Wednesday Lenten Lessons

“The Prayer Language of the Church; its Origin and Meaning”

by Archpriest Timothy Baclig

I. Review
For the past four weeks we have been speaking about the prayer language of the Church. We first addressed “God’s Sovereignty,” because it is an important starting point in understanding the prayer language of the church, especially as heard in the prayers of the services of Great Lent, and last week we examined the prayers of our spiritual warfare; protecting us from evil acts, and specifically the wiles of The Evil One.

In a nutshell, The Lord’s Prayer embodies what we have been speaking about:
A. Our heavenly Father, to whom our prayer is directed; our sovereign God, who we worship and glorify, is Holy. “Hallowed” or “Holy” [is] Thy Name” we say. We also accept God’s sovereign judgments, acknowledge His divine will and pray for it to be fulfilled “on earth as it is in heaven.” We also recognize that our personal choices sometimes might make us vulnerable to temptation. We say, “Lead us not into temptation…” being fully aware that He grants us the freedom to make choices in times of temptation.

B. Last week the focus of our attention was upon our plea: “…but deliver us from the Evil One;” and we examined the prayers of the church that help us in our struggle to overcome evil.

II. The Prayers of Repentance for the Forgiveness of Sins
Tonight, we will look closely at the Church’s prayer language of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

A. Receiving God’s Forgiveness and Forgiving Others

In the Lord’s Prayer we say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If our goal in repentance is receiving God’s forgiveness, we will not gain a clear understanding of the church’s prayer language on this subject without first understanding that you and I do not participate in God’s merciful forgiveness in isolation from practicing the forgiveness of others. Christ came to save you and me. He does not forgive me with the privilege of my choosing who to forgive. And just as God’s forgiveness is prompted by His love for us, we are unable to practice forgiveness without a willingness to learn to love others as God loves us.

It is clear therefore that God forgives me but not in isolation of others. Also that we learn to forgive and have the capacity to forgive others by personally knowing God’s forgiveness. God’s love for us is personally experienced when we know and accept His forgiveness (and are also willing to forgive ourselves). Similarly our ability to forgive others begins with a sincere desire to love of others. This was the lesson of The Sunday of Forgiveness. It is also clarified by St. John’s in his epistle (I John 5:12): We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, who he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

B. The Goal: A “Good Confession”
In Great Lent our Holy Tradition provides us with a great wealth of prayers that not only helps us in our struggle with repentance but also our desire to confess our sins. For some, being able to specifically identify what is a sin can be a challenge. It could also be easier for some of us to identify the sins of others than to discover what might be our own sins. It is
also much easier to speak of our problems rather than to confess our shortcomings.

The Church has always been mindful of our human weaknesses. he has also recognized how repudiative sin can lead one to a callousness and complacency that requires much effort to overcome sins by prayer and (especially with Great Lent) fasting. Here are a few examples of how our sinful condition is expressed in our Lenten Prayers:

1. Sunday Orthros Penitential Hymn
“The Lenten Troparia After Psalm 50”

Open to me the doors of repentance, O Life-giver, for my soul goes early to the temple of Thy holiness; coming of the temple of my body wholly polluted. But because Thou art  compassionate, purify me by the compassion of Thy mercies.

Prepare for me the way of salvation, O Theotokos; for I have profaned myself with course sins, and consumed my whole life with procrastination. But by thine intercessions purify me from all abomination.

If I think upon the multitude of my evil deeds, wretch that I am, I tremble for the terrible Day of Judgment. But trusting in the compassion of thy mercy, I shout to Thee like David: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy great mercy!”

2. Priest’s Kairon Prayers Before Entrance Into The Altar
(also: the Troparia of Contrition of Great Compline)

Have mercy on us, O God, have mercy upon us, for laying aside all defense, we sinners offer unto Thee this supplication, have mercy on us!

How shall I, the unworthy, dare to enter the brilliance of Thy Holy Place? For if I dare to enter my garment will renounce me for it is not a wedding garment (Matthew 22:1f). Cleanse, O Lord, the defilement of my soul and save me, for Thou art the lover of mankind.

