With the arrival of the year 2000 we look forward with renewed anticipation to the return of our Lord. Perhaps this year he will arrive! As the time for his return draws nearer by the minute, and as we look toward making resolutions for the coming year, this is an appropriate time to look at our prayer lives. For it is through ongoing prayer that we relate to our Redeemer; and it is through our Redeemer that we attain salvation.
One sacred tradition of our church is to make private prayer a daily habit. When we pray to the Lord in 2000 we will each offer up many spontaneous prayers. In addition, our tradition also includes the regular offering up of fixed prayers to the Lord. One of these fixed prayers, (fixed prayers means church sanctioned/memorized prayers), is the Lord’s prayer. Jesus taught his disciples to say the Lord’s Prayer, and as his disciples we are to regularly recite the prayer as well. A closer look at the Lord’s Prayer, will help us better appreciate the beauty of the prayer, and will facilitate us in our spiritual journeys. Let us then take a closer look at the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer occurs in different forms in the gospels of Luke and Matthew. We will focus on the Matthean version. (Note that the common last line ‘for thine is the kingdom and the power.... was not part of the original prayer, but a later addition by the church). The prayer is listed below, then examined in brief a line at a time.
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. (Mat 6:9-13)
Our Father who art in heaven
The first two words of the Lord’s Prayer are ‘Our Father’. In so saying we proclaim that we share a common Father with the other members of the church. This means we are truly equally brothers and sisters in God for all eternity. The New Testament Greek word for Father is abba which better translates as Daddy. Our heavenly Father is our common Daddy for all eternity; and we, as his children, are to go to him for comfort, encouragement, direction, assistance, and to offer thanksgiving.
Jesus’ direction to refer to God during prayer as ‘Father’ is unprecedented in scripture. Immediately prior to the singing of the Lord’s Prayer during Badarak we reflect upon the fantastic meaning of the title we use to address a God, when the priest prays, (on behalf of the community),
God of truth and Father of mercy, we thank you, who have exalted our nature, condemned as we were, above that of the blessed patriarchs; for you were called God to them, whereas in compassion you have been pleased to be named Father to us. And now, O Lord, we beseech you, make the grace of so new and precious a naming of yourself shine forth and flourish day by day in your holy Church. And grant us to open our mouths with a cry of bold voice, to call upon you, O heavenly Father, to sing and say: (singing of Hayr Mer)
When Moses asked God what his (God’s) name was, God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." AndGod said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (Exo 3:14). While God was the initiator and patriarch of the nation of Israel, God’s instructions to the Israelites never allowed them to call him by the title ‘Father’. Indeed, of all the Patriarchs in the Old Testament, none of them was instructed to call God, “Father”. While teaching the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus, for the first time, gave the instruction that God be referred to by the title “Father”.
In calling God Father, we also recognize that we have been adopted as his children and stand to inherit his kingdom. We hear of God’s sacred adoption of us each week at the end of Badarak when the priest reads from the first chapter of John’s gospel, But to all who received him, who believed in his name, (that’s us)he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13 ). When we address God as ‘Father’ we also recognize that Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, is now, spiritually, our brother.
St. John Chrysostum also writes that, as we are spiritually with God, we are with him where he is, namely, in heaven. When we pray, Our Father, who art in heaven, we do so being in heaven ourselves. Through our relationship with our Heavenly Father, he has, by his grace, lifted us up spiritually to be residents with him in heaven.
In 2000, how will you relate to God as your Daddy? How will you treat your spiritual siblings?
Hallowed be thy name
It has been said, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. Careless, frequent misuse of God’s name is disrespectful of God. One of the ten commandments is, "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. (Exo 20:7). How do you use the name of God? When you use God’s name do you do so with reverence and respect? To say God’s name is ‘Hallowed’ means that we see it as being holy. Recognizing the holiness of God in the midst of a fallen world is one of our greatest challenges as Christians. For we live in a profane world, which, generally speaking, neither sees nor recognizes, God’s holy presence. By treating God’s name with solemn respect and awe we represent to others our belief in the holiness of God. By treating God’s name in a holy, and not a careless fashion, we make a subtle, yet important public declaration of our faith.
