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The Lord’s Prayer

When teach­ing men to pray, Christ said,

Pray then like this: 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 tres­pass­es as we for­give those who tres­pass against us, and lead us not into temp­ta­tion, but deliv­er us from evil. (Matthew 6:9–13, cf Luke 11:2–4)

This is the usu­al trans­la­tion of the prayer used in the Ortho­dox Church. It begins with a peti­tion to God as “our Father.” There was no such prayer before this teach­ing of Christ. The Old Tes­ta­ment peo­ple did not address God as “Abba: Father.” (Romans 8:15, Gala­tians 4:6) This name of “Father” for God is giv­en by Christ, the divine Son of God. Men can dare, “with bold­ness and with­out con­dem­na­tion” to call upon the “heav­en­ly God” with the name of “Father” only when they are made wor­thy to do so by Christ. (cf. Litur­gy of St. John Chrysos­tom) In the ear­ly church the prayer “Our Father” was taught only to the bap­tized mem­bers of the church.

The state­ment that the Father is “in heav­en,” or lit­er­al­ly “in the heav­ens,” means that He is every­where and over all things. The heav­ens are over all and encom­pass all. Wher­ev­er man goes on the earth or in the air, or even in space, the heav­ens are around him and over him. To say that the Father is “in the heav­ens” means that He is not tied down or lim­it­ed ‘to any loca­tion what­so­ev­er — as were the gods of the hea­thens. The heav­en­ly God is the “God of gods” (Deuteron­o­my 10:17, 2 Chron­i­cles 2:5), the “Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all,” (Eph­esians 4:5) the one in whom “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) To say that God is “in heav­en” is not to place Him some­where; it is rather to say that He tran­scends all things and yet is present to all.

Hal­lowed be Thy name” means that God’s name is holy and should be treat­ed with respect and devo­tion. In the old covenant it was the cus­tom of the Jews nev­er to say the sacred name of God: Yah­weh, the I AM. (cf. Exo­dus 3:13–15) This was to guard against defile­ment of the divine name, and to safe­guard against trans­gress­ing the com­mand­ment: “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.” (Exo­dus 20:7)

In the New Tes­ta­ment God gives Jesus the “name which is above every name” (Philip­pi­ans 2:9) and in mak­ing the name of the Father holy, Chris­tians do so in the name of His Son.

Thy King­dom come” in the Lord’s Prayer is first of all the prayer for the end of the ages. Chris­tians want the world to end so that God’s King­dom would fill all cre­ation with divine glo­ry and life. “Come Lord Jesus;

Maran­tha!” is the prayer of the faith­ful, the last prayer of the Scrip­tures. (Rev­e­la­tion 22:20, cf. I Corinthi­ans 16:22) It is the call­ing for the final appear­ance of the Lord.

In the spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tion of the Church, the prayer “Thy King­dom come” has also been under­stood as an invo­ca­tion of the Holy Spir­it to dwell in God’s peo­ple. In his com­men­tary on the Lord’s Prayer, St. Gre­go­ry of Nys­sa says that there was anoth­er read­ing for this peti­tion which said “Thy Holy Spir­it come upon us and cleanse us.” Thus he says, fol­low­ing the scrip­tures, that the pres­ence of the Holy Spir­it in man is the pres­ence of Christ and the King­dom of God.

For the King­dom of God is…righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spir­it. (Romans 14:17)

…it is God who estab­lish­es us with you in Christ…He has put His seal upon us and giv­en us His Spir­it in our hearts as a guar­an­tee. (2 Corinthi­ans 1:22)

In Him…you were sealed with the promised Holy Spir­it which is the guar­an­tee of our inher­i­tance until we acquire pos­ses­sion of it to the praise of His glo­ry.

…do not grieve the Holy Spir­it in whom you were sealed for the day of redemp­tion. (Eph­esians 1:13–14, 4:30)

The seal of the Holy Spir­it on men’s hearts is the pledge and guar­an­tee of the King­dom of God still to come in all pow­er and glo­ry. In the prayer “Thy King­dom come,” believ­ers in Jesus ask that the King­dom of God “not com­ing in exter­nal signs of obser­va­tion” for the faith­less to behold, might dwell pow­er­ful­ly and secret­ly with­in the faith­ful. (cf. Luke 17:20–21)

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heav­en” is the cen­ter of the Lord’s Prayer, the cen­tral desire of Chris­tians. The whole pur­pose of prayer, the very pur­pose of man’s life, is to do the will of God. This is what Jesus prayed and did. (cf. Matthew 26:42) And this is what His fol­low­ers must pray and do. There is but one pur­pose of prayer, say the spir­i­tu­al teach­ers, to keep God’s com­mand­ments so as not to sin, thus lead­ing to deifi­ca­tion and divine son­ship with Christ.

