Orthodox America

The Power and Efficacy of Prayer - A Sermon on Transfiguration

from Select Sermons of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow
(Eastern Orthodox Books)

And He Went up into a mountain to pray..And as He preyed the fashion of His countenance' was altered and His raiment was white and glistening, And behold, there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias. (Luke 9:28-30)

How sublime a spectacle on Mount Tabor!. A spectacle indeed worthy of being contemplated with rapture as the apostles contemplated it, and of being solemnly celebrated as we now celebrate it. It is not without meaning, that they who witnessed the great revelations on Sinai and Horeb, not without purpose, that Moses and Elias appear on Mount Tabor also. They shall see more here than they saw there, On Sinai and Horeb, the might and glory of God were revealed unto men, through the powers of visible nature; on Tabor, not only does divinity reveal itself to man, but humanity itself appears arrayed in divine glory, Moses "quaked" on Mount Sinai (Heb. 12r21); Elias complained on Horeb (I Kings 19:14); whereas on Tabor, through the fear of the apostles there shines forth joy: It is good for us to be here.

Christians! your heart is no doubt ready to say of the witnesses of the glory of Mount Tabor: indeed it was good for them to be there. What then, if we tell you that the way to the contemplation of the glory of Mount Tabor is not swallowed up in an abyss, is not walled up from us, nor overgrown- with thorns, not forgotten, nor lost, but may still be indicated by those who know it, to those who seek, for it. (It is not difficult to understand that we speak here of the spiritual way, for a carnal way cannot possibly lead us to spiritual visions and divine revelations.) Why does the Evangelist, when about to describe to us the glorious Transfiguration of the Lord, first of all direct his own and our attention to prayer? He went up into a Mountain to pray.., Why, if not to point out to us in prayer--the way to the light of Tabor, the key to spiritual mysteries, the might of divine revelation? If the divinely inspired Evangelist found it so necessary to associate the idea of prayer with the description of the glory of Tabor, then it certainly will not be amiss on our part also, Christians, to associate however short a meditation on the power and efficacy of prayer, with remembrance of the glorious Transfiguration of our Lord…

There are some Christians, understanding and performing the act of prayer rather in an outward ritual sense, than in an inward spiritual one, who whilst in no way doubting in the general belief that prayer is powerful and efficacious; are mistaken, or do entirely err in the application of this truth to themselves and to their prayer.

Praying repeatedly, and seeing nothing result from their prayer, either in themselves or around them, they, instead of doubting the sincerity and merit of their own prayers , are prone to imbibe the idea inspired by a spirit of sloth and self-deceit, that powerful and availing prayer must needs be some peculiar gift of grace, reserved for some of God's elect, and for certain extraordinary cases only....To such we say without hesitation that there is no man whose prayer may not become powerful if he only desire it steadfastly and with a pure heart, with faith and hope in God, and that there is no case in which his prayer will not be granted, if only its object be not contrary to the Wisdom and Mercy of God, or to the true welfare of the suppliant. This is saying much. We trust, nevertheless, that we are not deceiving the true lovers of prayer.

Figure to yourselves a man who, by the power of prayer shuts or opens the heavens, stops or brings down -rain; commands that a handful of flour and a little oil should suffice to feed several persons for several months, or perhaps even for more than a year and it is fulfilled; breathes on a dead man, and restores him to life; brings down fire from heaven to consume a sacrifice and an altar immersed in water. What can appear more extraordinary than this power of prayer? But it appears so only to a man who knows not what spiritual power is, whilst to one who does, it appears only as the act of a man like unto ourselves, This is not my own opinion merely, but the teaching of an Apostle, St. James, exhorting us to pray one for another, and wishing to incite us thereto, says that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, and confirms this general precept and convincing motive by the example of that extraordinary man whom we have just pictured, and whom he represents as a man like unto ourselves: Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and-the earth brought forth her fruit. Why is it said here that this wonderworking Elias "was a man subject to like passions as we are?" It is just that we, deeming him an extraordinary man, should not be discouraged from. imitating him, and from attaining power in prayer.

If, notwithstanding, it appears to you that to imitate the prayers of the prophet be a lot far above your mediocrity and a height unattainable by you, then imagine yourselves as much below the prophet as you please, imagine yourselves to be even less than Christians, say heavens, and even then, I affirm that your prayer may be powerful and effectual, it may, and what more? it may convert you from heathenism to Christianity, it may lead you to the true knowledge and worship of God, even though they be till then unknown to you, and if there be no man near who can direct you to it, then will i? open the heavens and bring down thence an angel unto you who will teach you. But am I not dreaming and carried away by my desire to invite you to fervent and effectual prayer? No, my brethren and fellow worshippers, I am speaking but of what has actually happened before, and therefore may happen again, and which has the testimony of our holy books. The Roman centurion, Cornelius, whom We know from the Acts of the Apostles, was a Gentile. It is not known whether he knew the One God, but certain it is that he did not know Jesus Christ Whom God hath sent; but he did as much good as he was able: he feared and prayed always to God, though to him unknown: a devout man, and one that feared god with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always. And what did the unceasing prayer of the Gentile achieve? It did indeed call down heaven upon him, and brought to his aid high and even divine powers. In the midst of his prayers an angel appears to him, saying, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard; and then instructs him to send for the Apostle Peter. And when the Apostle was preaching unto him Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, even before baptism, was poured from on high upon Cornelius...

But it is time at last to inquire why it is that so many prayers remain without effect, if every prayer may always be so powerful and effectual? For it is for the sake of this question prinicipally that we have said all that which we have as yet spoken. Let us particularly note one instance in which a prayer really answered in an unanticipated and sublime way. Thus, Paul besought the Lord thrice to be delivered from a thorn in the flesh but God answered him: My grace is snfficient for thee; for My strength is made perfect in weakness. The temptation is not removed: but a victory still more wonderful is granted over the continuing temptation. If we except such cases, all unsuccessful prayers are accounted for by this short saying of the Apostle: Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lasts. Our prayers are fruitless, either because they are not fervent and persevering supplications, which proceed from the depth of our souls, and into which our whole soul is poured forth, but are only weak desires which we utter without fervor, thinking they must needs by fulfilled of their own accord; or because our supplications are unclean and evil, inasmuch as we ask that which is hurtful and of no benefit to our souls; or ask things not for the glory of God, but for the gratification of our carnal and selfish desires.

Pray, Christian, fervently and with the whole might of thy soul, pray diligently and perseveringly, pray rightly and purely; and if thou art not thyself equal to it, then pray for prayer itself, and by prayer thou wilt first obtain true and effectual prayer, and then this prayer shall overcome all things with thee and obtain all things for thee; it will guide thee unto Mount Tabor or create a Tabor within thee; it will call thy soul into heaven. Amen