Monastic Tips for Self-isolation

Prayer and Spiritual Reading

The entire world is experiencing the impact of COVID-19, the Novel Corona Virus pandemic. It is commonly said that one of the Chinese words for crisis can be interpreted as opportunity. With the limiting of so many being able to go out, we invite you to discover the opportunity to go in. To go in to the place of the heart. Over the coming days, we will be posting wisdom from the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the Church regarding the values to be found from times of silence, solitude, and reflection.

As we find ourselves preparing for Holy Week, Gethsemane, and the sufferings of Christ prior to His Resurrection, it's helpful to briefly consider the prayer life of our Lord while on earth. St. Luke says of the prayer life of Jesus, 'He Himself would often slip away to the lonely places and pray' (Luke 5:16, NASB). St. Mark says of Him, 'In the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there' (Mark 1: 35, NASB). One of the many prophecies about the Messiah in Isaiah the Prophet, speaks to His morning times of meditation, prayer and listening with His Father:

The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.

The example of praying in a lonely place, listening, receiving words of refreshment for ourselves and others is so timely for us right now. Around us, we hear of tremendous suffering and death. We are told that the best thing we can do right now is stay away from people lest we pass this disease on to others. It is a lonely place. Yet there is something else we can do. We can listen to the still, small voice that comes from the Holy Spirit brooding over the pages of Scripture. From this place we can pray. Pray for the world, our church leaders, our nation, the suffering, the departed, our families, and for ourselves.

Epiphanius was a disciple of Abba Hilarion in Palestine during the third and fourth centuries. From a Jewish background, he came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah after witnessing the kindness to the poor of the monk Lucian. Later he was made Bishop of Cyprus. From his sayings, let's focus a bit on some of what he had to say about Prayer and the Divine Scriptures.

Epiphanius said, 'David the prophet prayed late at night; waking in the middle of the night, he prayed before the day; at the dawn of day he stood before the Lord; in the small hours he prayed, in the evening and at mid-day he prayed again, and this is why he said, "Seven times a day have I praised you (Ps. 119[118]:164"'

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Benedicta Ward, p. 58

This quote from King David eventually is what led to the structure of prayer times: Vespers, Compline, Midnight Service, Matins, First, Third, Sixth, and Ninth Hours (cf. Acts 3:1; 10:3; 10:9; 16:25). During time alone, it provides a simple way to stop and acknowledge God and ask for His continued help throughout the day. As Jesus told us to "always pray and not lose heart' (Luke 18:1).

[Ephiphanius] also said, 'Reading the Scriptures is a great safeguard against sin."

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Benedicta Ward, p. 58

A helpful prayer before the beginning of Scripture is found in Psalm 119 (118):18 'O, unveil mine eyes, and I shall perceive wondrous things out of Thy Law' (Psalter According to the Seventy, HTM, Boston). The phrase "Thy Law" was not only used for the first five books of Moses, but the entire written Scriptures (cf. John 10:34-35). The Psalms and the Gospels are a good place to begin.

Regarding Christian books, Ephiphanius enlightened us to some of their benefits:

The acquisition of Christian books is necessary for those who can use them. For the mere sight of these books renders us less inclined to sin, and incites us to believe more firmly in righteousness.

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Benedicta Ward, p. 58

Finally, let us listen again to the Prophet Isaiah, who, in another place, said,

The Lord longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you ... How blessed are all those who long for Him (Isaiah 30:18, NASB)

Since He is longing for us, waiting for us, there is a blessing waiting for the one who longs for Him. Let us take advantage of this lonely place. Let us go into our inner rooms, and pray. He will not disappoint us.

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