On the Law of God
The Model of Christian Prayer
For Orthodox Christians, the model of prayer is, of course, the “Our Father” (the “Lord’s Prayer”). If we look at its composition and content, we see that, externally, it is divided into three parts: invocation, seven petitions, and a glorification. In its inner content, it can be divided into three common parts: the main one, which encompasses an invocation and the first three petitions; the petition about daily bread; and, three petitions about our personal sins.
What is the foremost thing about which a Christian must pray? About that goal for which we must strive most of all: the Kingdom of God and His Truth. We see that this is the first part of the prayer. In appealing to God as the Heavenly Father, an Orthodox Christian testifies that our true fatherland is not on earth, but in heaven. “Our abode is in the heavens,” the Apostle firmly says.
In this appeal to the Father, a Christian prays that God’s name be hallowed, both in the personal life of each of us and in human history. It is especially hallowed when we Orthodox Christians, through the example of our own lives, lead unbelievers to glorify the name of our Heavenly Father. Further, we pray that the Kingdom of God be manifested on earth. Observing life, we see in it a constant struggle between two principles: light and darkness, truth and falsehood, good and evil. When we see this, we cannot but pray that there will be a victory of light over darkness and that there will be a triumph of God’s Kingdom - the kingdom of Truth and Good.
In the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that God’s will be fulfilled in man’s life in the same way that it is fulfilled in the Heavenly world. The Christian conscience is aware and firmly convinces us that not only is it our duty, but it is real wisdom and the truth of life to submit to God’s will. The Heavenly Father knows what is beneficial and necessary for each one of us, and through His infinite love and goodness, wishes us good and salvation even more than we desire it for ourselves. Therefore, Apostle Peter says, “Cast all your cares on Him; for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).
The fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is the only one which deals with bodily needs. We also turn to God and ask for all that is necessary for bodily life...
The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer concerns forgiveness of sins. In this petition, as elsewhere, in His teaching, our Saviour makes it clear that an indispensable precondition of our receiving forgiveness of sins from God is our own forgiveness of our neighbors. But how often this petition is spoken falsely! We read, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” while in reality, we neither forgive nor forget, but are offended and conceal vexation in our heart, and even a desire for revenge. Therefore, each time a Christian repeats this petition, he must consider whether he has forgiven his enemies and offenders. If not, how can he expect forgiveness from God for himself?
The two last petitions, the sixth and seventh ones, speak of one thing: the causes of sin. At first we ask that its embryos be removed from us, that is, that we be delivered from enticements and temptations, and then that we be delivered from the evil one, that is, from the root of all sins, Satan. People usually fear external misfortunes: failures, illnesses, poverty, etc. Christianity teaches us to be more fearful for our immortal soul. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot harm the soul,” our Lord said, “but rather fear the One Who can destroy the body and the soul...” Concerning external misfortunes, particularly trials and persecutions endured for the Faith, our Lord said to those who suffer them, “Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in the heavens.”
It is not external misfortunes and poverty that the Orthodox Christian must fear, but rather he must fear his own sins and falls. Everyone knows how much we become accustomed to sinning, literally sinning at each step and at each moment of our life. Sin is a violation of the Truth of God’s Law, and the result of sin is suffering and grief. The Lord’s Prayer instills in our hearts a great aversion to these spiritual evils, so that while humbly confessing our weakness and inclination toward sin, we ask God to preserve us from falling into sins and to deliver us from the evil master of sin - the devil.
At the end of these seven petitions, there has been added a solemn glorification of God’s power, authority and glory.* This glorification of God’s grandeur contains a filial expression of unwavering and clear conviction that everything we ask for will be given to us from the love of the Heavenly Father: for His is “the kingdom and the power and the glory, unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
The Lord’s Prayer is not the only prayer of glorification, however. There are prayers which are purely and simply glorifications, such as “Praise the name of the Lord” or “Holy, Holy, Holy...” We do not use them as often, but they are representative of the endings of our prayers, especially in the Divine Services. Prayers of glorification must be seen as especially elevated, for in them, we express Christian love for God and bow before the Most High.
The third aspect of prayer is thanksgiving. Quite understandably, a Christian who loves God and knows of His love, mercy and benefits cannot but experience feelings of thanksgiving in his heart. The most important prayer of thanksgiving is the most important Divine Service - the Holy Liturgy. Its main part, referred to as the “Thanksgiving (Eucharistic) Canon” begins with the words, “We thank the Lord...” And the pure, bloodless sacrifice, a sacrifice of truth, a sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ which is given us in the Holy Communion, is fulfilled by Christ Himself, by His Grace and almighty power, and it is only received by us, with a devotion of thankful love. This is why in the most important moments of the Liturgy, the priest solemnly exclaims, “Thine Own of Thine Own, we offer to Thee, in behalf of all and for all,” while the faithful respond with the hymn of thanksgiving, “We hymn Thee, we praise Thee, we give thanks to Thee, O our God...”
* The words, “For Yours is the Kingdom, the power and the glory...” are not part of the Lord’s prayer as such, but a liturgical response to it, included by the Evangelist. The fact that it appears in the Gospel shows how old the Liturgy is.
Answer the following questions.
1. What is the model prayer?
2. What is the foremost thing about which a Christian must pray?
3. What do we pray in the seven petitions? Summarize each.
Translated by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo - used with permission - all rights reserved.
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