Wednesday Lenten Lessons
“Living What We Pray”
by Archpriest Timothy Baclig
Last year, our topic (“Living What We Pray”) was based upon one of the prayers of tonight’s Liturgy. It is heard at the end of The First Litany of the Faithful (p. 28):
…Let our eye have no part in any evil sight. Let our hearing be inaccessible to all idle words; and let our tongue be purged from unseemly speech. Purify our lips which praise Thee, O Lord. Make our hands to abstain from evil deeds and to work only such things as are acceptable unto Thee, establishing all of our members and our minds by Thy Grace.
With each part of the prayer we observed how our senses and more importantly the control of our senses with prayer is an important part of our salvation. Each week we examined a section of the prayer by taking note of: What we hear and what we listen to; what we say and how we say it; what we think and how we think about it; what we do and how we do it;
where we go and why we choose to go there?
This year, we will take another step by focusing our attention upon what I call: “The Prayer Language of the Church, its Origin and Meaning.”
In several of our services there are a number of prayers that are not heard by you and are done “inaudibly” or “silently” by the priest at the altar. They are jam packed with the church’s theology. Some would say that these prayers are “for the clergy,” but in fact they are an integral part of our services, though not heard by the congregation; often read quietly by the
presiding priest in the altar during a litany or the singing of a hymn. Some have reasoned that it was done this way to shorten the length of the services.
The fact is: many of these prayers provide us with great insight into the “mind of the church.” More than just being an expression thoughts a close look at them tells us what we believe. The prayers are words that express our theology and thinking; rooted in the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are from the full context of our Biblical tradition; beginning with the events of God’s people of the Old Covenant and the fulfillment of the New Covenant with the coming of Christ.
The “mind of the Church,” which is no different from what St. Paul called: “The Mind of Christ” (see I Corinthians 2:10-16) is the collective thoughts and expressions that consistently convey the understanding of the unchanging truth through the ages. It begins with the Laws of God, His prophesies, the full revelation of the coming of the Divine Son of God, the
Gospel teaching, the lessons of the Apostles, the commentaries of the Holy Fathers and the Church Councils. This is the foundation of what we believe to be universally “Catholic” in acceptance. It is what we will celebrate this coming Sunday in what is called: “The Sunday of Orthodoxy.”
The problem is that, in our day, you and I have been greatly influenced by secularism, resulting in divergent thinking and deviant patterns of behavior. This has resulted from the persistent societal norms that has placed high value upon independence, self-centeredness and selfsufficiency.
In the February 2017 issue of The Word magazine helps us to understand the challenge that we have today as a church. Bishop JOHN begins his editorial with the following statement: Social scientists have been telling us that people are more interested in being spiritual, and less and less interested in following organized religion. Many want to have a relationship
with God, but on their own terms. They want lots of nice feelings, assurance of some kind of salvation and a comfort in an enlightenment that they can control. In such a system, everyone chooses how to be spiritual and makes up the rules.
Every culture has established norms. Some may for example include respect of elders, the preservation of life, monogamous marriage, reciprocity of kindness, patriotism, the observance of holidays, etc. The more that these norms are eroded as shared values, or are disregarded, the easier it is for a society to fall into despair. And if a society falls into despair with no hope in a loving God, there is great distress, agony an hopelessness.
Insofar as the our Church’s prayers are concerned: If you or I are unable to acknowledge our need for God, there will be no reason to accept any divine commands or standards that aim to form and shape our behavior. Also, if the need for salvation is not personally conceptualized with any understanding or acknowledgement of sin—as human acts that offend God and men, then the practice of humility and repentance will be irrelevant and of no importance.
Similarly, if the language of our day is full of vulgarity, profanity, disrespect of persons, personal judgments of others, and egocentric attitudes, the prayer language of the church will not only be difficult to understand, it will become a foreign language to us. Church services will be long and boring, regarded as something for theologians, and considered a waste of my time.
