Early Christian Quotes on Prayer
Didache (1st Century) 8:3:
[after quoting the Lord’s prayer] “You should pray in this way three times a day.”
Didache (1st Century) 10:1-7:
After you have finished your meal, say grace in this way:
"We thank you, holy Father, for your sacred name which you have lodged in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality which you have revealed through Jesus, your child. To you be glory forever.
"Almighty Master, 'you have created everything' for the sake of your name, and have given men food and drink to enjoy that they may thank you. But to us you have given spiritual food and drink and eternal life through Jesus, your child.
"Above all, we thank you that you are mighty. To you be glory forever.
“Remember, Lord, your Church, to save it from all evil and to make it perfect by your love. Make it holy, 'and gather' it 'together from the four winds' into your Kingdom which you have made ready for it. For yours is the power and the glory forever. "
"Let Grace come and let this world pass away."
"Hosanna to the God of David!"
"If anyone is holy, let him come. If not, let him repent."
"Our Lord, come!"
In the case of prophets, however, you should let them give thanks in their own way.
The Shepherd of Hermas (1st or 2nd Century), Vision 3, Chapter 1:
[The angel speaking] “Hermas, cease praying continually for your sins; pray for righteousness, that you may have a portion of it immediately in your house.
The Shepherd of Hermas (1st or 2nd Century), Commandment 9:
He [the angel] says to me, “Put away doubting from you and do not hesitate to ask of the Lord, saying to yourself, ‘How can I ask of the Lord and receive from Him, seeing I have sinned so much against Him? ‘Do not thus reason with yourself, but with all your heart turn to the Lord and ask of Him without doubting, and you will know the multitude of His tender mercies; that He will never leave you, but fulfil the request of your soul. For He is not like men, who remember evils done against them; but He Himself remembers not evils, and has compassion on His own creature. Cleanse, therefore, your heart from all the vanities of this world, and from the words already mentioned, and ask of the Lord and you will receive all, and in none of your requests will you be denied which you make to the Lord without doubting. But if you doubt in your heart, you will receive none of your requests. For those who doubt regarding God are double-souled, and obtain not one of their requests. But those who are perfect in faith ask everything, trusting in the Lord; and they obtain, because they ask nothing doubting, and not being double-souled. For every double-souled man, even if he repent, will with difficulty be saved. Cleanse your heart, therefore, from all doubt, and put on faith, because it is strong, and trust God that you will obtain from Him all that you ask. And if at any time, after you have asked of the Lord, you are slower in obtaining your request [than you expected], do not doubt because you have not soon obtained the request of your soul; for invariably it is on account of some temptation or some sin of which you are ignorant that you are slower in obtaining your request. Wherefore do not cease to make the request of your soul, and you will obtain it. But if you grow weary and waver in your request, blame yourself, and not Him who does not give to you.
2 Clement (Early to Mid-2nd Century) Chapter 15:
Let us, therefore, continue in that course in which we, righteous and holy, believed, that with confidence we may ask God who saith, "Whilst thou art still speaking, I will say, Here I am." For these words are a token of a great promise, for the Lord saith that He is more ready to give than he who asks.
