Our Father: The Greatest Prayer from a Loving God: Homily for Tuesday, March 8, 2022
The homily today focuses on the parts of the Our Father and how it comprises the needs of our prayers. Going Behind the Word uses the Treatise of Cyprian on the Lord’s Prayer. Part of this treatise is used for Today’s Office of Readings.
Going Behind the Word
Argument.— The Treatise of Cyprian on the Lord’s Prayer Comprises Three Portions, in Which Division He Imitates Tertullian in His Book on Prayer, in the First Portion, He Points Out that the Lord’s Prayer is the Most Excellent of All Prayers, Profoundly Spiritual, and Most Effectual for Obtaining Our Petitions. In the Second Part, He Undertakes an Explanation of the Lord’s Prayer; And, Still Treading in the Footsteps of Tertullian, He Goes Through Its Seven Chief Clauses, Finally, in the Third Part, He Considers the Conditions of Prayer, and Tells Us What Prayer Ought to Be. —
1. The evangelical precepts, beloved brethren, are nothing else than divine teachings — foundations on which hope is to be built, supports to strengthen faith, nourishments for cheering the heart, rudders for guiding our way, guards for obtaining salvation — which, while they instruct the docile minds of believers on the earth, lead them to heavenly kingdoms. God, moreover, willed many things to be said and to be heard by means of the prophets His servants; but how much greater are those which the Son speaks, which the Word of God who was in the prophets testifies with His own voice; not now bidding to prepare the way for His coming, but Himself coming and opening and showing to us the way, so that we who have before been wandering in the darkness of death, without forethought and blind, being enlightened by the light of grace, might keep the way of life, with the Lord for our ruler and guide!
2. He, among the rest of His salutary admonitions and divine precepts wherewith He counsels His people for their salvation, Himself also gave a form of praying— Himself advised and instructed us what we should pray for. He who made us to live, taught us also to pray, with that same benignity, to wit, wherewith He has condescended to give and confer all things else; in order that while we speak to the Father in that prayer and supplication which the Son has taught us, we may be the more easily heard. Already He had foretold that the hour was coming
when the true worshippers should worship the Father in spirit and in truth; John 4:23 and He thus fulfilled what He before promised, so that we who by His sanctification have received the Spirit and truth, may also by His teaching worship truly and spiritually. For what can be a more spiritual prayer than that which was given to us by Christ, by whom also the Holy Spirit was given to us? What praying to the Father can be more truthful than that which was delivered to us by the Son who is the Truth, out of His own mouth? So that to pray otherwise than He taught is not ignorance alone, but also sin; since He Himself has established, and said,
You reject the commandments of God, that you may keep your own traditions.
Our Father – The Prayer Jesus Taught Us
3. Let us therefore, brethren beloved, pray as God our Teacher has taught us. It is a loving and friendly prayer to beseech God with His own word, to come up to His ears in the prayer of Christ. Let the Father acknowledge the words of His Son when we make our prayer, and let Him also who dwells within in our breast Himself dwell in our voice. And since we have Him as an Advocate with the Father for our sins, let us, when as sinners we petition on behalf of our sins, put forward the words of our Advocate. For since He says, that
whatsoever we shall ask of the Father in His name, He will give us, John 16:23 how much more effectually do we obtain what we ask in Christ’s name, if we ask for it in His own prayer!
4. But let our speech and petition when we pray be under discipline, observing quietness and modesty. Let us consider that we are standing in God’s sight. We must please the divine eyes both with the habit of body and with the measure of voice. For as it is characteristic of a shameless man to be noisy with his cries, so, on the other hand, it is fitting to the modest man to pray with moderated petitions. Moreover, in His teaching the Lord has bidden us to pray in secret — in hidden and remote places, in our very bed-chambers — which is best suited to faith, that we may know that God is everywhere present, and hears and sees all, and in the plenitude of His majesty penetrates even into hidden and secret places, as it is written,
I am a God at hand, and not a God afar off. If a man shall hide himself in secret places, shall I not then see him? Do not I fill heaven and earth? Jeremiah 23:23-24 And again:
The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good. Proverbs 15:3 And when we meet together with the brethren in one place, and celebrate divine sacrifices with God’s priest, we ought to be mindful of modesty and discipline — not to throw abroad our prayers indiscriminately, with unsubdued voices, nor to cast to God with tumultuous wordiness a petition that ought to be commended to God by modesty; for God is the hearer, not of the voice, but of the heart. Nor need He be clamorously reminded, since He sees men’s thoughts, as the Lord proves to us when He says,
Why do you think evil in your hearts? Matthew 9:4 And in another place:
And all the churches shall know that I am He that searches the hearts and reins. Revelation 2:23
5. And this Hannah in the first book of Kings, who was a type of the Church, maintains and observes, in that she prayed to God not with clamorous petition, but silently and modestly, within the very recesses of her heart. She spoke with hidden prayer, but with manifest faith. She spoke not with her voice, but with her heart, because she knew that thus God hears; and she effectually obtained what she sought, because she asked it with belief. Divine Scripture asserts this, when it says,
She spoke in her heart, and her lips moved, and her voice was not heard; and God did hear her. 1 Samuel 1:13 We read also in the Psalms,
Speak in your hearts, and in your beds, and be pierced. The Holy Spirit, moreover, suggests these same things by Jeremiah, and teaches, saying,
But in the heart ought God to be adored by you.