3. Tenth Orthros Prayer (Based on Psalm 50)

O Lord our God, who hast granted unto men pardon through repentance, and hast set us, as an example of the acknowledgement of sin and of the confession which is unto forgiveness, the repentance of the Prophet David (see Psalm 50): Do Thou, the same Lord, have mercy upon us according to Thy great mercy, notwithstanding the manifold and great iniquities into which we have fallen; and through the multitude of Thy bounties, blot out our transgressions. For unto Thee have we sinned, O Lord, who knowest the secret and hidden things in the
heart of man, and who alone hast power to forgive sins; and as Thou hast established us with Thy guiding Spirit, and made known to us the joy of Thy salvation, cast us not away from Thy presence. But inasmuch as Thou art good and loves mankind, graciously grant that even unto our last breath, we may offer unto Thee, the sacrifice of righteousness and an offering upon Thy holy altars…

The Church understands that being illumined is something that involves not only the mind, but especially one’s heart (with contrition of soul). To see is to be enlightened by God’s Spirit in order to act — to change one’s direction and to be renewed. It involves being vigilant in meditating upon God’s laws (His Commandments) and to be governed by His righteous Judgment.

In a Prayer of Great Compline by St. Basil (4) the Great we hear these words: Grant unto our souls contrition and unto our thoughts care concerning the trial of Thy fearful and righteous Judgment. Nail our flesh to the fear of Thee, and mortify our earthly members, that, even in the quietness of sleep, we may be illumined by the contemplation of Thy judgments…

5. The Prayer Before the Reading of The Gospel
(also The Ninth Orthros Prayer)

Illumine our hearts, O Master who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy Gospel teachings; implant in us also the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal [fleshly] desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things that are well-pleasing unto Thee: For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee do we ascribe glory…

Preparation for the Holy Sacrament is something that requires selfevaluation and prayerful examination of one’s conscience. This is based upon the cautious warning found in the Apostolic instruction (I Corinthians 11:27f) which reads: …whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the Body and Blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the Body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself…

This Biblical instruction is heard in the Prayer of Preparation for Holy Communion by St. Basil the Great:

6. Prayer of St. Basil the Great
In Preparation of Holy Communion

O Lord, I know that I am unworthy to receive Thy Holy Body and Precious Blood; I know that I am guilty, and that I eat and drink condemnation to myself, not discerning the Body and Blood of Christ my God… make not an example of me, Thy sinful servant. But do unto me according to Thy great mercy, and grant that these gifts may be for me unto healing,  purification, enlightenment, protection, salvation and sanctification of my soul and body, and to the expulsion of every evil imagination, sinful deed or work of the Devil. May they move me to reliance on Thee and to love The always, to amend and keep firm my life; and be ever in me to the increase of virtue, to the keeping of Thy Commandments, to the communion of the Holy Spirit and as a good defense before Thy dread Judgment Seat and for life eternal.

You’ve heard it frequently said that we Orthodox not only read the Bible, we also “pray the Bible.” The Church’s prayers of repentance often use the imagery and example of those found Biblical lessons to help us in our attitude and posture in repentance. Here are a few:

7. Prayers of St. John Chrysostom
In Preparation of Holy Communion

I stand before the gates of Thy Temple, and yet I refrain not from my evil thoughts. But do Thou, O Christ my God, who didst justify the publican (Luke 18:9f), and hast mercy upon the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21f), and opened the gates of Paradise to the thief (Matthew 23:43); open unto me the compassion of Thy love toward mankind, and receive me as I approach and touch Thee, like the sinful woman and the woman with the issue of blood (Matthew 9:20f); for the one by embracing Thy feet received the forgiveness of sins (Luke 7:44f), and the other by but touching the hem of Thy garment was healed. And I, most sinful, dare to partake of Thy whole Body. Let me not be consumed but receive me as Thou didst receive them, and enlighten the perceptions of my soul, consuming the accusations of my sins: through the intercessions of her that, without corruption gave Thee birth, and of the heavenly powers; for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief (I Timothy 1:15)… forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance… accept me today as a communicant: for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas (Luke 22:48); but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom (Luke 23:42).