Tertullian’s On Prayer (Early 3rd Century) Chapter 29:
For what has God, who exacts it ever denied to prayer coming from "spirit and truth?" How mighty specimens of its efficacy do we read, and hear, and believe! Old-world prayer, indeed, used to free from fires, and from beasts, and from famine; and yet it had not (then) received its form from Christ. But how far more amply operative is Christian prayer! It does not station the angel of dew in mid-fires, nor muzzle lions, nor transfer to the hungry the rustics' bread; it has no delegated grace to avert any sense of suffering; but it supplies the suffering, and the feeling, and the grieving, with endurance: it amplifies grace by virtue, that faith may know what she obtains from the Lord, understanding what--for God's name's sake--she suffers. But in days gone by, withal prayer used to call down plagues, scatter the armies of foes, withhold the wholesome influences of the showers. Now, however, the prayer of righteousness avers all God's anger, keeps bivouac on behalf of personal enemies, makes supplication on behalf of persecutors. Is it wonder if it knows how to extort the rains of heaven-- (prayer) which was ante able to procure its fires? Prayer is alone that which vanquishes God. But Christ has willed that it be operative for no evil: He had conferred on it all its virtue in the cause of good. And so it knows nothing save how to recall the souls of the departed from the very path of death, to transform the weak, to restore the sick, to purge the possessed, to open prison-bars, to loose the bonds of the innocent. Likewise it washes away faults, repels temptations, extinguishes persecutions, consoles the faint-spirited, cheers the high-spirited, escorts travellers, appeases waves, makes robbers stand aghast, nourishes the poor, governs the rich, upraises the fallen, arrests the falling, confirms the standing. Prayer is the wall of faith: her arms and missiles against the foe who keeps watch over us on all sides. And, so never walk we unarmed. By day, be we mindful of Station; by night, of vigil. Under the arms of prayer guard we the standard of our General; await we in prayer the angel's trump. The angels, likewise, all pray; every creature prays; cattle and wild beasts pray and bend their knees; and when they issue from their layers and lairs, they look up heavenward with no idle mouth, making their breath vibrate after their own manner. Nay, the birds too, rising out of the nest, upraise themselves heavenward, and, instead of hands, expand the cross of their wings, and say somewhat to seem like prayer. What more then, touching the office of prayer? Even the Lord Himself prayed; to whom be honour and virtue unto the ages of the ages!
Origen’s On Prayer (Early to Mid-3rd Century) Chapter 5, Paragraphs 1-2:
…one may not obtain certain things without prayer in a certain manner, with a certain disposition, with a certain faith, after a certain antecedent mode of life. Thus we are not to babble or ask for little things or pray for earthly things or enter upon prayer with anger and with thoughts disturbed.
Nor again is it possible to think of giving oneself to prayer apart from purification. Nor again is forgiveness of sins possible to the supplicant unless from the heart he forgives his brother who has done wrong and entreats him to obtain his pardon. That benefit accrues to him who prays rightly or according to his ability strives to do so, follows, I consider, in many ways: It is, first of all, surely in every sense a spiritual advantage to him who is intent upon prayer, in the very composure of prayer to present himself to God and in His presence to speak to Him with a vivid sense that he looks on and is present.
Origen’s On Prayer (Early to Mid-3rd Century) Chapter 6, Paragraphs 1-2:
So far, I have said that, even on the supposition that nothing else is going to follow our prayer, we receive the best of gains when we have come to perceive the right way to pray and when we achieve it. But it is certain that he who thus prays, having previously cast aside all discontent with Providence, will, if intent to mark the inworking of the Hearer, in the very act hear the response “Here am I.”
The above condition is expressed in the words “If you withdraw your bonds and protests and murmuring utterance,” for he that is content with what comes to pass becomes free from every bond, and does not protest against God for ordaining what He wills for our discipline…
Origen’s On Prayer (Early to Mid-3rd Century) Chapter 6, Paragraph 6:
For the Son of God is high priest of our offerings and our pleader with the Father. He prays for those who pray, and pleads along with those who plead. He will not, however, consent to pray, as for his intimates, on behalf of those who do not with some constancy pray through Him, nor will he be Pleader with the Father, as for men already His own, on behalf of those who do not obey His teaching to the effect that they ought at all times to pray and not lose heart.
Origen’s On Prayer (Early to Mid-3rd Century) Chapter 11, Paragraph 11:
We should therefore pray for the principal and truly great and heavenly things, and as for those concerned with the shadows accompanying the principal, commit them to the God who knows before we ask Him what things, by reason if our perishable body, we have need.
