Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Our Father, Part 1

Dear Parish Faithful,

Our Father …

In the homily at the Liturgy yesterday – and then in the post-Liturgy discussion to follow  – I concentrated on the Lord’s Prayer, so as to align our main subject of the day with the Church School curriculum.  All of our classes, on the appropriate level for each class, studied and discussed the Lord’s Prayer yesterday.  In this way, the entire parish – young and old alike – focused on one and the same subject.  In this case that would be the incomparable and all-embracing prayer that the Lord Himself gave to us as a gift which perfectly expresses – through the practice of prayer – what we both need and ultimately desire from the God who is our heavenly Father.  The goal of our religious education is  always to deepen our faith and to strengthen our personal and communal relationship with God. Thus, as a parish family we pray in common to “Our Father who art in heaven.” To further capture the sense of awe that the great Church Fathers felt when writing about the Lord’s Prayer, we have these words from St. John Chrysostom:  “What prayer could be more true before God the Father than that which his Son, Who is Truth, uttered with His own lips.”  If this prayer is not only scriptural, but uttered by the Son of God “with His own lips,” then it is the “perfect prayer” unsurpassed by any other.  It is a direct revelation from the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.  As St. Augustine wrote in the fifth century:  “If we pray rightly, and as becomes our wants, we say nothing but what is already contained in the Lord’s Prayer.”

It is the great privilege of the Christian to call upon God as “Our Father.”  This is because we belong to Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  And further it is the Spirit of God who grants us this gift in a mysterious manner, working in our hearts.  The Apostle Paul made this clear in two particular passages in his Epistles:  “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba!  Father!' So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir”  (GAL. 4:6-7).  And, again:  “When we cry, 'Abba!  Father!' it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (ROM. 8:15-17).  The Son of God is the eternal Son of the eternal Father by nature. We are the adopted “sons” of God by grace.  This is why St. Paul affirms that we are “fellow heirs with Christ.”

The inexhaustible richness of the Lord’s Prayer has been brought out by commentaries from the early Church to recent writers on the meaning of the prayer.  A good synthesis of the approach of the Church Fathers comes from St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain (1749-1809).  He wrote a commentary on the Lord’s Prayer that incorporates the insights of the Fathers that went before him, and whose writings he carefully studied and deeply respected.  I would like to share a few of the passages from his work entitled Explanation of the Lord’s Prayer over the course of the next few weeks.  Here is his Foreword to the Explanation, summarizing the over-all depth and fullness of the Lord’s Prayer:

The Lord’s Prayer, my brothers, according to St. Maximos, includes seven lofty subjects:  theology, sonship, equality with the angels, the enjoyment of eternal life, the restoration of human nature, the destruction of the law of sin, and the abolition of the tyranny of the devil.  The beginning of the “Our Father” includes the subjects of theology and sonship, for it simultaneously teaches us that God is by nature the Father of the Son and the Emitter of the Holy Spirit, and that according to creation and grace, He is our Father, and we His sons.  The words “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” include the subject of equality with the angels, by which words we ask to be united with the angels, and, just as the will of God in heaven is done by the angels in heaven, so also must His will be done by us who are on earth.  The phrase, “Give us this day our superessential (daily) bread,” includes the subject of the enjoyment of eternal life.  The restoration and union of human nature is attested to by the words, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” for, when we forgive our enemies, we are united and no longer divided because of a difference of opinion and will.  The distancing of sin far from us is disclosed by the words, “And lead us not into temptation,” and by saying this we ask that we not enter into temptation proceeding from the law of sin.  And the phrase, “But deliver us from the evil one,” represents the destruction of the devil’s tyranny.  (From the book Concerning Frequent Communion of the Immaculate Mysteries of Christ, including a thorough explanation of the Lord’s Prayer)

Some further passages will follow.

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