C. Penitential Canons and “The Jesus Prayer”

Using Biblical imagery is a method of prayer can also be found in the liturgical Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, prayed with Great Compline, each night of the First Week of Lent, and done in its entirety, tomorrow, the Fifth Thursday of Great Lent. Within the Canon, the repetitive refrain, “Have mercy upon me, O God, have mercy upon me,” is said in a
prolonged confession of sins. The Canon in its content is a meditation on Biblical examples and events. It’s words embraces sinners and the righteous as models of repentance. Using poetical Byzantine hymnology, the events of Biblical history are revisited as events of my life; God’s acts in history as acts aimed at me, and my salvation; the tragedy of sin and
betrayal as my personal tragedy. The following are a few examples (8):

I have rivaled in transgression Adam, the first-formed man, and I have found myself stripped naked of God, of the eternal Kingdom and its joy, because of my sins… Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me

Flee from the flames, my soul, flee from the burning heat of Sodom, flee from the destruction by the fire of God… Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me

Christ saved the Wise Men and called the Shepherds; He revealed as martyrs a multitude of young children; He glorified the Elder and the aged Widow. But thou, my soul, has not followed their lives in actions. Woe to thee when thou art judged… Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me
A similar use of Biblical personalities and events were heard in the 24 Penitential Stichera of Simeon the Translator of tonight’s service.

Repetitive phrases and the repetition of verses is also a methodology of our liturgical prayers, and is encouraged in one’s private prayer life. Just before our Lord taught His disciples to pray what we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” he cautioned them with these words (Matthew 6:7): “…when you pray, do not use vain repetitions [vain babbling], as the heathen do:
for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking…” Notice: The Lord began by saying, “When you pray…” He did not say, “Do not use repetitions when you pray.” His words were: “…and when you pray, do not use vain repetitions…”

“The Jesus Prayer” is one of the devotional repetitive prayers usually said with the guide of a prayer rope. The Jesus Prayer is a single phrase: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner!” Monastic communities are also known to use the prayer in a specific service, usually late in the night. Fathers of the church have described the Jesus Prayer as
the prayer that embodies the Gospel. It is the theme of the Philokalia (a guide for those who practice the Jesus Prayer).

D. The Sacrament of Confession (Penance)

The Sacrament of Confession (Penance), also called “The Sacrament of Reconciliation,” is grounded in the Gospel lesson of St. John, chapter 20, heard at the Agape Vespers Service of Holy Pascha that has traditionally been spoken of in several languages — emphasizing the universal message of the forgiveness of sins. This was Christ’s commissioning of the Holy Apostles to forgive sins and to prescribe penances (for what is “retained” [see Absolution Prayer below]).

9. Prayers of Absolution by the Priest

…through that divinely spoken word which came to the Apostles afterthe Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ saying: Whosoever sins ye

forgive, they are forgiven, and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained (John 20:23), we too are emboldened to say: Whatsoever thou hast said to my most humble self, and whatsoever thou has not succeeded in saying, either through ignorance or forgetfulness, whatever it may be, God forgive thee in this present world, and that which is to come.

A second prayer uses several Biblical lessons to affirm God’s forgiveness of sins:
God it was who forgave Nathan the Prophet when he confessed his sins (2 Samuel 12:13f), Peter weeping for his denial (Mark 14:72), the sinful woman in tears at his feet (Luke 7:44f), the Publican (Luke 18:9f), and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11f): May that same God forgive thee all things through me a sinner, both in this present world and that which is to
come and set thee uncondemned before His fearful Judgement Seat…

Next week, following the Feast of the Annunciation, we will be examining the intercessory prayer language of the Church’s laudations and salutations of the Holy Virgin Mother of God found in the Akathist (Madayeh) and Parakesis Services.

A good transition to next week’s lesson is to note: that the prayer language of the Church’s prayers of repentance for the forgiveness of sins can also frequently heard in prayers that call upon the intercessions of the All-holy Virgin Mother of God (also referred to as: “mediatrix”). One example is heard in The Prayer of Paul the Cenobite to the Most Holy Theotokos at the end of Compline (10):

