Isidore of Seville: Two Wings for Prayer

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“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.'” Matthew 21:13

“With regard to time it has truly been said (1 Thessalonians 5:17), “Pray without ceasing,” but this applies to individuals; in a religious community there is a service at certain hours to signal the divisions of the day – at the third hour, the sixth, and the ninth (i.e. Terce, Sext, and Nones) – and likewise the divisions of the night.

These hours of prayers are apportioned so that, if we should by chance be occupied, the specific time would draw our attention to the divine office. These times are found in Scripture (Psalm 119:164).

First, the Holy Spirit was poured into the gathered disciples at the third hour (Acts 2:15). Peter, on the day in which he experienced the vision of communication in the vessel, had ascended in order to pray at the sixth hour (Acts 10:9–16). Likewise Peter with John went to the temple at the ninth hour when he healed the paralytic (Acts 3:1–8).

But we also read that Daniel observed these times in his prayer (Daniel 6:13), and in any case it is the teaching from the Israelites that we should pray not less than three times a day, for we are debtors of three – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – not counting, of course, other prayers as well, which are due without any notice being given, at the onset of day or of night or of the watches of the night.

But we are also not to consume food before we have interposed a prayer, for refreshment of the spirit should come first, because heavenly things come before earthly. Moreover, he who wishes for his prayer to fly to God should make two wings for it, fasting and almsgiving, and it will ascend swiftly and be clearly heard.”

Isidore of Seville (c. 556-636) in The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, Book IV, xix. De Officiis, 60-64, ed. by Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach and Oliver Berghof with Muriel Hall (Cambridge: CUP, 2006) 150.

On Holy Week Monday we are reminded that Jesus cleansed the temple. It was not to be a place of buying and selling as if money sustained the ministry there. It was to be a house of prayer for the nations sustained by God.

What if we made our church buildings into places of prayer for the nations? Imagine prayer at the divine hours of 6am, 9am, 12noon, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm, and then some time in the late night or early morning each and every day?

And what if we added two wings to prayer: fasting and almsgiving? Think of the revival that would follow? Consider how this would get God’s attention and what the watching world would witness?

My biggest takeaway from Lent 2019 is the impact of observing the divine hours and feeding on a Psalm seven times a day combining it with prayer and almsgiving. It has impacted me in indescribable ways.