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" (I Pt. 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 Savior 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, 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 last two 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 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 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...'"
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