Feast of Sts Nilus the Ascetic of Sinai and Martin of Tours
LET US therefore leave behind everything that is visible, seeing that it is transient, and pass over from external sins. Then, once we have cut off those of our sins that are visible, we can take our place in the struggle against the sin that dwells right inside us—those evil thoughts which sin forges in our heart; and we can run towards the contest which awaits us, engaging in it in prayer, just as our Lord did before us: for Paul showed us that Jesus “offered supplication with a mighty groan and many tears to Him who delivers Him from death;” and He was heard “and He was made perfect” (Heb. 5.7, 9).
Our Lord teaches us the same thing: when we have come to the state where we are without any outward sins, we should approach the contest of prayer, just as our Lord both said and did.
Paul said to the brethren in the Lord: “Epaphras performs a contest for your sakes in his prayer” (Col. 4.12). This is the prayer which our Lord gasped out forcefully when “He was in anguish in prayer, and His sweat was like drops of blood” (Lk. 22.43), and He shed many tears—in order to show us that when we no longer have any external sins and outward faults we should offer up supplication and prayer. For until we find ourselves in anguish in prayer, just as He did, and we too shed tears just as He shed them, groaning forcefully just as He groaned—not until then will we be delivered from the sin which dwells in the heart, or from the evil thoughts which it devises from within us.
Thus it is appropriate for men who are in Christ to “raise up their hands everywhere and in every place, without anger and without any evil thoughts” (1 Tim. 2.8); they should shed tears in their love and yearning for our Lord, waiting for when they shall come and see Him face to face, as is written: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt. 5.8) in this world, as Paul said, “as though in a mirror, in the eyes of our hearts we behold our Lord; but in that world, face to face” (1 Cor. 13.12).
The heart does not become pure, then, unless hidden sin has disappeared from it, and any evil thoughts that had been hidden away in it through the strength of the sin that dwells there have come to a complete end. Neither will this sin be eradicated from our heart, nor will the evil thoughts and the sin’s other fruits disappear unless we pray just as our Lord and all who preached Him prayed.
Then once we have prayed to the Lord in our heart, we shall be full of joy from our lips inwards. For we will rejoice inwardly when our heart no longer reproves us of sin, and when we have become open-faced in the presence of our Lord, having kept all His commandments. We will rejoice in the way that David described: “My heart will rejoice in you, Lord, and in those who reverence your name. I will give thanks to you, my Lord and my God, with all my heart; and I will praise your name forever, for your grace has been abundant upon me, and you have rescued my soul from lowest Sheol” (Ps. 86.11-13).
—The Book of Steps