The Necessity of Persistence in Prayer

By St Cyril of Alexandria – Sermon LXXVIII in his Commentary on the Gospel of St Luke

Luke 11:5‐10. And He said to them, Who of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves: for my friend has come to me from the way, and I have nothing to set before him. And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: lo! the door is shut, and the children are with me in bed: I cannot rise and give you. I say to you, that though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend; because of his urgency he will rise and give him as much as he needs. And I also say to you, Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds: and whosoever knocks, it shall be opened to him.

The language of the divinely inspired Scripture is constantly, so to speak, profound; nor will it bend itself for those to be able to understand it who merely wish to do so, but only for those who know how to search it well, and are enriched with the divine light in their mind, by means of which they attain to the meaning of hidden truths. Let us therefore ask for the understanding which comes from above, from God, and the illumination of the Holy Ghost, that we may attain to a correct and unerring method, whereby we may be enabled to see the truth contained in the passage set before us.

We have heard then what the Saviour said in the parable now read to us, which if we understand we shall find to be laden with benefits. And the order of the ideas is very wonderful. For the Saviour of all had taught at the request of the holy apostles, in what way we ought to pray. But it was possible that those who had obtained from Him this precious and saving lesson, might sometimes make indeed their supplications according to the pattern given them, but would do so wearily and lazily. And so, when not heard at their first or second prayer, would desist from their supplications, as being unavailing to their benefit. In order therefore that we may not experience this, nor suffer the injury that would result from such littleness of mind, He teaches us that we must diligently continue the practice, and in the form of a parable plainly shows that weariness in prayer is to our loss, while patience therein is greatly to our profit: for it is our duty to persevere, without giving way to indolence.

And this He teaches us by saying, that “though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, because of his importunity he will rise and give him as much as he needs.”

And now come, and let us transfer to the truth what was shown in the form of a parable. Be urgent in prayer; draw near to God Who loves to be kind; and that very constantly. And if you see that the gift of grace is delayed, yield not to weariness: despair not of the expected blessing: abandon not the hope set before you; nor further foolishly say within yourself, ‘I have drawn near frequently; I have gained absolutely nothing; I have wept, and received not; I have supplicated, but not been accepted: for of all I asked, nothing has been accomplished.’ Rather think thus within yourself, that He Who is the universal treasure house better knows our state than we do, in that He weighs to every man what is due and suitable to him.

You ask sometimes what is beyond your measure; you wish to receive those things of which you are not yet worthy. The Giver Himself knows the time suitable for His gifts. Earthly fathers do not immediately and without discretion fulfil the desire of their sons: but often delay in spite of their asking, and that not because they have a grudging hand, nor again because they regard (merely) what is pleasant to the petitioners, but as considering what is useful and necessary for their good conduct. And how will that rich and bounteous Giver neglect the duo accomplishment for men of what they pray for, unless of course, and without all doubt, He knows that it would not be for their benefit to receive what they ask? We must therefore offer our prayers to God with knowledge, as well as with assiduity: and even though there be some delay in your requests, continue patiently with the vineyard workers, as being well assured that what is gained without toil, and readily won, is usually despised: whereas that which is gathered with labour is a more pleasant and abiding possession.

But perchance to this you say; ‘I draw near frequently, making requests; but the vintage therefrom has wandered far away. I am not slothful in supplications, but persevering and very importunate: who will assure me that I shall receive? Who is my security that I shall not labour in vain?’ “Therefore I also say to you;” and it is the Bestower of divine gifts Who Himself enters, and speaks; “I also say to you, Seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you: for every one that asks receives; and he who seeks finds: and whosoever knocks, it shall be opened to him.” In those words, “I say to you” has the full force of an oath: not that God is false, even though the promise be not accompanied with an oath; but to show that the littleness of their faith was groundless, He sometimes confirms His hearers by an oath. For the Saviour is also found in many places prefacing His words by saying, “Verily, truly, I say to you.” As therefore He makes this very promise on oath, it is not a thing free from guilt to disbelieve it.

In telling us therefore to seek, He bids us labour: for by labour, that which is needed is always, so to say, found; especially when it is something fit for us to possess. He who knocks, not once merely, but again and again, rattles the door with his hand, it may be, or with a stone, so that the master of the house, unable to endure the annoyance of the knocks, will open it even against his will. Learn therefore, even from what happens among us, the way to gain that which is to your profit. Knock, be urgent, ask. So must all act who ask any thing of God: for wise Paul writes, “Pray without ceasing.” We are in need of urgent prayer, because many are the turmoils of worldly matters which encircle us around: for that many headed serpent greatly distresses us, involving us sometimes in unexpected difficulties, that he may humble us to baseness and manifold sin: and, besides this, there is also the inbred law of voluptuousness lurking in our fleshly members, and warring, as Scripture says, “against the law of our mind:” and lastly, the enemies of the doctrines of truth, even the impure and polluted gangs of heretics, oppose those who wish to hold correct opinions. Constant and earnest prayer therefore is necessary.

For arms and the implements of warfare are needed for soldiers, that they may be able to overcome those who are drawn up against them: and for us prayer, “for our weapons,” as Scripture says “are not carnal, but mighty to God.” And this too we ought to add, as being in my opinion amply sufficient to quicken us to prayer. The Saviour and Lord of all is seen again and again passing the night in prayer. And when too He was about to undergo His saving passion upon the precious cross, He knelt down and prayed, saying; “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” Was this because Life was afraid of death? Was it because there was no escape for Him from the net, no deliverance from the snare, in that the hand of the Jews was mightier than His power?

And how is it not altogether abominable to think or speak thus? He was by nature God, and the Lord of powers, even though He was in form like to us. Of His own will He took upon Him the suffering upon the cross, because He was the helper of us all. What need was there then of prayer? It was that we might learn that supplication is becoming and full of benefits, and that we must be constant in it whenever temptation befall, and the cruelty of enemies press upon us like a wave.

And to put it in one more light; for man to converse with God is a very great honour to human nature. And this we do in prayer, being commanded to address the Lord as Father; for we say, Our Father. But if He be a Father, necessarily He both loves and generously cherishes His sons, and honours them of course, and counts them worthy of indulgence. Draw near therefore in faith with perseverance, as being well assured that to those who ask urgently Christ bows His ear: by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen.

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