Prayer Spirituality

The Lord’s Prayer

The Prayer of Prayers

About this contentWhat follows are notes taken from previously recorded audio lectures given by Father Thomas Hopko to seminarians. The recording audio quality was poor at times since they were converted from cassette tapes to mp3. The date of the recordings is uncertain. It seems Father Thomas named this series of lectures “The Practice of Personal Prayer and its relation to the Spiritual Life in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition”.  With God’s help, this series of posts simply aims to share some of the main points of this teaching with other people who have  a sincere longing for God. 

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.

– Luke 11:2-4 (NKJV)

The Prayer of Prayers

  • The Lord’s Prayer is central to any prayer rule.
  • Found in Matthew 6, Luke 11 in the Bible.
  • The prayers of the Church and those found in the prayer books are very much elaborations or abbreviations of the Lord’s Prayer.
  • The Jesus Prayer is an abbreviation of the Lord’s Prayer.
  • The intent of all of our prayer should be that which is in the Lord’s Prayer.
  • The Lord’s Prayer functions as the Christian equivalent to the Shema Israel.
  • The Lord’s Prayer is a summary of Christian doctrine.
  • “The law of prayer is the law of faith”, meaning the liturgy is where you find out what is in the faith.
  • For the Orthodox, the Lord’s Prayer is the central prayer of the Liturgy.
  • The Lord’s Prayer informs us about what the Christian faith believes.
  • The Lord’s prayer is a prayer for Christians. It was given to the disciples.
  • Historically, the Lord’s Prayer was not even taught to the unbaptized until the day before baptism because it is a strictly Christian prayer.

“Our Father…”

  • In the Divine Liturgy, the Lord’s Prayer is said after the Holy Spirit is invoked on the congregation and the Gifts, which gives competency for the faithful to call God “Father”.
  • A general fatherhood of God to all is not a Christian teaching.
  • Adam was referred to as a “son of God” in Luke’s genealogy of Christ. (Luke 3:38)
  • To relate to God as “Abba”, we must first partake of His Divine Spirit, otherwise, we cannot know God as “Abba” Father.

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”

– Romans 8:14-17

  • To know God as “Abba” Father is an introduction into the inner life of the Uncreated Trinity.
  • Everything about the dispensation and Incarnation of the Son of God is intended to take us into the eternal relationship that exists between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that has existed from all eternity. This is what is disclosed in Christianity.
  • [Jesus Christ] brings us into the Divine. He does this through dying on the cross and through His resurrection. We then are called to take up our cross and follow Him.
  • Our prayer in the Lord’s prayer, is to return the love to God that He has loved us with.
  • We are able to reciprocate love to God as “Abba” Father now only because of the Holy Spirit.
  • Jesus is the only One in Scripture that says “Amen” before He speaks.
  • Jesus is the only One in Scripture who calls God “Abba”.
  • There are no references to God like this in Scripture from anyone else.
  • Jesus constantly refers to God as “My Father”, whereas nobody else refers to God in this way in Scripture or in Jewish prayer at all for that matter (this cited from work by Joachim Jeremias).
  • In ancient practice, the Lord’s Prayer was only prayed with those that were full members of the Church. This prayer along with the Lord’s Supper were exclusively reserved for the faithful.
  • In the Liturgy, we still ask God to make us worthy to be bold to dare to call Him “Father” without condemnation before we partake of the Eucharist.
  • “Abba” is not a formal address, it is equivalent to Daddy or Papa in English.
  • It is jarring that this term “Abba” is used for the same fearful, holy, almighty God that we know in the Old Testament.
  • “Our Father…” is the quintessential Christian prayer.
  • Today we are guilty of an indifferent attitude about Abba and using terms like “God” and “Father” without proper reverence.
  • “Our” means the faithful (i.e. Christians; members of the Church).
  • Jesus said “I ascend to My Father and your Father, My God and your God.” (John 20:17)
  • A firm Orthodox principle is that we are made in God’s image, we don’t make God in our image.
  • We don’t use the term “Father” simply because of the patriarchal norms of ancient society, but rather we refer to our earthly fathers as “fathers” because we refer to God as Father.
  • To be a father is a sacrament.
  • Fatherhood comes from God.
  • God does not come from fatherhood.
  • Marriage and fatherhood are sacraments – both need to be consecrated because the holiness of these comes from God.
  • Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not negotiable titles, neither are they sociologically constructed.
  • Those who object to the term “Father” for God misunderstand its origin.
  • We are partakers of the divine nature when we say “Abba” Father from the heart [i.e. again this only by the power of the Holy Spirit with love and humility]. (2 peter 1:3-4)

“Who art in heaven…”

  • “In the heavens” is a Hebrew expression.
  • God is everywhere, over all and in all (Psalm 33:13-15)
  • God is Most High.
  • God is the God over all gods – “the heavens” is simply a symbol of omnipresence.
  • Scriptures does not locate God physically in “the heavens”.
  • “The heavens” is symbolic for where God’s will is always done (as opposed to earth where man fails to do God’s will consistently and often not at all).

