Apostles, Reformers, Celtic Monks:
By Monk Preston (Co-Founder & President, The Prayer Foundation ô)
Gallarus Oratory (or Gallerus) on the Dingle Peninsula on the western coast of Ireland. The oldest (1,400 years old) un-restored Church in the world. It is the only Oratory that has remained in perfect condition and needed no restoration. Monk Preston and Monk Linda were here in February of 1999. The view out the doorway is of the Atlantic Ocean.
They Memorized Scripture for a Deeper Prayer Life
Memorizing Verses: Not Just for Witnessing
We do not usually think of memorizing Scripture as a way of improving our prayer life. Yet this was the practice of the leaders of the early Church. It was also the practice of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. It was even the practice of humble Celtic Monks during the long centuries in-between.
When we think of memorizing Scripture, we often think of it in relation to witnessing. We are talking to a friend or acquaintance about Jesus and a question comes up. We want to share a particular verse, but can't remember the exact wording. We try to look it up in our Bible, but can't find it.
Later, at home, we search through a Concordance and memorize it, so that we will be ready the next time. We are applying I Peter 3:15, "...be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you, a reason of the hope that is in you..."
Memorizing Verses: Not Just for Resisting Temptation
Another reason we memorize a verse, is for use against a particular temptation. Our Lord, resisting with Scripture the temptations of the Devil in the wilderness, is our example. This is an excellent reason to commit God's Word to memory. The operative scripture here is Psalm 119:11, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee."
When we come to memorizing scripture for the benefit of our prayer life, we start off with the teaching of Christ and learn The Lordís Prayer. We learn John 3:16. And that is where most of us stop. We shouldnít. There are several excellent prayers of the Apostle Paul found in his letters. I have often prayed the prayer in Ephesians 3:19, that I might "...be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height. And to know the love of Christ; which passes knowledge..." that I might be "filled with all the fullness of God." (for more prayers found in Scripture, see: Ephesians 3:14-21, Philippians 1:9-11, Colossians 1:9-13, I Timothy 2:1-4).
Memorizing Verses: Also for a Deeper Prayer Life
We are told in the book of The Acts of the Apostles that the calling of the leaders of the early Church was to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word ("But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." -Acts 6:4). Bishops in the first centuries after Christ were required to have memorized the entire Psalter (all 150 Psalms).
I have stood in Ireland in one of the small stone oratories (the Gallarus Oratory pictured at the top of this page---it's a little chapel barely big enough to hold twelve people) where 1,400 years ago small communities of monks gathered for the reading of the Gospel. They did not gather for the reading of the Psalms, for, like the leaders of the early church, they had them all committed to memory. The early Irish Celtic Monks prayed all 150 of them, once through in every 24-hour period (most Christian Monks throughout History have prayed them through once a week).
Those who use our schedule of Daily Prayer: Praying the Hours, including ourselves, our Lay Monks (Oblates), and anyone else who may so desire, pray through five psalms a day, or the entire 150 Psalms, once each month.
Memorizing Verses: Athanasius, Luther, Wilberforce
Memorizing the Psalms has been a great blessing to many Christians throughout history. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, who was present at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. (Nicene Creed), and was the author of the Athanasian Creed, wrote this about the Psalms: that a Christian "...takes all its words upon his lips as though they were his own, written for his special benefit, and takes them and recites them, not as though someone else were speaking or another personís feelings being described, but as himself speaking of himself, offering the words to God as his own heartís utterance, just as though he himself had made them up."*
Martin Luther (who, having been an Augustinian Monk, had all 150 Psalms memorized) said that he loved the Psalms so much because in them we get to actually hear the words that some of the Old Testament Saints prayed (David and others).
Memorizing Verses: How About About the Psalms?
William Wilberforce, a Godly Christian, was the man most responsible for getting the British Parliament to abolish the slave trade and slavery throughout the British Empire (at that time it comprised a total of 1/5th of the entire world---and 100 years before the U.S.A. did, and without an accompanying Civil War). Wilberforce speaks of how he was walking along Baker Street toward Regency Park (this sticks in my mind because I have walked the same street---it is also where the fictional Sherlock Holmes' address of 221B Baker Street is located). Wilberforce said that while he walked he ran through the entire of Psalm 119 in his mind, which he had memorized. This is a wonderful way to pray and utilize (redeem) our time. It is the longest Psalm in the Bible, 14 pages long in most versions. It makes one wonder just how much of the Bible he must have had memorized?
I myself often pray the Psalms when driving errands, and especially when waiting in lines, like at the bank; or waiting in offices, like at the Doctor's or Dentist's. And I always remember how happy a young woman was after I had encouraged her to memorize Psalm 23. She said that it was so wonderful; the Lord kept bringing it to her mind many times throughout her day.
* From the book: On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius. Translated and edited by A Religious of C.S.M.V. With an introduction by C. S. Lewis. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1946. Reprinted: Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1989.
Copyright © 2002 S.G.P. All rights reserved.