In these days [Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray,
and all night he continued in prayer to God.1
Let us students in the school of prayer begin with a gaze at our Teacher.
In these days, “In the days of His flesh,”2 Christ climbs atop the tallest of all mountains.
Though the Teacher goes up the hill “by Himself,”3 He is not alone. For upon this mountain, the Son stands in the glorious Light of Divine Manifestation,4 in prayer to His Father, with the comfort and strength of the Holy Spirit.
And upon this mountain, this Spirit sometimes fills Jesus with joy as He prays.5 Yet other times upon this mountain (“These things are being taken figuratively [allēgoroumena]”),6 “Jesus [offers] up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.”7 Wherever Jesus prays—be it the Mount of Transfiguration or Golgotha, with spiritual joy or noisy tears—this place becomes Paradise, the world’s tallest peak.8 For the Son of Man is the true Bethel—the High Place on Whom God’s messengers move up and down.9
And though the Teacher goes up the hill “by Himself,” He cannot stand in solitude forever; love will not allow it. So as He sits down, His disciples join Him.10 This image of vertical movement—of Christ descending and disciples ascending to meet at summit—points us toward a glorious mystery of the Incarnation:
Divinity flew down and descended
to raise and draw up humanity.11
Thus these disciples—now drawn up by Jesus to sit at mountain’s peak—12 ask for a sign by which they might know when His apocalyptic predictions will soon take place. The Teacher opens His mouth, and unveils the cosmic mystery a little more.13
And so the Teacher shows us our first task: Go up the mountain; abide in the Presence of God in prayer. Then we can likewise sit with others atop the hill, where together with glowing face we can “set our minds on things above,”14 and behold things only visible from the vantage of Paradise.
Lord, teach us to pray.
2. Hebrews 5:7.
3. Matthew 14:23.
4. On the Divine Light Christ seems to sometimes experience in prayer, cf. Matthew 14:23, 26 and parallels; and Luke 9:28–29.
5. See Luke 10:21 NIV.
6. Galatians 4:24 NIV & interlinear; cf. Origen, On First Principles Book IV.
7. Hebrews 5:7.
8. On Paradise as a lofty cosmic mountain, see esp. St. Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on Paradise 1.4 (pp. 78–79); cf. Ezekiel 28:13–16ff. Paradise is also presupposed as a mountain in Genesis 2:10–14, where it is called the fountainhead of four rivers.
10. Matthew 24:3 ≈ Mark 13:3; cf. Matthew 5:1; John 6:3.
11. St. Ephrem, p. 73.
12. Cf. Revelation 3:21.
13. Matthew 24:3ff. ≈ Mark 13:3ff.
14. See Colossians 3:1–4.