Prayer Implores the Help of Divine Mercy
6. And let not the worshipper, beloved brethren, be ignorant in what manner the publican prayed with the Pharisee in the temple. Not with eyes lifted up boldly to heaven, nor with hands proudly raised; but beating his breast, and testifying to the sins shut up within, he implored the help of the divine mercy. And while the Pharisee was pleased with himself, this man who thus asked, the rather deserved to be sanctified, since he placed the hope of salvation not in the confidence of his innocence, because there is none who is innocent; but confessing his sinfulness he humbly prayed, and He who pardons the humble heard the petitioner. And these things the Lord records in His Gospel, saying,
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood, and prayed thus with himself: God, I thank You that I am not as other men are, unjust, extortioners, adulterers, even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. But the publican stood afar off, and would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner. I say unto you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and whosoever humbles himself shall be exalted. Luke 18:10-14
7. These things, beloved brethren, when we have learned from the sacred reading, and have gathered in what way we ought to approach to prayer, let us know also from the Lord’s teaching what we should pray.
Thus, says He, pray:—
Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, as in heaven so in earth. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And suffer us not to be led into temptation; but deliver us from evil. Amen. Matthew 6:9“
8. Before all things, the Teacher of peace and the Master of unity would not have prayer to be made singly and individually, as for one who prays to pray for himself alone. For we say not
My Father, which art in heaven, nor
Give me this day my daily bread; nor does each one ask that only his own debt should be forgiven him; nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation, and delivered from evil. Our prayer is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people are one. The God of peace and the Teacher of concord, who taught unity, willed that one should thus pray for all, even as He Himself bore us all in one. This law of prayer the three children observed when they were shut up in the fiery furnace, speaking together in prayer, and being of one heart in the agreement of the spirit; and this the faith of the sacred Scripture assures us, and in telling us how such as these prayed, gives an example which we ought to follow in our prayers, in order that we may be such as they were:
Then these three, it says,
as if from one mouth sang an hymn, and blessed the Lord. They spoke as if from one mouth, although Christ had not yet taught them how to pray. And therefore, as they prayed, their speech was availing and effectual, because a peaceful, and sincere, and spiritual prayer deserved well of the Lord. Thus also we find that the apostles, with the disciples, prayed after the Lord’s ascension:
They all, says the Scripture,
continued with one accord in prayer, with the women, and Mary who was the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren. Acts 1:14 They continued with one accord in prayer, declaring both by the urgency and by the agreement of their praying, that God,
who makes men to dwell of one mind in a house, only admits into the divine and eternal home those among whom prayer is unanimous.
9. But what matters of deep moment are contained in the Lord’s prayer! How many and! How great, briefly collected in the words, but spiritually abundant in virtue! so that there is absolutely nothing passed over that is not comprehended in these our prayers and petitions, as in a compendium of heavenly doctrine.
After this manner, says He,
pray: Our Father, which art in heaven. The new man, born again and restored to his God by His grace, says
Father, in the first place because he has now begun to be a son.
He came, He says,
to His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe in His name. John 1:11 The man, therefore, who has believed in His name, and has become God’s son, ought from this point to begin both to give thanks and to profess himself God’s son, by declaring that God is his Father in heaven; and also to bear witness, among the very first words of his new birth, that he has renounced an earthly and carnal father, and that he has begun to know as well as to have as a father Him only who is in heaven, as it is written: They who say unto their father and their mother, I have not known you, and who have not acknowledged their own children these have observed Your precepts and have kept Your covenant.Deuteronomy 33:9 Also the Lord in His Gospel has bidden us to call
no man our father upon earth, because there is to us one Father, who is in heaven. Matthew 23:9 And to the disciple who had made mention of his dead father, He replied,
Let the dead bury their dead; Matthew 8:22 for he had said that his father was dead, while the Father of believers is living.
