Wednesday Lenten Lessons
“The Prayer Language of the Church; its Origin and Meaning”
by Archpriest Timothy Baclig
For the past two weeks we have been speaking specifically on 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. Tonight we will examine the words that compose the prayers in our vigilant combat of spiritual warfare with evil. We will be
studying the prayer language of the church that is used to protect us from evil acts and specifically Satin, who is called: the Evil One.
To begin, it must be clearly stated that while Christ has victoriously won and triumphed over sin and death (as seen in our Church’s image of the Holy Cross presented to us this week), you and I, today, wrestle in a lifelong recovery from the fallen human condition that we have inherited from Adam. Any Christian who ignores or trivializes this, tries to dismiss it,
or even attempts to spiritualize it away — disregarding that there are things you and I must do, or can do, is delusional. Last week I briefly briefly defined our relationship with God as a synergy. Our relationship with God through our personal struggles, trials, or tribulations involves us meeting Him half-way. That is because our sovereign God has blessed us with the
freedom to make personal choices. If our choices are made with an informed mind from our Holy Tradition, that includes our knowledge scripture and the Church’s experience of history with its teachings, we help ourselves us to avoid or minimize catastrophes.
For all who are of the Catholic Tradition we believe and understand that: we were saved (by Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the Cross), but we are also being saved, and we will ultimately be saved (having a “good defense before the fearful judgment seat of Christ”). You and I are called to “continue to work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians
2:12) with the understanding that “…it is God who works in [us] to will and to act according to His good purpose.” That cooperation and partnership, our “work” with Him, is what is meant by being in a synergetic relationship with God.
But again, it must be stated that the victory over Satin (the Evil One) has been won, and all has been accomplished through Christ who came to save us. His words to the Apostles before His passion (John 16:33) were: “In the world you will have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Yet, even while knowing all we have received by grace through faith, also that we have been “sealed” through the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Chrismation, it was the Lord Himself who also said, as recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Mark (Matthew 10:22, 24:13; Mark 13:13): “But he who endures to the end will be saved.” St. Paul in writing Timothy (2 Timothy 3:12) also said: “…all who live godly in Christ will suffer persecution.” This teaching is not a contradiction in our understanding. They present us with the sober reality of the fact that there are things that you and I must do for our salvation. Think of it this way: We receive a doctor’s prescription in order to overcome whatever ails us physically. God ultimately heals us, but our good judgment in seeking help, and the guidance that we receive from our physician still requires us to do something; to cooperate with our doctor’s prescription and to use good sense in order to get well. Our condition may also require therapy that may continue for a period of time. For some, recovery may involve one’s entire life! Nonetheless, it is God who heals and, as Pascha reveals: our ultimate
healing is in the Resurrection.
II. Overcoming Evil and the Schemes of The Evil One
A. Being Serious and Intentional
Our rejection of Evil in our personal desire for God must be an informed decision. That choice requires a discipline of prayer, fasting and discernment. This is because you and I can be easily deceived and subtlety misguided. The Apostle Peter wrote (I Peter 5:8): “Be sober, vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour.” St. Paul similarly wrote this warning: “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil…” (Ephesians 6:11).
In the fifth prayer of Vespers we hear these words: Visit us with Thy loving kindness; and grant that, through the remainder of this day, by Thy grace, we may avoid the divers and subtle snares of the Evil One, and preserve our life unassailed [from being suddenly caught off guard by an attack]… The wording of the prayer tells us that we are not to be passive, but actively attentive, on guard and vigilant.
Our specific charge and command is heard in the words of the Holy Apostle James: “Submit yourself therefore to God, resist the devil an he will flee from you.” (James 4:7). This is clearly heard in the deliberate questions that are posed three times to the Sponsors of a person to be Baptized (“Do/have you renounced Satin, all his angels, all his service, all his works, and all his pride?”). The Sponsors are not only expected to reply in the affirmative, but to “spit” and to physically turn around from the west to the east — facing the altar, and then are asked (three times): “Have you united yourself unto Christ?” and “Do you believe in Him?” The questioning requires a serious and intentional response.
At the end of my message last week I called your attention to the wording at the end of the Lord’s Prayer that says: “…lead us not into temptation…” The prayer ends with the plea: “…but deliver us from the Evil One.” Our complete and final deliverance from the Evil One will ultimately come at the end of the age. Until then, we must be sure that we are equipped to face whatever comes our way. The sign of the Cross is a powerful weapon in our battle to overcome evil. It is called by the Church, “The life-giving Cross,” “a weapon of peace,” “the Tree of life.” As a sign of triumph and victory, It is presented to us at Mid-Lent to equip us in successfully completing the course of the Fast. In our Tradition the sign of the Cross is an integral part of our prayers and is earnestly expressed with physical metanias (signing the Cross from one’s head to toe), also prostrations and phrase repetitions. It is therapeutic as a repetitive spiritual exercise, especially during Great Lent.