The only thing that God demands of us mor­tals is that we do not sin. But this…is mere­ly keep­ing invi­o­late the image and rank we pos­sess by nature. Clothed thus in the radi­ant gar­ment of the Spir­it, we abide in God and He in us; through grace we become gods and sons of God and are illu­mined by the light of His knowl­edge… (St. Sime­on the New The­olo­gian, 10th c., Prac­ti­cal and The­o­log­i­cal Pre­cepts)

To pray “Thy will be done” accord­ing to the spir­i­tu­al teach­ers, is a dar­ing and dan­ger­ous act. This is so, first of all, because when one makes this prayer, he must be ready, like Christ, to fol­low where it leads. God will answer this prayer, and make known His will. The per­son who prays must be ready to obey, what­ev­er the con­se­quences. When asked why many Chris­tians are frus­trat­ed and irri­tat­ed, grouchy and mean, and some­times even some­what “unbal­anced,” one spir­i­tu­al teacher respond­ed that the rea­son is clear. They pray “Thy will be done,” and con­tin­ue dai­ly to do so, while at the same time they resist God’s will in their lives and so are always ill at ease. Then they begin to jus­ti­fy their atti­tudes and actions, to explain and to ratio­nal­ize their behav­ior, before their own con­sciences and oth­ers. A per­son in such as state can nev­er be at peace, for “it is a ter­ri­ble thing to fall into the hands of the Liv­ing God.” (Hebrews 10:31)

The sec­ond rea­son why it is said that the prayer “Thy will be done” — and prayer gen­er­al­ly — is dar­ing and dan­ger­ous is because the dev­il fero­cious­ly attacks the per­son who prays. Indeed one of the great­est proofs of demon­ic temp­ta­tion, and the real­i­ty and pow­er of the dev­il, is to be fer­vent in prayer. For the dev­il wants noth­ing so much as for man to fail to accom­plish the will of God which is the pur­pose of all prayer.

If you strive after prayer, pre­pare your­self for dia­bol­i­cal sug­ges­tions and bear patient­ly their on-slaughts; for they will attack you like wild beasts…Try as much as pos­si­ble to be hum­ble and courageous…He who endures will be grant­ed great joy. (St. Nilus of Sinai, 5th c., Texts on Prayer)

The prayer for our “dai­ly bread” is nor­mal­ly under­stood to sig­ni­fy gen­er­al­ly all of our bod­i­ly needs and what­ev­er we require to sus­tain our lives in this world. In the spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tion how­ev­er, this peti­tion, because it lit­er­al­ly says our “essen­tial” or “super-essen­tial” bread, is often under­stood in the spir­i­tu­al sense to mean the nour­ish­ment of our souls by the Word of God, Jesus Christ who is the “Bread of Life;” the “Bread of God which has come down from heav­en and giv­en life to the world” (John 6:33–36); the bread which “a man may eat of it and not die,” but “live for­ev­er.” (John 6:50–51) Thus the prayer for “dai­ly bread” becomes the peti­tion for dai­ly spir­i­tu­al nour­ish­ment through abid­ing com­mu­nion with Christ so that one might live per­pet­u­al­ly with God.

The prayer “for­give us our tres­pass­es as we for­give those who tres­pass against us” has been espe­cial­ly empha­sized by the Lord.

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)

This is the point of Christ’s para­ble about the unfor­giv­ing ser­vant. (Matthew 18:23–35) All men need the for­give­ness of God and must pray for it. All men are indebt­ed to God for every­thing, and fail to offer the thanks­giv­ing and praise and right­eous­ness that are due. The only way that God will over­look and for­give the sins and debts of His ser­vants is if they them­selves for­give their broth­ers, not mere­ly in words and for­mal ges­tures, but gen­uine­ly and tru­ly “from their hearts.” (cf. Matthew 18:35) In the prayer taught by Christ this is clear­ly acknowl­edged.

Lead us not into temp­ta­tion” should not be under­stood as if God puts His peo­ple to the test or brings them in to the occa­sion of evil.

Let no one say when he is tempt­ed, “I am tempt­ed by God;” for God can­not be tempt­ed with evil, and He Him­self tempts no one; but each per­son is tempt­ed when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire, when it has con­ceived, gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. (James 1:13–15)

Lead us not into temp­ta­tion” means that we ask God not to allow us to be found in sit­u­a­tions in which we will be over­come by sin. It is a prayer that we be kept from those peo­ple and places where wicked­ness reigns and where we in our weak­ness will cer­tain­ly suc­cumb. It is a prayer that we will be lib­er­at­ed from the deceit and van­i­ty of our minds and hearts, from the car­nal lusts that dwell in our bod­ies. It is a prayer that God Him­self would be man’s shel­ter and refuge. (cf. Psalm 91)

Deliv­er us from evil” says lit­er­al­ly “res­cue us from the evil one,” that is, the dev­il. The mean­ing is clear. There are but two ways for man: God and life or the dev­il and death. Deliv­er­ance from the dev­il means sal­va­tion and redemp­tion from every false­hood, fool­ish­ness, deceit, wicked­ness and iniq­ui­ty that leads to destruc­tion and death.

Thus, as Arch­bish­op Antho­ny of Sorouzh has explained, the Lord’s Prayer shows the whole mean­ing of the life of man. (cf. Arch­bish­op Antho­ny Bloom, Liv­ing Prayer) Deliv­ered from evil, man is saved from temp­ta­tion, in so doing he is mer­ci­ful to all and receives the for­give­ness of his own sins. Being for­giv­en his sins, by his mer­cy to oth­ers, he has all that he needs for life — his “dai­ly bread”; and being nour­ished by God, he accom­plish­es His will. Hav­ing accom­plished His will, God’s King­dom is present, His name is sanc­ti­fied and He becomes the Father of the one who shows him­self to be in truth the child of God who can say “Our Father.”