The God of Community
10. Nor ought we, beloved brethren, only to observe and understand that we should call Him Father who is in heaven; but we add to it, and say our Father, that is, the Father of those who believe— of those who, being sanctified by Him, and restored by the nativity of spiritual grace, have begun to be sons of God. A word this, moreover, which rebukes and condemns the Jews, who not only unbelievingly despised Christ, who had been announced to them by the prophets, and sent first to them, but also cruelly put Him to death; and these cannot now call God their Father, since the Lord confounds and confutes them, saying,
You are born of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. For he was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. John 8:44 And by Isaiah the prophet God cries in wrath,
I have begotten and brought up children; but they have despised me. The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel has not known me, and my people has not understood me. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with sins, a wicked seed, corrupt children! You have forsaken the Lord; you have provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger. Isaiah 1:3 In repudiation of these, we Christians, when we pray, say Our Father; because He has begun to be ours, and has ceased to be the Father of the jews, who have forsaken Him. Nor can a sinful people be a son; but the name of sons is attributed to those to whom remission of sins is granted, and to them immortality is promised anew, in the words of our Lord Himself:
Whosoever commits sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abides not in the house for ever, but the son abides ever. John 8:34
11. But how great is the Lord’s indulgence! How great His condescension and plenteousness of goodness towards us, seeing that He has wished us to pray in the sight of God in such a way as to call God Father, and to call ourselves sons of God, even as Christ is the Son of God, -a name which none of us would dare to venture on in prayer, unless He Himself had allowed us thus to pray! We ought then, beloved brethren, to remember and to know, that when we call God Father, we ought to act as God’s children; so that in the measure in which we find pleasure in considering God as a Father, He might also be able to find pleasure in us. Let us converse as temples of God, that it may be plain that God dwells in us. Let not our doings be degenerate from the Spirit; so that we who have begun to be heavenly and spiritual, may consider and do nothing but spiritual and heavenly things; since the Lord God Himself has said,
Them that honour me I will honour; and he that despises me shall be despised. 1 Samuel 2:30 The blessed apostle also has laid down in his epistle:
You are not your own; for you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear about God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:20
God is Holy
12. After this we say,
Hallowed be Your name; not that we wish for God that He may be hallowed by our prayers, but that we beseech of Him that His name may be hallowed in us. But by whom is God sanctified, since He Himself sanctifies? Well, because He says,
Be holy, even as I am holy, Leviticus 20:7 we ask and entreat, that we who were sanctified in baptism may continue in that which we have begun to be. And this we daily pray for; for we have need of daily sanctification, that we who daily fall away may wash out our sins by continual sanctification. And what the sanctification is which is conferred upon us by the condescension of God, the apostle declares, when he says,
neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor deceivers, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such indeed were you; but you are washed; but you are justified; but you are sanctified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9 He says that we are sanctified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God. We pray that this sanctification may abide in us and because our Lord and Judge warns the man that was healed and quickened by Him, to sin no more lest a worse thing happen unto him, we make this supplication in our constant prayers, we ask this day and night, that the sanctification and quickening which is received from the grace of God may be preserved by His protection.
13. There follows in the prayer, Your kingdom come. We ask that the kingdom of God may be set forth to us, even as we also ask that His name may be sanctified in us. For when does God not reign, or when does that begin with Him which both always has been, and never ceases to be? We pray that our kingdom, which has been promised us by God, may come, which was acquired by the blood and passion of Christ; that we who first are His subjects in the world, may hereafter reign with Christ when He reigns, as He Himself promises and says,
Come, you blessed of my Father, receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world. Matthew 25:34 Christ Himself, dearest brethren, however, may be the kingdom of God, whom we day by day desire to come, whose advent we crave to be quickly manifested to us. For since He is Himself the Resurrection, since in Him we rise again, so also the kingdom of God may be understood to be Himself, since in Him we shall reign. But we do well in seeking the kingdom of God, that is, the heavenly kingdom, because there is also an earthly kingdom. But he who has already renounced the world, is moreover greater than its honours and its kingdom. And therefore he who dedicates himself to God and Christ, desires not earthly, but heavenly kingdoms. But there is need of continual prayer and supplication, that we fall not away from the heavenly kingdom, as the Jews, to whom this promise had first been given, fell away; even as the Lord sets forth and proves:
Many, says He,
shall come from the east and from the west, and shall recline with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 8:11 He shows that the Jews were previously children of the kingdom, so long as they continued also to be children of God; but after the name of Father ceased to be recognised among them, the kingdom also ceased; and therefore we Christians, who in our prayer begin to call God our Father, pray also that God’s kingdom may come to us.
