Matt. 6:5-8 (Part 2)

TERTULLIAN: In the matter of kneeling also prayer is subject to diversity of observance, through the act of some few who abstain from kneeling on the Sabbath [i.e., Saturday]; and since this dissension is particularly on its trial before the churches, the Lord will give His grace that the dissentients may either yield, or else indulge their opinion without offense to others. We, however (just as we have received), only on the day of the Lord’s Resurrection ought to guard not only against kneeling, but every posture and office of solicitude; deferring even our businesses lest we give any place to the devil.  Similarly, too, in the period of Pentecost; which period we distinguish by the same solemnity of exultation. But who would hesitate every day to prostrate himself before God, at least in the first prayer with which we enter on the daylight? At fasts, moreover, and stations,  no prayer should be made without kneeling, and the remaining customary marks of humility; for then we are not only praying, but deprecating, and making satisfaction to God our Lord. Touching times of prayer nothing at all has been prescribed, except clearly “to pray at every time and every place.” 

But how “in every place,” since we are prohibited from praying in public? In every place, he means, which opportunity or even necessity, may have rendered suitable: for that which was done by the apostles (who, in jail, in the audience of the prisoners, “began praying and singing to God”) is not considered to have been done contrary to the precept; nor yet that which was done by Paul, who in the ship, in presence of all, “made thanksgiving to God.”

Touching the time, however, the extrinsic observance of certain hours will not be unprofitable—those common hours, I mean, which mark the intervals of the day—the third, the sixth, the ninth—which we may find in the Scriptures to have been more solemn than the rest. The first infusion of the Holy Spirit into the congregated disciples took place at “the third hour.”

Peter, on the day on which he experienced the vision of Universal Community (exhibited) in that small vessel, had ascended into the more lofty parts of the house, for prayer’s sake “at the sixth hour.”  The same apostle was going into the temple, with John, “at the ninth hour,” when he restored the paralytic to his health. Albeit these practices stand simply without any precept for their observance, still it may be granted a good thing to establish some definite presumption, which may both add stringency to the admonition to pray, and may, as it were by a law, tear us out from our businesses unto such a duty; so that—what we read to have been observed by Daniel also,  in accordance, of course, with Israel’s discipline—we pray at least not less than three times in the day, debtors as we are to Three—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: of course, in addition to our regular prayers which are due, without any admonition, on the entrance of light and of night. But, in addition, it becomes believers not to take food, and not to go to the bath, before interposing a prayer; for the refreshments and nourishments of the spirit are to be held prior to those of the flesh, and things heavenly prior to things earthly. On Prayer, 3.689-690.

TERTULLIAN: In the commentary of Luke the third hour is demonstrated as an hour of prayer, about which hour it was that they who had received the initiatory gift of the Holy Spirit were held for drunkards;  and the sixth, at which Peter went up on the roof; and the ninth, at which they entered the temple: why should we not understand that, with absolutely perfect indifference, we must pray always,  and everywhere, and at every time; yet still that these three hours, as being more marked in things human—hours which divide the day, which distinguish businesses, which re-echo in the public ear—have likewise ever been of special solemnity in divine prayers? A persuasion which is sanctioned also by the corroborative fact of Daniel praying thrice in the day;  of course, through exception of certain stated hours, no other, moreover, than the more marked and subsequently apostolic hours—the third, the sixth, the ninth. And hence, accordingly, I shall affirm that Peter too had been led rather by ancient usage to the observance of the ninth hour, praying at the third specific interval, (the interval) of final prayer. On Fasting, 4.108-109.

ORIGEN: Of those who for human glory seem to do good to their neighbor, or pray in synagogues and at broadway corners, he says, “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.” For as the rich man according to Luke had good things in his human life,  being no longer capable of obtaining them after the present life because he had had them, so he that has his reward, as having sown not “unto the spirit” but “unto the flesh” shall “reap corruption” but shall not “reap eternal life” in his giving or in his prayers.  . . .

There are always many who are rather pleasure-loving than God-loving in their seeming prayer who debauch prayer amid banqueting and carousing, standing in truth at the broadway corners and praying. For everyone who has made pleasure his rule of life has in his passion for the spacious fallen out of the narrow straitened way of Jesus Christ that is without a single bend and has no corner at all. On Prayer. 

CYPRIAN: But let our speech and petition when we pray be under discipline, observing quietness and modesty. Let us consider that we are standing in God’s sight. We must please the divine eyes both with the habit of body and with the measure of voice. For as it is characteristic of a shameless man to be noisy with his cries, so, on the other hand, it is fitting to the modest man to pray with moderated petitions. Moreover, in His teaching the Lord has bidden us to pray in secret—in hidden and remote places, in our very bed-chambers—which is best suited to faith, that we may know that God is everywhere present, and hears and sees all, and in the plenitude of His majesty penetrates even into hidden and secret places, as it is written, “I am a God at hand, and not a God afar off. If a man will hide himself in secret places, will I not then see him? Do not I fill heaven and earth?”  And again: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.”  And when we meet together with the brethren in one place, and celebrate divine sacrifices with God’s priest, we ought to be mindful of modesty and discipline—not to throw abroad our prayers indiscriminately, with unsubdued voices, nor to cast to God with tumultuous wordiness a petition that ought to be commended to God by modesty; for God is the hearer, not of the voice, but of the heart. Nor need He be clamorously reminded, since He sees men’s thoughts, as the Lord proves to us when He says, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?”  And in another place: “And all the churches shall know that I am He that searches the hearts and minds.” 

And this Hannah in the first book of Kings, who was a type of the Church, maintains and observes, in that she prayed to God not with clamorous petition, but silently and modestly, within the very recesses of her heart. She spoke with hidden prayer, but with manifest faith. She spoke not with her voice, but with her heart, because she knew that thus God hears; and she effectually obtained what she sought, because she asked it with belief. Divine Scripture asserts this, when it says, “She spoke in her heart, and her lips moved, and her voice was not heard; and God did hear her.”  We read also in the Psalms, “Speak in your hearts, and in your beds, and be pierced.”  The Holy Spirit, moreover, suggests these same things by Jeremiah, and teaches, saying, “But in the heart ought God to be adored by you.” 

And don't let the worshipper, beloved brethren, be ignorant in what manner the publican prayed with the Pharisee in the temple. Not with eyes lifted up boldly to heaven, nor with hands proudly raised; but beating his breast, and testifying to the sins shut up within, he implored the help of the divine mercy. And while the Pharisee was pleased with himself, this man who thus asked, the rather deserved to be sanctified, since he placed the hope of salvation not in the confidence of his innocence, because there is none who is innocent; but confessing his sinfulness he humbly prayed, and He who pardons the humble heard the petitioner. And these things the Lord records in His Gospel, saying, “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood, and prayed thus with himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not as other men are, unjust, extortioners, adulterers, even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.'

“But the publican stood afar off, and would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven, but beat upon his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner.' I say to you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and whosoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”  The Treatises of Cyprian, 5.448-449.

© OTR 2023