B. Prayers That Equip Us to Overcome Evil
The physical darkness has a role to play in our struggle with sin and our battle to overcome it. It contrasts the most powerful image in the ritual of the “divine light” of Holy Pascha, and is presented to us in tonight’s Presanctified Liturgy in the exclamation heard during the Old Testament readings: “The Light of Christ [that] illumines all!” And just as the physical
darkness comes with the night, the expressions of our evening prayers often include this imagery in phrases like what we hear in the Seventh
Prayer of Vespers:
O great and most high God, who alone has immortality and dwells in light unapproachable; who has made all creation in wisdom; who has divided the light from the darkness, and has appointed the sun to rule the day and the moon and stars to rule the night… Deliver us from the terror of the night and from everything that walks in darkness; and grant that the sleep, which Thou has appointed for the repose of our weakness, may be free from every imagination of the devil. Yea, O Master, Bestower of all good things, may we, being moved to compunction upon our beds, call to remembrance Thy Holy Name in the night season: that, enlightened by meditation on Thy statues, we may rise up in joyfulness of soul to glorify Thy goodness…
The church has always regarded the darkness (both physical and spiritual) as a contributing factor in our vulnerability to the forces of evil. It pertains to the period of the night and the occasions of darkness that adds to our being disoriented, confused or bewildered, and can lead us into being vulnerable to sin. Our prayer, however, regards the darkness as an opportunity for us to overcome what is fearful and bewildering by remembering God and being illumined by His commandments.
Prayers for deliverance are expressed in many ways and are found within many contexts. Prayers of deliverance are not only categorically called exorcisms (as heard at the start of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism when the sign of the Cross is used). They can also found within the context of the Divine Liturgy. A prayer in the Liturgy of St. Basil that follows the Lord’s Prayer reads: O Master, Lord, the Father of compassions and the God of all comfort, bless, sanctify, guard, strengthen, fortify those who have bowed their heads unto Thee; withdraw from them every evil work; unite them to every good work; and graciously grant that without condemnation, they may partake of Thy pure and life-giving Mysteries, unto the forgiveness of sins and unto the communion of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, within the Service of Compline (done before one goes to sleep), we hear the Prayer of the Monk Antiochus that is addressed “To Our Lord Jesus Christ:” …grant unto us, O Master, when we depart to sleep, repose of body and soul; and protect us from the murky sleep of sin and from all the dark pleasures of the night. Calm the impulses of passions,
and quench the fiery darts of evil which are craftily thrown against us; check the turbulence of our flesh, and still all earthly and material thoughts. And grant us, O God, a prudent reason, a vigilant heart, a tranquil sleep free from all the fantasies of Satan. Raise us up again at the time of prayer strengthened in Thy commandments, holding steadfastly within us the remembrance of Thy judgments. Grant us grace to glorify Thee all through the night that we may praise, and bless, and glorify Thine all-honorable and majestic Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
In conclusion, our study in examining the prayer language of the church: 1) acknowledges our God to be sovereign in what He wills; and tonight, 2) recognizes our battle against evil and the schemes of the Evil One, and how prayer is one of the means by which we are equipped to overcome evil. But it must also be stated that it is God who sufficiently
“equips” us by His divine grace and mercy to face and to overcome evil.
The personal experience of the Holy Apostle Paul who acknowledges God’s sovereignty and perseveres in his personal struggle with evil, makes this point clear in his letter to the Corinthians (II Corinthians 12:7): To keep me from becoming conceited… He says, there was given to me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satin, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient of you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” St. Paul’s experience could be described as God’s chastening. This word can be found in some of our prayers that we have examined. They also appear in the prayers of the Sacrament of Holy Unction (heard on the evening of Holy Wednesday).
While you and I would surely prefer what is most expedient for us in whatever God may require us to do in being saved, there is no knowing what kind of a cross each of us may be expected to carry at any point or period of time in our life. It will nonetheless be our own cross that will involve our own personal choices. And our salvation will depend upon how
you and I rely upon God’s grace and mercy to the end of our life.
Next week we will examine the Church’s prayer language of repentance and forgiveness. In our final week, when we are within the time of the Feast of the Annunciation, we will closely examine the intercessory prayer language of the church’s laudations and salutations of the Akathist and Parakesis services.
Note: In addition to listing the references (below) to the prayers mentioned in tonight’s lesson, sections of the Church’s Prayers of Exorcism that are used by the priest and found in the Evchologion (Priest’s Prayer Book) are also printed below. Other prayers of exorcism that are prayed by the priest, can also be found at the start of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism
in our church service books.
