On Approaching God in Prayer through Repentance
I have had the privilege to begin reading On Prayer: One Hundred and Fifty-Three Texts by Evagrios the Solitary. At first, it may seem like a long text at 153 readings, but each one is only a sentence or two, and full of wisdom. He immediately starts by stressing the importance of ‘tears’, or sorrowful repentance, as the first step in living a life of prayer. This is emphasized in short—dare I say, tweet-sized?—readings totalling less than 10 in number. Here are the ones that stood out to me:
2. When the soul has been purified through the keeping of all the commandments, it makes the intellect steadfast and able to receive the state needed for prayer.
At first when reading this I thought, then how can anyone truly pray? I suppose that’s the point. Prayer is often burdened with distraction, self-doubt, and wandering thoughts. So perhaps the state needed to truly pray without said distractions is indeed that which is brought about through peace with God and obedience to His commandments.
4. When Moses tried to draw near to the burning bush he was forbidden to approach until he had loosed his sandals from his feet (cf. Exod. 3:5) If, then, you wish to behold and commune with Him who is beyond sense-perception and beyond concept, you must free yourself from every impassioned thought.
Evagrios continues his emphasis on the intellect (nous?) by alluding to Moses’ preparation in approaching the burning bush. In order to approach God, to ready ourselves for prayer, we must do so with care and in the right way.
5. First pray for the gift of tears, so that through sorrowing you may tame what is savage in your soul. And having confessed your transgressions to the Lord, you will obtain forgiveness from Him.
Here we move from the theoretical to the practical. Yes, we know we must prepare our mind, but how? The answer is through tears; we must approach God in repentance for the salvation of our souls (Isaiah 30:15).
8. Many people, shedding tears for their sins, forget what tears are for, and so in their folly go astray.
In his concluding remarks on tears of repentance, Evagrios ensures that his readers understand repentance is not merely the means to prayer, but also an end until itself. The shedding tears in and of itself can be a delusion if the purpose for which they are shed is forgotten. It is not merely enough to be seen weeping before the Lord, but we must be in a state of true repentance as we approach our great God.