Origen’s On Prayer (Early to Mid-3rd Century) Chapter 20, Paragraphs 3-6, 9, 11:
…one who is about to enter upon prayer ought first to have paused awhile and prepared himself to engage in prayer throughout more earnestly and intently, to have cast aside every distraction and confusion of thought, to have bethought him to the best of his ability of the greatness of Him whom he is approaching and of the impiety of approaching Him frivolously and carelessly and, as it were, in contempt, and to have put away everything alien.He ought thus to enter upon prayer with his soul, as it were, extended before his hands, and his mind intent on God before his eyes, and his intellect raised from earth and set toward the Lord of All before his body stands. Let him put away all resentment against any real or imagined injurer in proportion to his desire for God not to bear resentment against himself in turn for his injuries and sins against many of his neighbors or any wrong deeds whatsoever upon his conscience.Of all the innumerable dispositions of the body that, accompanied by outstretching of the hands and upraising of the eyes, standing is preferred—inasmuch as one thereby wears in the body also the image of the devotional characteristics that become the soul…Moreover, one must know that kneeling is necessary when he is about to arraign his personal sins against God with supplication for their healing and forgiveness, because it is a symbol of submission and subjection…But to secure the performance of one’s prayers in peace without distraction, the rule is for every man to make choice, if possible, of what I may term the most solemn spot in his house before he prays, considering in addition to his general examination of it, whether any violation of law or right has not been done in the place in which he is praying, so as to have made not only himself but also the place of his personal prayer of such a nature that the regard of God has fled from it.Yet there is a certain helpful charm in a place of prayer being the spot in which believers meet together. Also it may well be that the assemblies of believers also are attended by angelic powers, by the powers of our Lord and Savior himself, and indeed by the spirits of saints, including those already fallen asleep, certainly of those still in life, though just how is not easy to say.
Origen’s On Prayer (Early to Mid-3rd Century) Chapter 20, Paragraphs 20-21:
In the beginning and opening of prayer, glory is to be ascribed according to one’s ability to God, through Christ who is to be glorified with Him, and in the Holy Spirit who is to be proclaimed with Him.Thereafter, one should put thanksgivings: common thanksgivings—into which he introduces benefits conferred upon men in general—and thanksgivings for things which he has personally received from God. After thanksgiving it appears to me that one ought to become a powerful accuser of one’s own sins before God and ask first for healing with a view to being released from the habit which brings on sin, and secondly for forgiveness for past actions. After confession it appears to me that one ought to append as a fourth element the asking for the great and heavenly things, both personal and general, on behalf of one’s nearest and dearest. And last of all, one should bring prayer to an end ascribing glory to God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.
Cyprian’s On the Lord’s Prayer (Mid-3rd Century) Paragraphs 32, 35:
Moreover, those who pray should not come to God with fruitless or naked prayers. Petition is ineffectual when it is a barren entreaty that beseeches God.3389 For as every tree that bringeth not forth fruit is cut down and cast into the fire; assuredly also, words that do not bear fruit cannot deserve anything of God, because they are fruitful in no result. And thus Holy Scripture instructs us, saying, “Prayer is good with fasting and almsgiving.” For He who will give us in the day of judgment a reward for our labours and alms, is even in this life a merciful hearer of one who comes to Him in prayer associated with good works…But for us, beloved brethren, besides the hours of prayer observed of old, both the times and the sacraments have now increased in number. For we must also pray in the morning, that the Lord’s resurrection may be celebrated by morning prayer…Also at the sunsetting and at the decline of day, of necessity we must pray again. For since Christ is the true sun and the true day, as the worldly sun and worldly day depart, when we pray and ask that light may return to us again, we pray for the advent of Christ, which shall give us the grace of everlasting light.
Arnobius’ Against the Heathen (Late 3rd Century) Book 1, Chapter 27:
Before Him [Christ] we all prostrate ourselves, according to our custom; Him we adore in joint prayers; from Him we beg things just and honourable, and worthy of His ear. Not that He needs our supplications, or loves to see the homage of so many thousands laid at His feet. This is our benefit, and has a regard to our advantage. For since we are prone to err, and to yield to various lusts and appetites through the fault of our innate weakness, He allows Himself at all times to be comprehended in our thoughts, that whilst we entreat Him and strive to merit His bounties, we may receive a desire for purity, and may free ourselves from every stain by the removal of all our shortcomings.
Find more of what the early Christians thought on my Christian History page!