O Lady, Bride of God, spotless, blameless, pure and immaculate Virgin, thou who without corruption, by thy glorious birth-giving, has united God the Word to man and joined the fallen nature of our race to heavenly things; who alone art the hope of the hopeless, the help of those who are under attack; the ready help of those who flee unto thee and the refuge of all Christians: Despise me not, an accursed sinner, though I have rendered myself unworthy by my shameful thoughts, words and deeds, and through indolence have become a slave to the pleasures of life; but as the Mother of God, who lovest mankind, mercifully have compassion upon me, a sinner and a prodigal, and receive my prayer, though it be offered unto thee by unworthy lips; and using Thy boldness as a mother, importune Thy Son, our Lord and Master, that He may open to me also the tender compassions of His goodness so as to overlook my numberless transgressions and turn me to repentance and show me forth as a zealous doer of His commandments. And because thou art merciful, compassionate and benevolent, be thou ever near me in this present life as an ardent help and protection, defending me from the assaults of adversaries and leading me to salvation. And at the time of my departure from this life, care for my miserable soul, and drive far from it the dark visions of evil demons; and in the awesome Day of Judgment, deliver me from eternal punishment, and present me as an inheritor of the ineffable glory of Thy Son, our God. May this be my lot, O Lady, most holy Theotokos, through thy mediation and help, through the grace and love toward mankind of thine only-begotten Son, our Lord, and God, and Savior, Jesus Christ, to Whom are due all glory, honor and worship, with his unoriginate Father, and His All-Holy, and good, and life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Handout for Lenten Lesson No. 5
The Church’s Prayer Language for Repentance and Forgiveness

1. Sunday Orthros Penitential Hymn (The Lenten Troparia After Psalm 50)
Open to me the doors of repentance, O Life-giver, for my soul goes early to the temple of Thy holiness; coming of the temple of my body wholly polluted. But because Thou art compassionate, purify me by the compassion of Thy mercies.

Prepare for me the way of salvation, O Theotokos; for I have profaned myself with course sins, and consumed my whole life with procrastination. But by thine intercessions purify me from all abomination.

If I think upon the multitude of my evil deeds, wretch that I am, I tremble for the terrible Day of Judgment. But trusting in the compassion of thy mercy, I shout to Thee like David: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy great mercy!”

2. Priest’s Kairon Prayers Before Entrance Into The Altar
(also: the Troparia of Contrition of Great Compline) Have mercy on us, O God, have mercy upon us, for laying aside all  defense, we sinners offer unto Thee this supplication, have mercy on us!

How shall I, the unworthy, dare to enter the brilliance of Thy Holy Place? For if I dare to enter my garment will renounce me for it is not a wedding garment (Matthew 22:1f). Cleanse, O Lord, the defilement of my soul and save me, for Thou art the lover of mankind.

3. Tenth Orthros Prayer (Based on Psalm 50)
O Lord our God, who hast granted unto men pardon through repentance, and hast set us, as an example of the acknowledgement of sin and of the confession which is unto forgiveness, the repentance of the Prophet David (see Psalm 50): Do Thou, the same Lord, have mercy upon us according to Thy great mercy, notwithstanding the manifold and great iniquities into which we have fallen; and through the multitude of Thy bounties, blot out our transgressions. For unto Thee have we sinned, O Lord, who knowest the secret and hidden things
in the heart of man, and who alone hast power to forgive sins; and as Thou hast established us with Thy guiding Spirit, and made known to us the joy of Thy salvation, cast us not away from Thy presence. But inasmuch as Thou art good and loves mankind, graciously grant that even unto our last breath, we may offer unto Thee, the sacrifice of righteousness and an offering upon Thy holy altars…

4. A Prayer of Great Compline by St. Basil the Great
Grant unto our souls contrition and unto our thoughts care concerning the trial of Thy fearful and righteous Judgment. Nail our flesh to the fear of Thee, and mortify our earthly members, that, even in the quietness of sleep, we may be illumined by the contemplation of Thy judgments…

5. The Prayer Before the Reading of The Gospel
(also The Ninth Orthros Prayer)
Illumine our hearts, O Master who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy Gospel teachings; implant in us also the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal [fleshly] desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things that are well-pleasing unto Thee: For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee do we ascribe glory…

6. Prayer of St. Basil the Great
In Preparation of Holy Communion
O Lord, I know that I am unworthy to receive Thy Holy Body and Precious Blood; I know that I am guilty, and that I eat and drink condemnation to myself, not discerning the Body and Blood of Christ my God… make not an example of me, Thy sinful servant. But do unto me according to Thy great mercy, and grant that these gifts may be for me unto healing, purification, enlightenment, protection, salvation and sanctification of my soul and body, and to the expulsion of every evil imagination, sinful deed or work of the Devil. May they move me to reliance on Thee and to love The always, to amend and keep firm my life; and be ever in me to the increase of virtue, to the keeping of Thy Commandments, to the communion of the Holy Spirit and as a good defense before Thy dread Judgment Seat and for life eternal.

