.
“With all prayer and supplication, praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and washing thereunto in all perseverance for all the saints.” Limit it not, I say, to certain times of the day, for hear what he is saying; approach at all times; “pray,” saith he, “without ceasing.” (1Th 5,17). Hast thou never heard of that widow, how by her importunity she prevailed? (). Hast thou never heard of that friend, who at midnight shamed his friend into yielding by his perseverance? (). Hast thou not heard of the Syrophoenician woman (), how by the constancy of her entreaty she called forth the Lord’s compassion? These all of them gained their object by their importunity.
“Praying at all seasons,” saith he, “in the Spirit.”
That is to say, let us seek for the things which are according to God, nothing of this world, nothing pertaining to this life).
Therefore, is there need not only that we “pray without ceasing,” but also, that we should do so “watching;—and watching,” saith he, “thereunto.” Whether he is here speaking of vigils; or of the wakefulness of the soul, I admit both meanings. Seest thou how that Canaanitish woman watched unto prayer? and though the Lord gave her no answer, nay, even shook her off, and called her a dog, she said, “Yea, Lord: for even the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table” (Mt 15,27), and desisted not until she obtained her request. How, too, did that widow cry, and persist so long, until she was able to shame into yielding that ruler, that neither feared God, nor regarded man ()? And how, again, did the friend persist, remaining before the door in the dead of night, till he shamed the other into yielding by his importunity, and made him arise. (). This is to be watchful.
Wouldest thou understand what watchfulness in prayer is? Go to Hannah, hearken to her very words, “Adonai Eloi Sabaoth.” (1S 1,11). Nay, rather, hear what preceded those words; “they all rose up,” says the history, “from the table” (1S 1,9), and she, forthwith, did not betake herself to sleep, nor to repose. Whence she appears to me even when she was sitting at the table to have partaken lightly, and not to have been made heavy with viands. Otherwise never could she have shed so many tears; for if we, when we are fasting and foodless, hardly pray thus, or rather never pray thus, much more would not she ever have prayed thus after a meal, unless even at the meal she had been as they that eat not. Let us be ashamed, us that are men, at the example of this woman; let us be ashamed, that are suing and gasping for a kingdom, at her, praying and weeping for a little child. “And she stood,” it says, “before the Lord” (1S 1,10); and what are her words? “Adonai, Lord, Eloi Sabaoth!” and this is, being interpreted, “O Lord, the God of Hosts.” Her tears went before her tongue; by these she hoped to prevail with God to bend to her request. Where tears are, there is always affliction also: where affliction is, there is great wisdom and heedfulness. “If thou wilt indeed,” she continues, “look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then will I give him unto the Lord all the days of his life.” (1S 1,11). She said not, “for one year,” or, “for two,” as we do;—nor said she, “if thou wilt give me a child, I will give thee money”; but, “I give back to Thee the very gift itself entire, my first-born, the son of my prayer.” Truly here was a daughter of Abraham. He gave when it was demanded of him. She offers even before it is demanded.
But observe even after this her deep reverence. “Only her lips moved, but her voice,” it saith, “was not heard.” (1S 1,13). And thus does he who would gain his request draw nigh unto God; not consulting his ease, nor gaping, nor lounging, nor scratching his head, nor with utter listlessness. What, was not God able to grant, even without any prayer at all? What, did He not know the woman’s desire even before she asked? And yet had He granted it before she asked, then the woman’s earnestness would not have been shown, her virtue would not have been made manifest, she would not have gained so great a reward. So that the delay is not the result of envy or of witchcraft, but of providential kindness.
Chrysostom Ep 2300