Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Gregory of Nyssa

God will see those who cry to him vindicated

The divine Word teaches us how to pray, explaining to disciples worthy of him, and eagerly longing for knowledge of prayer, what words to use to gain a hearing from God.

Those who fail to unite themselves to God through prayer cut themselves off from God, so the first thing we have to learn from the Word is that we “need to pray continually and not lose heart.” Prayer brings us close to God, and when we are close to God we are far from the Enemy.

Prayer safeguards chastity, controls anger, and restrains arrogance. It is the seal of virginity, the assurance of marital fidelity, the shield of travelers, the protection of sleepers, the encouragement of those who keep vigil, the cause of the farmer’s good harvest and of the sailor’s safety.

Therefore I think that even if we spent the whole of our lives in communion with God through thanksgiving and prayer, we should still be as far from adequately repaying our benefactor as we should have been had we not even desired to repay him.

Time has three divisions: past, present, and future. In all three we experience the Lord’s kindly healings with us.

If you consider the present, you live in him; if you consider the future, your hope of obtaining what you look forward to is in him; if you consider the past, you would not have existed had you not been created by him.

Your birth is his kindly gift to you, and after birth his kindness toward you continued, since as the apostle says you live and move in him. On this same kindness depend all your hopes for the future. Only over the present have you any control.

Therefore, even if you give thanks to God unceasingly throughout your life you will hardly meet the measure of your debt for present blessings, and as for those of the past and future, you will never find a way of repaying what you owe.

And yet we, who are so far from being capable of showing due gratitude, do not even give thanks to the best of our ability. We fail to set aside, I say not the whole day, but even the smallest portion of the day, to be spent with God.

Who restored to its original beauty that divine image in me that was blurred by sin? Who draws me back to the blessedness I knew before I was driven out of paradise, deprived of the tree of life, and submerged in the abyss of worldliness?

As scripture says, “There is no one who understands.” If we realize these things we would give thanks continually, endlessly, throughout the whole of our lives.

(On the Lord’s Prayer: PG 44, 1119.1123-1126))

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 330-395), the younger brother of Basil the Great, chose a secular career and married. Reluctantly, however, in 371, he received episcopal ordination and became bishop of Nyssa, an unimportant town in Basil’s metropolitan district of Caesarea.

Gregory was the greatest speculative theologian of the three Cappadocian Fathers, and the first after Origen to attempt a systematic presentation of the Christian faith. Gifted spiritually as well as intellectually, he has been called “the father of Christian mysticism.” His spiritual interpretation of scripture shows the influence of Origen.


**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson