By Archbishop Nathaniel
If we acknowledge ourselves to be weak and unwise, to be living in poverty, and if we have a friend, a protector and benefactor who loves us and can do much for us, it is only natural that in time of need we would turn to him with a request to help us. And the more he loves us the more eager he will be to hear out our requests and fulfill them, the more so if we express ourselves with trust and love. Everyone knows how much pleasanter it is to assist a person who lays out his need with complete faith than one who is irresolute and doubtful: maybe you can't help, maybe you won't want to; or he begins to give advice: this isn't the kind of help I want, I want this-no other. The pure, spontaneous urge to help someone-a spark of our divine likeness-is extinguished by such distrust or selfish insistence, or we will help him out of a sense of duty, of necessity rather than desire.
Further: having a loving, powerful and wise friend and benefactor, we will turn to him not only with our needs but we will love him in return; we will try to express this love, to thank and praise him.
It is precisely in this way that a Christian relates to God. We know that He loves us, each of us, each of His creatures, according to His word: if a woman should even forget her children, yet I will not forget thee (Is. 49:15), and, as St. John the Evangelist teaches us: Let us love God, because He first loved us (I John 4:19).
We know that He Who created heaven and earth, Who holds all by the power of His hand is All-powerful, Almighty, Omnipotent. And we, Christians, turn to Him in prayer, entreating Him concerning all our needs; we bring before Him all the sorrows and dangers that befall us, doing so with complete faith and love, much greater even than a loving son towards his beloved and loving father; not burdening Him with our wants, which are often sinful and senseless, not demanding that He absolutely must send us this or that, but only weeping over our misfortunes and needs, and leaving their relief and fulfillment wholly to His all-good and all-wise will, being certain that He hears us.
As loving children, we not only make requests of God, we also thank Him for His countless blessings, and we praise Him, expressing thereby our love for Him, seeing in Him the fullness of all that is good in the universe. A person with a mature Christian soul rejoices at each opportunity he has to pray, to express his love for God, just as a person in love relishes every chance to express his love for his beloved. For this reason the Apostle Paul exhorts Christians: Pray without ceasing (I Thess. 5:17), for this reason many monastics and pious laymen constantly say the Jesus Prayer throughout the day, a short prayer which one can repeat all the time, without tearing oneself away from one's work and daily activities.
The fundamental prayer for a Christian, the model for all prayer is the Lord's Prayer, which Christ Himself taught His disciples. The Gospel says, One of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.
And He said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father, Who art in the heavens, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. (Luke 11:2; Matt. 6:9)
This prayer begins with an invocation of the Lord: "Our Father, Who art in the heavens." Christ brought us the greatest possible joy, the greatest possible privilege: the right to call God our father, a right which people lost when they betrayed God, violating the commandment He gave. We call God, "Father Who art in the heavens," not because God lives in heaven. God is Spirit, He is "everywhere present", i.e., in heaven, on earth and in every place; heaven, which extends over all the earth, is a symbol of all that is highest, and as such symbolizes the throne of God. So that in saying, "Our Father, Who art in the heavens," we are saying: Our Father, Who is above everyone and everything!
Then begin our appeals. The first are the words, "Hallowed be Thy name." Every loving son, in relation to a father who possesses every merit, has a burning desire that the name of his father become known to everyone and be glorified by everyone. Here, the son ought to fear above all lest his father's reputation be damaged in any way on account of him, a son unworthy of such a father. These are the feelings we express in relation to the Heavenly Father-God, in saying, "Hallowed be Thy name." Holiness is a quality which incorporates all others. Therefore, in the full sense of the word, only God can be holy, as the Church sings, "One is Holy, One is Lord..." People can be holy only relatively, but the more they attain to such holiness, the more in them and through them the name of the Lord is glorified, just as praise given a good son always reflects upon his parents. It is in this sense, that God's name may be glorified through us, that we make our first petition in the Lord's Prayer.
"Thy Kingdom come," we ask in the second petition. The Kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17), explains the Apostle. It is not physical relaxation and bodily pleasures that we must think about, if we are striving towards the Kingdom of God, but about those spiritual benefits of a clean conscience, i.e., righteousness, peace and joy, which the Holy Spirit abundantly bestows. The Kingdom of God will come in the fullness of its power and glory at the end of the ages, when the world will burn in the cleansing fire of God's judgment, and all those dead from ages past will be resurrected; when all lying, all filthiness, all wickedness which fill the world will come to an end, and when Christ and His perfect law will rule throughout the universe. Each and every Christian soul ought to strive towards this appointed time, exclaiming together with the Apostle: Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
However, the Kingdom of God may be thought of not only as existing in some remote future, at the end of the ages. With the coming of Christ it already manifest itself in His Church. The Church contains everything that can be in the Kingdom of God, in all its fullness and immutability. In the Kingdom of God, which will come after the end of the ages, we will not find anything which does not exist even now in the Church. And in the Church there is nothing which will be subject to change or which will cease to be with the coming of Christ. Of course, here we are speaking about the Church not as an organization, but about the Church as an internal, grace-filled organism, about the Church as the Body of Christ, to Whom we are all joined in the Mysteries and from Whom we separate ourselves as a result of sin, reuniting ourselves through repentance. Christ spoke about this internal, ineffable life of our soul when He said, The Kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21).