Our Trust in God’s Will
14. We add, also, and say,
Your will be done, as in heaven so in earth; not that God should do what He wills, but that we may be able to do what God wills. For who resists God, that He may not do what He wills? But since we are hindered by the devil from obeying with our thought and deed God’s will in all things, we pray and ask that God’s will may be done in us; and that it may be done in us we have need of God’s good will, that is, of His help and protection, since no one is strong in his own strength, but he is safe by the grace and mercy of God. And further, the Lord, setting forth the infirmity of the humanity which He bore, says, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me’ and affording an example to His disciples that they should do not their own will, but God’s, He went on to say,
Nevertheless not as I will, but as You will. Matthew 26:39 And in another place He says,
I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of Him that sent me. John 6:38 Now if the Son was obedient to do His Father’s will, how much more should the servant be obedient to do his Master’s will! As in his epistle John also exhorts and instructs us to do the will of God, saying,
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the ambition of life, which is not of the Father, but of the lust of the world. And the world shall pass away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God abides for ever, even as God also abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17 We who desire to abide for ever should do the will of God, who is everlasting.
15. Now that is the will of God which Christ both did and taught. Humility in conversation; steadfastness in faith; modesty in words; justice in deeds; mercifulness in works; discipline in morals; to be unable to do a wrong, and to be able to bear a wrong when done; to keep peace with the brethren; to love God with all one’s heart; to love Him in that He is a Father; to fear Him in that He is God; to prefer nothing whatever to Christ, because He did not prefer anything to us; to adhere inseparably to His love; to stand by His cross bravely and faithfully; when there is any contest on behalf of His name and honour, to exhibit in discourse that constancy wherewith we make confession; in torture, that confidence wherewith we do battle; in death, that patience whereby we are crowned — this is to desire to be fellow-heirs with Christ; this is to do the commandment of God; this is to fulfil the will of the Father.
16. Moreover, we ask that the will of God may be done both in heaven and in earth, each of which things pertains to the fulfilment of our safety and salvation. For since we possess the body from the earth and the spirit from heaven, we ourselves are earth and heaven; and in both — that is, both in body and spirit — we pray that God’s will may be done. For between the flesh and spirit there is a struggle; and there is a daily strife as they disagree one with the other, so that we cannot do those very things that we would, in that the spirit seeks heavenly and divine things, while the flesh lusts after earthly and temporal things; and therefore we ask that, by the help and assistance of God, agreement may be made between these two natures, so that while the will of God is done both in the spirit and in the flesh, the soul which is new-born by Him may be preserved. This is what the Apostle Paul openly and manifestly declares by his words:
The flesh, says he,
lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: for these are contrary the one to the other; so that you cannot do the things that you would. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adulteries, fornications, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, murders, hatred, variance, emulations, wraths, strife, seditions, dissensions, heresies, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in times past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, magnanimity, goodness, faith, gentleness, continence, chastity. Galatians 5:17-22 And therefore we make it our prayer in daily, yea, in continual supplications, that the will of God concerning us should be done both in heaven and in earth; because this is the will of God, that earthly things should give place to heavenly, and that spiritual and divine things should prevail.
17. And it may be thus understood, beloved brethren, that since the Lord commands and admonishes us even to love our enemies, and to pray even for those who persecute us, we should ask, moreover, for those who are still earth, and have not yet begun to be heavenly, that even in respect of these God’s will should be done, which Christ accomplished in preserving and renewing humanity. For since the disciples are not now called by Him earth, but the salt of the earth, and the apostle designates the first man as being from the dust of the earth, but the second from heaven, we reasonably, who ought to be like God our Father, who makes His sun to rise upon the good and bad, and sends rain upon the just and the unjust, so pray and ask by the admonition of Christ as to make our prayer for the salvation of all men; that as in heaven — that is, in us by our faith— the will of God has been done, so that we might be of heaven; so also in earth — that is, in those who believe not — God’s will may be done, that they who as yet are by their first birth of earth, may, being born of water and of the Spirit, begin to be of heaven.