In addition, to treat God’s name as being holy we must recognize that what we do as Christians reflects on him. For as Christians we claim to represent the one true God. If then our actions are superlative we glorify him. Jesus said, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Mat 5:16) We can glorify God, that is Hallow his name, by having our light, the light of Christ, shine through our hearts in all that we do.
In 2000, how will you treat and represent the name of God?
Thy kingdom come,
One of the most often repeated phrases in liturgical prayer in our church is, “now and forever and unto the ages of ages”, (Ayjzm yev meeshd yev havedyanus havedeneets). This phrase is a translation of the Greek phrase ‘eis ton eon ton eon’, which means. “from this age, into the coming age.” Our church regularly declares the coming of God’s kingdom. We believe that there is a kingdom to come which will be established at the time of our Lord’s return. The day when our Lord returns is called, “the Day of the Lord” in the Bible. St. Paul tells us, “you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. (1 Th 5:2-6)
In 2000, when you pray “Thy kingdom come”, will you do so anticipating the imminent return of our Lord; as if Jesus might be here ANY second?
Thy will be done
In the Garden of Gethsemane facing arrest, torture, and crucifixion, Jesus prayed, "Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." (Luke 22:42 ) Jesus then accepted his Father’s will and took upon himself the cross. Jesus submitted his life to the will of the heavenly Father even though it meant suffering, persecution, and death.
In 2000 when you pray “Thy will be done”, will you do so with the conviction to do God’s will even at the cost of tremendous personal sacrifice; if it means enduring hardship and persecution?
On Earth as it is in Heaven
As Armenian Christians we live in Diaspora in two senses. First, we are no longer in Armenia. And second, we are no longer in Eden. During the singing of Ee Vereen in Hokeehankeesd, (the requiem service done for the departed faithful), we sing,
With those who have fallen asleep in faith, receive us who have the same hope, Into the heavenly city, Jerusalem,...
In the supernal Jerusalem, in the dwellings of the angels,
Where Enoch and Elijah live old in age like doves,
Worthily glorified in the garden of Eden,
Merciful Lord, have mercy on the souls of those of us who have fallen asleep.
We believe in the existence of a heavenly Eden. We confess that humanity was created to live in Eden, yet because of sin, humanity was cast from the spiritual garden and went into the worldly Diaspora. But now we have been adopted as children of God. We are once again allowed to enter the Edenic paradise, it is our promised home. Jesus said, “you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world. (John 15:19 )” By the grace of God, we are no longer, ‘of this world’, we are now born of God and residents of heaven. For by the resurrection of Christ the world has been renewed. During Badarak each week the priest prays that,
as the divine master-builder building a new work, he (God) ... made this earth into heaven.
Therefore we understand ourselves to be residents of heaven spiritually, while living in Diaspora on this earth. As residents of heaven on earth, we are now sojourners in a foreign land; emissaries of God preaching the light of the gospel in the midst of this darkened world. We are to be those through whom heavenly actions are made present on earth. Our challenge as residents of heaven is to perform only works of holiness here on earth, so that we might lead others to want to live in our country (heaven), under our king (God).
During 2000 will you demonstrate by all your actions that you are a holy resident of heaven during all your dealings here on earth?
Give us this day our daily bread
There are two divergent views of the phrase ‘daily bread’. Both have something to offer us.