And so, in saying, "Thy Kingdom come," we ask the Lord that His Kingdom reign in our souls through righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, and that this Kingdom of Christ would be revealed in all the world, that an end come to this oppressive time of falsehood and wickedness.
In the third petition of the Lord's Prayer, we ask that all that we do and all that happens to us occur not as we ourselves wish but as it pleases God. Trust is the basic foundation of prayer. And we can trust God our Heavenly Father completely, knowing that He is all-good, that He loves us immeasurably, which means that He wishes us only good, and knowing at the same time that He is all-wise, omnipotent and omniscient. We know this not only in relation to ourselves but in relation to our close ones, and in relation to everything dear to us: to our country, our family, our society. Only evil, man's sin, hates the Lord, and all else that is dear to the human heart, and therefore dear to the Lord, just as a mother and father hold dear what is dear to their children. And for this reason we can and ought, with complete and perfect trust, to submit ourselves and everything dear to us to the will of God. "That we may commit ourselves and one another and all our lives unto Christ our God."
Our desires, plans, strivings are often unwise, short-sighted, subject to change. Sometimes we want something very much and succeed in obtaining it only to bitterly regret it. The example of a past generation of Russians who strove for radical changes in the old regime is apparent to all of us. God's plans, by contrast, are always and infinitely wise. And he who is able to leave everything wholly to the will of God finds absolute peace, perfect tranquility, and preserves this peace even amidst difficult trials, and he rejoices, recognizing sometimes in the muddled paths of the world's destinies or in the blind alleys of his own life the guiding hand of God-God's will.
It was precisely thus that, once and for all, the angels in heaven gave their whole lives over to the will of God, and we ask that it would be the same here on earth, that we all go along the same true path.
Man is composed of body and soul. Both the one and the other require food. Food for the soul is prayer, while for the body we ask the Heavenly Father in the fourth petition of the Lord's Prayer: Give us this day our daily bread. "Daily", that is, essential, neither too little nor too much. And the Lord will always grant this. On the whole, man needs relatively little food for the body. People suffer more often from an excess of food than from a deficiency. There is more than enough food on this earth. If people satisfied themselves with what they really needed, there would never be any hunger and destitution among some, and an overabundance-to the point of undermining the health of both soul and body-among others. There wouldn't be such cruel struggles and wars, because it isn't for their daily bread that people are fighting but for a surplus, for what is excessive, extravagant.
We ask our Heavenly Father for our daily, that is, necessary food, knowing that to receive it we must labor, for if any would not work, neither should he eat (II Thess. 3:10). But in laboring to receive this food we must not engage our hearts, our cares and anxieties. Our hearts must be free in order to belong wholly to God, to the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Take no thought, says the Saviour, for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof (Matt. 6:34).
And elsewhere Christ says, Seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind....But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you (Luke 12:29).
In the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer we ask that the Lord forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. The original meaning of the word "debt" refers to our obligation, our duty: everything that we ought and are obliged to do, to think, to say. Our obligations before God are immeasurably great. He is absolute goodness, He created us that we would love what is good, that we would do good and serve good, while we, without any plausible justification, and to our own detriment, incline towards evil. And in spite of it the Lord gives us here the right to appeal to Him with a request for forgiveness, and He promises to forgive us; He is glad of the opportunity to forgive, just as a loving mother rejoices in the opportunity to make peace with a naughty child, when he asks her forgiveness.
The only condition the Lord sets for His forgiveness is that we should forgive those who have in some way offended us. Christ indicated the importance of this condition several times in his teachings, illustrating this point in the parable about the merciful king and the unmerciful debtor (Matt. 18:23), and in the words of His Sermon on the Mount: For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt. 6:14-15). And again: If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way: first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift (Matt. 5:23) .
In the sixth petition we pray: Lead us not into temptation. Our faith and faithfulness to God must be tested, we are bound to be faced with trials, and we must overcome them. If our will has not been seasoned in the war against temptations, it is not strong; love and faithfulness, too weak to struggle against temptations, have no value. A father rejoices when he sees his son, because of his love and devotion to him, refuse something which might cast a shadow on his father's name. A mother asks her child for a taste of a sweet treat he's been given, and rejoices if the child shares it with her, rejoices at the love which the child demonstrates in so doing. A loving and beloved person is happy if this love, when subject to trials, remains steadfast. Such a love acquires a much greater value, stability and longevity. Our love for God, i.e., for goodness, righteousness, beauty, whose perfection lies in God, must be indestructible, thoroughly tempered, for it must endure not for a short time but for an endless eternity. Therefore, temptations must come, as Christ said, it must needs be that offences come (Matt. 18:7).
But because temptations give opportunity for falling, for betraying God, a chance that we will not endure in our faithfulness to Him, we must fear such temptations more than anything in the world, for all other fears are mere specters, but this is very real. Therefore we must pray that the Lord would deliver us from temptations and grant us strength to combat them and vanquish them in His name.
(To be Continued)
Translated from Besedi o Sviashchenom Pisanii i o Vere by Archbishop Nathaniel, Vol. II; Russian Orthodox Youth
Committee, Baldwin Place, NY, 1991.