The Bread of Earth and The Bread of Heaven
18. As the prayer goes forward, we ask and say,
Give us this day our daily bread. And this may be understood both spiritually and literally, because either way of understanding it is rich in divine usefulness to our salvation. For Christ is the bread of life; and this bread does not belong to all men, but it is ours. And according as we say,
Our Father, because He is the Father of those who understand and believe; so also we call it
our bread, because Christ is the bread of those who are in union with His body. And we ask that this bread should be given to us daily, that we who are in Christ, and daily receive the Eucharist for the food of salvation, may not, by the interposition of some heinous sin, by being prevented, as withheld and not communicating, from partaking of the heavenly bread, be separated from Christ’s body, as He Himself predicts, and warns,
I am the bread of life which came down from heaven. If any man eat of my bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world. John 6:58 When, therefore, He says, that whoever shall eat of His bread shall live for ever; as it is manifest that those who partake of His body and receive the Eucharist by the right of communion are living, so, on the other hand, we must fear and pray lest any one who, being withheld from communion, is separate from Christ’s body should remain at a distance from salvation; as He Himself threatens, and says,
Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you shall have no life in you. John 6:53 And therefore we ask that our bread — that is, Christ — may be given to us daily, that we who abide and live in Christ may not depart from His sanctification and body.
19. But it may also be thus understood, that we who have renounced the world, and have cast away its riches and pomps in the faith of spiritual grace, should only ask for ourselves food and support, since the Lord instructs us, and says,
Whosoever forsakes not all that he has, cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:33 But he who has begun to be Christ’s disciple, renouncing all things according to the word of his Master, ought to ask for his daily food, and not to extend the desires of his petition to a long period, as the Lord again prescribes, and says,
Take no thought for the morrow, for the morrow itself shall take thought for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. Matthew 6:34 With reason, then, does Christ’s disciple ask food for himself for the day, since he is prohibited from thinking of the morrow; because it becomes a contradiction and a repugnant thing for us to seek to live long in this world, since we ask that the kingdom of God should come quickly. Thus also the blessed apostle admonishes us, giving substance and strength to the steadfastness of our hope and faith:
We brought nothing, says he,
into this world, nor indeed can we carry anything out. Having therefore food and raiment, let us be herewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many and hurtful lusts, which drown men in perdition and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have made shipwreck from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 1 Timothy 6:7
20. He teaches us that riches are not only to be contemned, but that they are also full of peril; that in them is the root of seducing evils, that deceive the blindness of the human mind by a hidden deception. Whence also God rebukes the rich fool, who thinks of his earthly wealth, and boasts himself in the abundance of his overflowing harvests, saying,
You fool, this night your soul shall be required of you; then whose shall those things be which you have provided? Luke 12:20 The fool who was to die that very night was rejoicing in his stores, and he to whom life already was failing, was thinking of the abundance of his food. But, on the other hand, the Lord tells us that he becomes perfect and complete who sells all his goods, and distributes them for the use of the poor, and so lays up for himself treasure in heaven. He says that that man is able to follow Him, and to imitate the glory of the Lord’s passion, who, free from hindrance, and with his loins girded, is involved in no entanglements of worldly estate, but, at large and free himself, accompanies his possessions, which before have been sent to God. For which result, that every one of us may be able to prepare himself, let him thus learn to pray, and know, from the character of the prayer, what he ought to be.
21. For daily bread cannot be wanting to the righteous man, since it is written, The Lord will not slay the soul of the righteous by hunger; Proverbs 10:3 and again I have been young and now am old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread. And the Lord moreover promises and says, Take no thought, saying,
What shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the nations seek. And your Father knows that you have need of all these things. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:31 To those who seek God’s kingdom and righteousness, He promises that all things shall be added. For since all things are God’s, nothing will be wanting to him who possesses God, if God Himself be not wanting to him. Thus a meal was divinely provided for Daniel: when he was shut up by the king’s command in the den of lions, and in the midst of wild beasts who were hungry, and yet spared him, the man of God was fed. Thus Elijah in his flight was nourished both by ravens ministering to him in his solitude, and by birds bringing him food in his persecution. And — oh detestable cruelty of the malice of man!— the wild beasts spare, the birds feed, while men lay snares, and rage!