The following prayers will be referenced in tonight’s Lenten Lesson:
1. Fifth Prayer of Vespers
Visit us with Thy loving kindness; and grant that, through the remainder of this day, by Thy grace, we may avoid the divers and subtle snares of the Evil One, and preserve our life unassailed [from being suddenly caught off guard by an attack]…
2. Seventh Prayer of Vespers
O great and most high God, who alone has immortality and dwells in light unapproachable; who has made all creation in wisdom; who has divided the light from the darkness, and has appointed the sun to rule the day and the moon and stars to rule the night… Deliver us from the terror of the night and from everything that walks in darkness; and grant that the
sleep, which Thou has appointed for the repose of our weakness, may be free from every imagination of the devil. Yea, O Master, Bestower of all good things, may we, being moved to compunction upon our beds, call to remembrance Thy Holy Name in the night season: that, enlightened by meditation on Thy statues, we may rise up in joyfulness of soul to glorify Thy goodness…
3. Prayer in the Liturgy at the “Bowing of the Head” by St. Basil
following the Lord’s Prayer O Master, Lord, the Father of compassions and the God of all comfort, bless, sanctify, guard, strengthen, fortify those who have bowed their heads unto Thee; withdraw from them every evil work; unite them to every good work; and graciously grant that without condemnation, they may partake of Thy pure and life-giving Mysteries, unto the forgiveness of sins and unto the communion of the Holy Spirit.
4. Prayer of the Monk Antiochus “To Our Lord Jesus Christ”
in the Service of Great Compline …grant unto us, O Master, when we depart to sleep, repose of body and soul; and protect us from the murky sleep of sin and from all the dark
pleasures of the night. Calm the impulses of passions, and quench the fiery darts of evil which are craftily thrown against us; check the turbulence of our flesh, and still all earthly and material thoughts. And grant us, O God, a prudent reason, a vigilant heart, a tranquil sleep free from all the fantasies of Satan. Raise us up again at the time of
prayer strengthened in Thy commandments, holding steadfastly within us the remembrance of Thy judgments. Grant us grace to glorify Thee all through the night that we may praise, and bless, and glorify Thine all-honorable and majestic Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
Prayers of Exorcisms
(as found in the Evchologion* and prayed by a priest)
A. Prayer Against the Curse of The Evil Eye
O Lord our God, the King of the ages, almighty and all-powerful, who create and alter all things by your will alone… the physician and healer of our souls; the security of those who hope in you; we pray you and beseech you: Remove, drive away and banish every diabolic activity, every satanic attack and every plot, evil curiosity and injury, and the evil eye of mischievous and wicked men, from your servant (N.); and whether it is brought about by beauty, or bravery, or happiness, or jealousy and envy or evil eye, do you yourself, O Lord who loves mankind, stretch out your mighty hand and your powerful and lofty arm, look down upon your creature and watch over him/her, and send him/her an angel of peace, a mighty guardian of soul and body, who will rebuke and banish from him/her every wicked intention, every spell and evil eye of destructive and envious men; so that, guarded by you, your supplant may sing to you with thanksgiving: “The Lord is my helper, and I shall not be afraid; what can man do to me?” And again: “I will fear no evil because you are with me.” For you are God my strength, the powerful ruler, the prince of peace, the Father of the age to come. Yes, Lord, our God, spare your creature and save your servant (N) from every injury and insult brought about by the evil eye, and keep him/her safe above every ill. Through the intercessions of our most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary, of the radiant Archangels, and of all your saints. A-men.
B. By St. Basil (also used for homes)
O God of gods and Lord of lords, the Creator of the fiery orders and the maker of the bodiless powers,… before whom all creation stands in fear and trembling; who once seized hold of the Chief Commander, when in disobedience he violated his proper ministry, and who cast him down to the earth, together with the angels that rebelled with him and that now became
demons… Grant that this exorcism,… may instill fear in him… and all his hosts, …and put him to flight and order him and his demons to depart completely, from your servant(s) (N) (and this home), so that they cannot work any harm against your anointed servant(s), so that he/she/they can tread upon snakes and scorpions and all the power of the enemy…
C. By St. John Chrysostom (used for “unclean spirits”)
O eternal God, who redeemed mankind from the enslavement of the Devil, deliver your servant(s) (N) from every activity of unclean spirits; order the evil and unclean spirits and demons to stay away from the soul and body of your servant(s) and not to linger or lurk in him/her/them. Let them be turned to flight from the work of your hands, by your holy name and that of your only-begotten Son and your life-giving Spirit; so that, been cleansed from every diabolic influence he/she/they may live in holiness and righteousness and reverence, and may be counted worthy of the sacred Mysteries…
D. Another Prayer (also used for evil forces in nature)
…This same Lord rebukes you, O Devil, by His awesome name. Shudder, tremble, be struck with fear, depart, be utterly destroyed, be driven away; you who fell from heaven, and all the evil spirits with you; every evil spirit: The spirit of licentiousness, the spirit of wickedness, the spirit of the night and of the day, of the noon-day and the evening; the spirit of the midnight, the spirit of fantasy, the spirit that lies in wait; whether on dry land or in water, in woodlands or in marshes, in ravines or thoroughfares and crossroads, in lakes, in rivers, in houses, in yards, and in baths, lingering about and injuring and altering the mind of man; depart forthwith from the creature of Christ the creator, our God, and withdraw
from the servant(s) of God (N) from his/her/their mind and soul and heart, from his/her/their reins and senses and from all parts of his/her/their body, so that he/she/they may be rendered healthy and whole and free, and may acknowledge his/her/their own Master, God the creator of all. Amen.
*The Evchologion (Greek: Priest’s Service Book), transl. Fr. Evagoras Constantinides; MELISSA Printing Co. (1989; Thessaloniki)