Origen On Prayer, by Origen Adamantius
At the end of this short book of about 100 pages Origen says something that is striking and worth considering for any writer as prolific as he is: “But if you press on to the things in front and forget those behind and pray for me in my undertaking, I do not despair of being enabled to receive from God the Giver a fuller and more divine capacity for all these matters, and with it to discuss the same subject again in a nobler, loftier, and clearer way. Meanwhile, however, you will peruse this with indulgence (112).” There are no shortages of books about prayer , but this book benefits both from being among the first of these books and also for setting a template for the concerns that books on prayer would often deal with, including some of the details of how it should be done as well as looking at the deeper meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, all of which makes this book pretty distinctive. That is not to say that this book couldn’t have been better–a table of contents would have improved matters, but even as it is it is a worthwhile book.
This book is a pretty short one, at 112 pages and twenty chapters, but one should at least note that the author gets to the point, beginning with an introduction (1), looking at the scriptural uses of the biblical words for prayer (2), giving objections to prayer (3) and answers to them (4, 5, 6, 7, 8), which are worth reading because such objections are still used today and their answers are still worth keeping in mind. After this the author discusses the content of prayer in its moods (9), the recipient of prayers (10), and the objects of prayer (11). At this point the author turns his attention to the Lord’s prayer, starting with its preface (12) and then looking at different aspects of the prayer: reflecting on our Father in heaven (13), His hallowed name (14), the coming Kingdom (15), God’s will being done (16), asking for our needful/daily bread (17), forgiving our debts as we forgive our debtors (18), and leading us out of evil (19). After this point the author closes the short book (20). I do not know if the author ever managed to write another book of prayer, but this book is certainly a worthwhile one and the model for many books since them which also look at the Lord’s prayer as a template for the prayers of believers.
There are a few elements that raise this above the normal level of books about prayer. For one, the book itself presents itself as what it probably was, a letter involved in a conversation. Some writers nowadays forget that they are involved in a conversation with other books and with other writers, but once upon a time writers were very cognizant of the fact and let their readers know that their writings were the best that they could do in the time that they had, and that they hoped to do better if they had the chance. If only contemporary works could be as modest and as candid. Additionally, the author does a good job at bringing some complicated grammatical matters into his discussion of prayer, reminding us that there are different words used for prayers and that praying is a complicated matter. To be sure, the author could have included more biblical prayers and less works from the apocrypha, which he was all too fond of quoting, but these are minor quibbles. All things considered, this is an excellent book about prayer that gives the reader plenty of food for thought and plenty of encouragement as to why prayer remains important for believers even now. Few books remain relevant as long as this one has about topics of importance that are universally considered important.
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