22. After this we also entreat for our sins, saying,
And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. After the supply of food, pardon of sin is also asked for, that he who is fed by God may live in God, and that not only the present and temporal life may be provided for, but the eternal also, to which we may come if our sins are forgiven; and these the Lord calls debts, as He says in His Gospel,
I forgave you all that debt, because you desired me. Matthew 18:32 And how necessarily, how providently and salutarily, are we admonished that we are sinners, since we are compelled to entreat for our sins, and while pardon is asked for from God, the soul recalls its own consciousness of sin! Lest any one should flatter himself that he is innocent, and by exalting himself should more deeply perish, he is instructed and taught that he sins daily, in that he is bidden to entreat daily for his sins. Thus, moreover, John also in his epistle warns us, and says,
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, the Lord is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. In his epistle he has combined both, that we should entreat for our sins, and that we should obtain pardon when we ask. Therefore he said that the Lord was faithful to forgive sins, keeping the faith of His promise; because He who taught us to pray for our debts and sins, has promised that His fatherly mercy and pardon shall follow.
23. He has clearly joined herewith and added the law, and has bound us by a certain condition and engagement, that we should ask that our debts be forgiven us in such a manner as we ourselves forgive our debtors, knowing that that which we seek for our sins cannot be obtained unless we ourselves have acted in a similar way in respect of our debtors. Therefore also He says in another place,
With what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you again. And the servant who, after having had all his debt forgiven him by his master, would not forgive his fellow-servant, is cast back into prison; because he would not forgive his fellow-servant, he lost the indulgence that had been shown to himself by his lord. And these things Christ still more urgently sets forth in His precepts with yet greater power of His rebuke.
When you stand praying, says He,
forgive if you have anything against any, that your Father which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive you your trespasses. There remains no ground of excuse in the day of judgment, when you will be judged according to your own sentence; and whatever you have done, that you also will suffer. For God commands us to be peacemakers, and in agreement, and of one mind in His house; and such as He makes us by a second birth, such He wishes us when new-born to continue, that we who have begun to be sons of God may abide in God’s peace, and that, having one spirit, we should also have one heart and one mind. Thus God does not receive the sacrifice of a person who is in disagreement, but commands him to go back from the altar and first be reconciled to his brother, that so God also may be appeased by the prayers of a peace-maker. Our peace and brotherly agreement is the greater sacrifice to God — and a people united in one in the unity of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
God Looks at the Heart
24. For even in the sacrifices which Abel and Cain first offered, God looked not at their gifts, but at their hearts, so that he was acceptable in his gift who was acceptable in his heart. Abel, peaceable and righteous in sacrificing in innocence to God, taught others also, when they bring their gift to the altar, thus to come with the fear of God, with a simple heart, with the law of righteousness, with the peace of concord. With reason did he, who was such in respect of God’s sacrifice, become subsequently himself a sacrifice to God; so that he who first set forth martyrdom, and initiated the Lord’s passion by the glory of his blood, had both the Lord’s righteousness and His peace. Finally, such are crowned by the Lord, such will be avenged with the Lord in the day of judgment; but the quarrelsome and disunited, and he who has not peace with his brethren, in accordance with what the blessed apostle and the Holy Scripture testifies, even if he have been slain for the name of Christ, shall not be able to escape the crime of fraternal dissension, because, as it is written, He who hates his brother is a murderer 1 John 3:15 and no murderer attains to the kingdom of heaven, nor does he live with God. He cannot be with Christ, who had rather be an imitator of Judas than of Christ. How great is the sin which cannot even be washed away by a baptism of blood — how heinous the crime which cannot be expiated by martyrdom!
