“Be still, and know that I am God”. “Jesus said, “God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” ~ John 4:24, Psalm 46:10
In discussing Contemplative or Primitive Christian Prayer, I will frequently quote early Church Fathers, like Evagrius Ponticus (346 – 399). Evagrius was one of the most important teachers of mysticism of the early Church. He was a contemporary and friend of the famous Cappadocian Fathers (Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus) who led the Church through the Christological controversies of the 4th century (AD 300’s). St. Basil ordained Evagrius as reader and St. Gregory Nazianzen ordained him to the diaconate. In about AD 383 he, like John Cassian, was drawn to the Egyptian Desert where he became a monk, and was a close associate of the greatest of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, especially Macarius of Egypt. Evagrius was well trained in ancient philosophy and literature, was articulate and literate at a time when most of his contemplative fellow monks of the desert were illiterate.
Evagrius’s description of contemplative Primitive Christian Prayer makes it clear that he is talking about a foundational prayer life that is much different from what we contemporary Christians think of as prayer. First of all, it is not verbal and it is not actively projecting wishes or messages of any kind. In his work, “On Prayer”, Evagrius tells us that, “Prayer is the ascent of the spirit [nous*] to God”… “Prayer is a conversation of the spirit with God.” Second, contemplative primitive prayer requires a quiet, still soul in order for our spirit to ascend and commune with God. It means that all thoughts, whether bad thoughts (the “passions”) or good thoughts, must be stilled. Evagrius tells us that, “You will not be able to pray purely if you are all involved with material affairs and agitated with unremitting concerns. For prayer is the rejection of conceptions… Seek therefore the disposition that the spirit needs, in order to be able to reach out towards its Lord and to hold converse with him without any intermediary… Undistracted prayer is the highest intellection of the spirit [nous]… Try to make your intellect deaf and dumb during prayer; you will then be able to pray”.