Jesus said, " do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day. (Mat 6:34) Our desires as Christians are not to focus on the physical, but on the spiritual. Jesus’ instruction for God to provide us with our daily bread is a reminder to not be anxious, but to trust God to provide us with our physical necessities, while focusing more on spiritual things than on physical things. Regarding our physical desires, we are to pray, “neither for riches, nor for delicate living, nor for costly raiment, nor for any other such thing, but for bread only”. (St. John Chrysostum)
The New Testament was written in Greek. The word translated into English ‘daily’ is the Greek word ‘epiousion’. Epiousion comes from two words Epi (which means above or high up) and ousia (which means nature or substance). While some say that an accurate translation of ‘epiousion’ is ‘daily’, others state that an accurate translation of ‘epiousion’is either ‘Supernatural’ or ‘Suprasubstantial’ and that the use of the English word ‘daily’ to translate epiousion is simply inaccurate. Certainly, scripture supports the claim that human desire should be for ‘supernatural’ bread.
Jesus said to the devil "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" (Mat 4:4) Jesus also said, I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." (John 6:48-51 )
During the recitation of the Lord’s prayer we are to regularly recognize our need for something other than mere physical bread. We are to recognize within ourselves a spiritual hunger that only God can satisfy. A hunger he satiates by giving us scripture and through distributing Holy Communion to us.
During 2000 will we get in touch with our spiritual hunger, and will we read scripture and come faithfully for holy communion recognizing that only God has the capacity to fulfill our deepest hunger?
And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors;
During our daily recitation of the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to forgive us. Jesus instructed us to say this part of the prayer because he knew our ongoing sinfulness. Praying daily for forgiveness reminds us of our ongoing sinfulness and helps direct us toward living in a state of perpetual humility.
So too by saying, As we also have forgiven our debtors, we acknowledge that while we are asking God to forgive us, we are doing so conditionally. That is to say we are essentially saying ‘forgive us to the extent that we have forgiven others.’ Jesus said, if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Mat 6:15) The importance of these words can not be over stated. For the Bible teaches that nothing unclean will enter heaven. That is to say if we have any sin within us that is not forgiven we will be excluded from entrance into heaven and will spend an eternity in hell; and we will not be forgiven if we are unforgiving toward anyone for any reason. We must therefore live in a state of constant forgiveness; loving others despite their multitudinous shortcomings, even as God loves us.
By daily acknowledgment of our sins, by calling to mind that we have betrayed the salvation we have received in Christ by choosing to continue in sin, and by daily forgiving of the sins of others, we grow in both humility and divine grace. For the sins we have committed against God are much greater than the sins any one else has committed against us.
During the year 2000 will you reflect daily upon your sinfulness and make sure to be forgiving towards all others for ANYTHING they may have done?
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil
As Christians we are to have no desire to be tempted. Our desire should be not for temptation, but for deliverance. Therefore we ask God not to lead us into temptation. It does us no good to desire to be tempted; for anyone with a desire to be tempted so that they might overcome temptation is guilty of desiring personal glory. For “when we are not summoned, we should be quiet, and wait for the time of conflict; that we may show both freedom from vainglory, and nobleness of spirit.”(Chrysostum) For we are not to seek out temptation, but stand nobly ready to meet and fight it when it arrives.
The source of temptation is the devil. The phrase ‘But deliver us from evil’ can also rightly be translated, ‘But deliver us from the evil one’. We are in the midst of an ongoing spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil. The war is waged all around us. Jesus reminds us here of who our true enemy is. In the words of St. Paul, we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12 ) Our battle is a spiritual one against the devil and his evil ministers. He is our enemy; not one another. In saying ‘deliver from the evil one’, we also acknowledge God’s sovereign power over the devil and are also reminded that God has already demonstrated to us his ability to triumph over our common enemy. As we cleave to him we have victory.
During 2000 will you put off from yourself any desire to be tempted? Will you trust God to ultimately deliver you from the evils of this world?
During the year 2000, why not resolve to say the Lord’s prayer, slowly and thoughtfully, once a day? After all, since we know that the Lord’s prayer is the prayer Jesus taught his disciples; we can be confident that by saying it devoutly this prayer can serve to transport us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, into a closer relationship with God; to whom is befitting glory, dominion and honor, now and into the age to come.