In the early days of the church in this country, there was great hesitation of the use of English in the Liturgy. And while it might be easy to say, “Well, but this is America, everybody should learn to accept the use of English in our services,” I have personally discovered that there was something much deeper in the thinking of our immigrant community that
used caution in denying themselves prayer in their mother tongue.
In order to avoid making my explanation too difficult, try thinking of it this in this way: In order to be fluent in a language, we are told, one should be able to “think in that language.” In other words, being fluent is not just being able to speak in another language than your own, but being able to think in that language—as one who was raised in that culture.
Similarly, you and I need to be able to think as Christians in order to behave as Christians. This means that the thought patterns of our thinking, and consequently, the manner of our conduct and behavior should be consistent with the Church’s prayers and Her beliefs. We must be fluent as Christians. Our prayer of the soul should not only be congruent with the
Church’s thoughts and prayers but the true expression of our personal life experience whether it be at church, at home, at work, or wherever we might be each day of our lives. Remember: the seriousness of Holy Baptism for an adult in the early period had a direct bearing upon whether or not a person’s life was consistent with the church’s teachings, and for this reason, many postponed baptism until later in life if not at their time of death.
Great Lent can become a more meaningful experience for each of us when we not only pray the prayers we find in our books, but consider:
- What comprises the thought in the in the content of prayers of the church?
- God is known as Trinity and acknowledged as:
- a sovereign God
- a just God
- a righteous God
- one who is Holy, Mighty and Immortal
- a God who is also loving, merciful and compassionate
- who has revealed Himself – made Himself known
- It is not uncommon for our prayer to include expressions of praise, blessing, thanks and glorification. [We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory…]
- Prayer often includes a recollection of names, places and events in history – here’s where many of us are lost and feel like outsiders; (It is not uncommon to hear the names of: Forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, evangelists, ascetics…) The events of salvation history and the names of God’s people in history must become our own history of people and events.
- Prayer frequently contemplates God’s laws and His commandments; ordinances, precepts, statutes (Knowing them, respecting them and believing them to be true are important.) For example, Psalm 1:1 begins: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful, but his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night.
- Prayer honestly acknowledges our human weaknesses and failings and is an aid in confession. This can be heard in the 30th Psalm of David: Have mercy on me, O Lord, or I am afflicted; mine eye is troubled with anger, as also my soul and my belly. For my life is spent with grief, and my years with groaning; my strength hath grown weak in poverty, and my bones are troubled. I am become a reproach among all mine enemies, and greatly for my neighbors also, and a fear to mine acquaintances. They that saw me without fled from me. I am forgotten by the heart like a dead man. I am become like a broken vessel.
- God is known as Trinity and acknowledged as:
- Prayers of the church includes the mention of what we are called to do – an action expected of us; i.e., Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statues means that I am wanting to learn, to be a disciple… to be taught; and that learning does not pertain to what age or stage of life I might be.
- While requests and petitions are included in our prayers, it is not uncommon for the church’s prayers to reflect upon the actions of faith, such as what is known from the lives of the saints or by God’s wondrous acts in history; i.e, “The Prayer of Manasses, King of Judah” includes these words: O Lord Almighty, Thou God of our fathers, of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and of their righteous seed; Who hast made Heaven and earth with all the array thereof; Who hast bound the sea by the word of Thy command; Who hast shut up the deep and sealed it by Thy fearful and glorious Name; Whom all things fear, yea and before Whose power they tremble; for the majesty of Thy glory cannot be borne and the anger of Thy threatening toward sinners is intolerable; and yet Thy merciful promise is immeasurable and unsearchable; for Thou art the Lord most high, of great compassion, long-suffering, abundant in mercy…
Finally, remember: Prayer is a dialogue and not a monologue. God has sent us His Spirit (Christ’s Spirit) to guide and help formulate our thoughts in keeping with “the Mind of Christ.”
Next week we will look further into the specifics of the church’s prayers and the how the Church’s prayer language in content may not only be very meaningful, but may also surprise us.