“Hallowed be Thy Name…”

  • The goal of the Lord’s Prayer is that the name of God would not be blasphemed.
  • All other petitions in the Lord’s Prayer lead to a hallowing of God’s Name.
  • Hallowing or sanctifying God’s Name is done through our actions.
  • The Lord’s Prayer is fundamentally an eschatological prayer, a call for the End; a call for the return of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
  • We pray that God’s name will be holy and for God to do His will.
  • The Lord’s Prayer is a cry for Christ to come.
  • Personal spirituality is also eschatological in nature in that we live now for the Kingdom to come.
  • Sacraments are also eschatological in nature, in that through them we enter the Kingdom to come, especially in the partaking of the Holy Eucharist.

“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done…”

  • “Thy Kingdom come” does not just mean the end of the world, because the Kingdom of God has come in Christ and is in the midst of us (already but not yet).
  • Th Kingdom of God is equivalent to the coming of the Holy Spirit.
  • The Kingdom of God is the righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

“On earth as it is in heaven…”

  • “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is the heart of the Lord’s Prayer.
  • “Thy will be done” is also the heart of the prayer at Gethsemane, when the Lord prayed, “…not my will but Thy will be done.”

“Give us this day our daily bread…”

  • [“daily bread” appears to have multiple interpretations]
  • “Daily bread” is not daily in a typical sense, but rather “supra-essential” or the “bread of tomorrow” which in the mystical tradition means the Eucharist. [This view favored by Fr Thomas Hopko]
  • An Irish version of the Lord’s Prayer says “…the bread of the Word of God that we may not perish.”
  • Messianic Implications
  • “Give us our daily bread [that we need] to stay alive” (St. John Chrysostom)
  • It is just bread, not a delicacy, it is just what we need. (St. Gregory of Nyssa)

The most common interpretation is that the “daily bread” here is Jesus Christ, the Word of God.

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors…”

  • Originally translated as “debts”, not “trespasses” as some have today.
  • “Our debts” are what we ought to do before God.
  • Our debts to God are that we owe Him gratitude and love.
  • Jesus Christ pays our debts, since He alone gave proper gratitude and love to God. Jesus alone does this.
  • “Our debts” are also a sacrificial debts, meaning to love God and neighbor in this world is to be crucified.
  • Another way to phrase it is “Forgive us what we ought to do as we forgive others that don’t do what they ought to do”.
  • The sins here are not just negative offenses (i.e. things we did that we should not have done. These are called sins of commission).
  • It includes positive offenses (i.e. things that we did NOT do that we should have done. These are called “sins of omission”.)
  • We have not loved. Forgive us, as we forgive others for not loving us.
  • “Come Lord Jesus” is a call for judgment – therefore we must also being asking for forgiveness and forgiving others to prepare for the judgment that is coming.
  • The Christian teaching is that if we do not forgive others, we are not forgiven.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

– Matthew 6:14-15

“Lead us not into temptation…”

  • “Lead us not into temptation” these are temptations of the End Times, most notably apostasy.
  • We always live in the End Times [and more so each day].
  • The Lord’s Prayer is a peculiarly Christian prayer in that it prays for the End to come.
  • Apostasy is and will be a constant temptation in the End Times.
  • Many parables in the Gospels teach if we are faithful in the little things now, we will be faithful in the End when it matters most.
  • It is clear in Scripture that God does not tempt us to sin (James 1:12-15).

“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

-James 1:12-15

  • “Temptation” in the Lord’s Prayer is more like a trial or test.
  • [While it is true God does not tempt man to sin], biblical man believes nothing happens without God, the Lord of All.
  • From God comes only light, but from His creature comes darkness.
  • Demons can tempt us only by will of God.
  • God’s fundamental will is that there is only good.
  • God’s providential will, knows that there will be demons, sinners and death, trials, temptations and suffering but these are not from God’s fundamental will.
  • When we are tempted by the devil and our own passions and lust, God not only allows it, but wills it for our own good.
  • God gave them over to their lusts (Romans 1)
  • In Noah’s time God “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth” and the Great Flood was the result. (Genesis 6)
  • God sends upon them a “strong delusion” because they did not believe. (II Thessalonians 2)
  • Everything comes from God, God takes and gives. (See the prayer of Hannah in I Samuel 2)
  • Why does one person have a hard-heart and the other person a heart of flesh? The one with hard heart wants to be hard hearted because that person refuses God’s grace.
  • God is still Lord of all, even the dead.
  • Everything is ultimately from God.
  • We pray to God to deliver us from Satan’s temptations because God is the One who has the power to do so.
  • Synergy between God and man is dogma in the Church, but it is an unbalanced synergy because all of the power is ultimately God’s.
  • Any power we have is given to us from God.

The most important point from this part of the Lord’s Prayer is that we don’t want to fall when we are tempted.

“But deliver us from the evil one..”

  • The “evil one” refers to the devil (satan).
  • Evil in general still comes from the devil ultimately.
  • Temptations are common to all of us with free will, but our goal as Christians is to stand and overcome the devil [with God’s help of course].
  • We want this outcome for all people.
  • We intercede for one another and we pray for many things in the Liturgy, but ultimately we are praying that other people would have all of the things that we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.
  • The Lord’s Prayer should function as a canon or rule of “how to pray” for both our own needs and the needs of others.

For more information about the Lord’s Prayer, see The Orthodox Faith Volume IV by Father Thomas Hopko

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