When, then, they meet together to celebrate the aforementioned rites, which they term synaxes, 697 they are all so perfectly silent that, though so large a number of the brethren is assembled together, you would not think a single person was present except the one who stands up and chants the Psalm in the midst; and especially is this the case when the prayer is offered up, 698 for then there is no spitting, no clearing of the throat, or noise of coughing, no sleepy yawning with open mouths, and gaping, and no groans or sighs are uttered, likely to distract those standing near. No voice is heard save that of the priest concluding the prayer, except perhaps one that escapes the lips through aberration of mind and unconsciously takes the heart by surprise, inflamed as it is with an uncontrollable and irrepressible fervour of spirit, while that which the glowing mind is unable to keep to itself strives through a sort of unutterable groaning to make its escape from the inmost chambers of the breast. But if any one infected with coldness of mind prays out loud or emits any of those sounds we have mentioned, or is overcome by a fit of yawning, they declare that he is guilty of a double fault.
He is blameworthy, first, as regards his own prayer because he offers it to God in a careless way; and, secondly, because by his unmannerly noise he disturbs the thoughts of another who would otherwise perhaps have been able to pray with greater attention. And so their rule is that the prayer ought to be brought to an end with a speedy conclusion, lest while we are lingering over it some superfluity of spittle or phlegm should interfere with the close of our prayer. And, therefore, while it is still glowing the prayer is to be snatched as speedily as possible out of the jaws of the enemy, who, although he is indeed always hostile to us, is yet never more hostile than when he sees that we are anxious to offer up prayers to God against his attacks; and by exciting wandering thoughts and all sorts of rheums he endeavours to distract our minds from attending to our prayers, and by this means tries to make it grow cold, though begun with fervour. Wherefore they think it best for the prayers to be short and offered up very frequently: 699 on the one hand that by so often praying to the Lord we may be able to cleave to Him continually; on the other, that when the devil is lying in wait for us, we may by their terse brevity avoid the darts with which he endeavours to wound us especially when we are saying our prayers.
Cf. Augustine, Ep. cxxx., § 20 (Vol. II. 389): “Dicuntur fratres in Ægypto crebras quidem habere orationes, sed eas tamen brevissimas, et raptim quodammodo jaculatas, ne illa vigilantes erecta, quæ oranti plurimum necessaria est, per productiores moras evanescat atque hebetetur intentio;” and Hooker, Eccl. Polity, Book V. c. xxxiii.: “The brethren in Egypt (saith S. Augustine) are reported to have many prayers, but every of them very short, as if they were darts thrown out with a kind of sudden quickness, lest that vigilant and erect attention of mind which in prayer is very necessary should be wasted or dulled through continuance, if their prayers were few and long.…Those prayers whereunto devout minds have added a piercing kind of brevity, as well in that respect which we have already mentioned, as also thereby the better to express that quick and speedy expedition wherewith ardent affections, the very wings of prayer, are delighted to present our suits in heaven, even sooner than our tongues can devise to utter them,” etc.
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