7. Prayers of St. John Chrysostom
In Preparation of Holy Communion
I stand before the gates of Thy Temple, and yet I refrain not from my evil thoughts. But do Thou, O Christ my God, who didst justify the publican (Luke 18:9f), and hast mercy upon the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21f), and opened the gates of Paradise to the thief (Matthew 23:43); open unto me the compassion of Thy love toward mankind, and receive me as I approach and touch Thee, like the sinful woman and the woman with the issue of blood (Matthew 9:20f); for the one by embracing Thy feet received the forgiveness of sins (Luke 7:44f), and the other by but touching the hem of Thy garment was healed. And I, most sinful, dare to partake of Thy whole Body. Let me not be consumed but receive me as Thou didst receive them, and enlighten the perceptions of my soul, consuming the accusations of my sins: through the intercessions of her that, without corruption gave Thee birth, and of the heavenly
powers; for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief (I Timothy 1:15)… forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance… accept me today as a communicant: for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas (Luke 22:48); but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom (Luke 23:42).

8. Examples from: The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete
I have rivaled in transgression Adam, the first-formed man, and I have found myself stripped naked of God, of the eternal Kingdom and its joy, because of
my sins… Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me!

Flee from the flames, my soul, flee from the burning heat of Sodom, flee from the destruction by the fire of God… Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me!

Christ saved the Wise Men and called the Shepherds; He revealed as martyrs a multitude of young children; He glorified the Elder and the aged Widow. But thou, my soul, has not followed their lives in actions. Woe to thee when thou art judged… Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me!

9. Prayers of Absolution by the Priest
…through that divinely spoken word which came to the Apostles after the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ saying: Whosoever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven, and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained (John 20:23), we too are emboldened to say: Whatsoever thou hast said to my most humble self, and whatsoever thou has not succeeded in saying, either through ignorance or forgetfulness, whatever it may be, God forgive thee in this present world, and that which is to come.

A second prayer uses several Biblical lessons to affirm God’s forgiveness of sins:
God it was who forgave Nathan the Prophet when he confessed his sins (2 Samuel 12:13f), Peter weeping for his denial (Mark 14:72), the sinful woman in tears at his feet (Luke 7:44f), the Publican (Luke 18:9f), and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11f): May that same God forgive thee all things through me a sinner, both in this present world and that which is to come and set thee uncondemned before His fearful Judgement Seat…

10. The Prayer of Paul the Cenobite to the Most Holy Theotokos at the end of Compline
O Lady, Bride of God, spotless, blameless, pure and immaculate Virgin, thou who without corruption, by thy glorious birth-giving, has united God the Word to man and joined the fallen nature of our race to heavenly things; who alone art the hope of the hopeless, the help of those who are under attack; the ready help of those who flee unto thee and the refuge of all Christians: Despise me not, an accursed sinner, though I have rendered myself unworthy by my shameful thoughts, words and deeds, and through indolence have become a slave to the pleasures of life; but as the Mother of God, who lovest mankind, mercifully have compassion upon me, a sinner and a prodigal, and receive my prayer, though it be offered unto
thee by unworthy lips; and using Thy boldness as a mother, importune Thy Son, our Lord and Master, that He may open to me also the tender compassions of His goodness so as to overlook my numberless transgressions and turn me to repentance and show me forth as a zealous doer of His commandments. And because thou art merciful, compassionate and
benevolent, be thou ever near me in this present life as an ardent help and protection, defending me from the assaults of adversaries and leading me to salvation. And at the time of my departure from this life, care for my miserable soul, and drive far from it the dark visions of evil demons; and in the awesome Day of Judgment, deliver me from eternal punishment, and present me as an inheritor of the ineffable glory of Thy Son, our God. May this be my lot, O Lady, most holy Theotokos, through thy mediation and help, through the grace and love
toward mankind of thine only-begotten Son, our Lord, and God, and Savior, Jesus Christ, to Whom are due all glory, honor and worship, with his unoriginate Father, and His All-Holy, and good, and life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.