25. Moreover, the Lord of necessity admonishes us to say in prayer,
And suffer us not to be led into temptation. In which words it is shown that the adversary can do nothing against us except God shall have previously permitted it; so that all our fear, and devotion, and obedience may be turned towards God, since in our temptations nothing is permitted to evil unless power is given from Him. This is proved by divine Scripture, which says,
Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and besieged it; and the Lord delivered it into his hand. 2 Kings 24:11 But power is given to evil against us according to our sins, as it is written,
Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to those who make a prey of Him? Did not the Lord, against whom they sinned, and would not walk in His ways, nor hear His law? And He has brought upon them the anger of His wrath. Isaiah 13:24 And again, when Solomon sinned, and departed from the Lord’s commandments and ways, it is recorded,
And the Lord stirred up Satan against Solomon himself. 1 Kings 11:14
26. Now power is given against us in two modes: either for punishment when we sin, or for glory when we are proved, as we see was done with respect to Job; as God Himself sets forth, saying,
Behold, all that he has I give unto your hands; but be careful not to touch himself. Job 1:12 And the Lord in His Gospel says, in the time of His passion,
You could have no power against me unless it were given you from above. John 19:11 But when we ask that we may not come into temptation, we are reminded of our infirmity and weakness in that we thus ask, lest any should insolently vaunt himself, lest any should proudly and arrogantly assume anything to himself, lest any should take to himself the glory either of confession or of suffering as his own, when the Lord Himself, teaching humility, said, Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak; Mark 14:38 so that while a humble and submissive confession comes first, and all is attributed to God, whatever is sought for suppliantly with fear and honour of God, may be granted by His own loving-kindness.
27. After all these things, in the conclusion of the prayer comes a brief clause, which shortly and comprehensively sums up all our petitions and our prayers. For we conclude by saying,
But deliver us from evil, comprehending all adverse things which the enemy attempts against us in this world, from which there may be a faithful and sure protection if God deliver us, if He afford His help to us who pray for and implore it. And when we say, Deliver us from evil, there remains nothing further which ought to be asked. When we have once asked for God’s protection against evil, and have obtained it, then against everything which the devil and the world work against us we stand secure and safe. For what fear is there in this life, to the man whose guardian in this life is God?
28. What wonder is it, beloved brethren, if such is the prayer which God taught, seeing that He condensed in His teaching all our prayer in one saving sentence? This had already been before foretold by Isaiah the prophet, when, being filled with the Holy Spirit, he spoke of the majesty and loving-kindness of God,
consummating and shortening His word, He says,
in righteousness, because a shortened word will the Lord make in the whole earth. Isaiah 10:22 For when the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, came unto all, and gathering alike the learned and unlearned, published to every sex and every age the precepts of salvation He made a large compendium of His precepts, that the memory of the scholars might not be burdened in the celestial learning, but might quickly learn what was necessary to a simple faith. Thus, when He taught what is life eternal, He embraced the sacrament of life in a large and divine brevity, saying,
And this is life eternal, that they might know You, the only and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. John 17:3 Also, when He would gather from the law and the prophets the first and greatest commandments, He said,
Hear, O Israel; the Lord your God is one God: and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. Matthew 12:29-31
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Matthew 22:40 And again:
Whatsoever good things you would have men do to you, do even so to them. For this is the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:12
Jesus Gave Us Example about Prayer
29. Nor was it only in words, but in deeds also, that the Lord taught us to pray, Himself praying frequently and beseeching, and thus showing us, by the testimony of His example, what it behooved us to do, as it is written,
But Himself departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. Luke 5:16 And again:
He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. But if He prayed who was without sin, how much more ought sinners to pray; and if He prayed continually, watching through the whole night in uninterrupted petitions, how much more ought we to watch nightly in constantly repeated prayer!
30. But the Lord prayed and besought not for Himself — for why should He who was guiltless pray on His own behalf?— but for our sins, as He Himself declared, when He said to Peter,
Behold, Satan has desired that he might sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not. Luke 13:31 And subsequently He beseeches the Father for all, saying,
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe in me through their word; that they all may be one; as You, Father, art in me, and I in You, that they also may be one in us. The Lord’s loving-kindness, no less than His mercy, is great in respect of our salvation, in that, not content to redeem us with His blood, He in addition also prayed for us. Behold now what was the desire of His petition, that like as the Father and Son are one, so also we should abide in absolute unity; so that from this it may be understood how greatly he sins who divides unity and peace, since for this same thing even the Lord besought, desirous doubtless that His people should thus be saved and live in peace, since He knew that discord cannot come into the kingdom of God.
Being Watchful and Earnest
31. Moreover, when we stand praying, beloved brethren, we ought to be watchful and earnest with our whole heart, intent on our prayers. Let all carnal and worldly thoughts pass away, nor let the soul at that time think on anything but the object only of its prayer. For this reason also the priest, by way of preface before his prayer, prepares the minds of the brethren by saying,
Lift up your hearts, that so upon the people’s response,
We lift them up unto the Lord, he may be reminded that he himself ought to think of nothing but the Lord. Let the breast be closed against the adversary, and be open to God alone; nor let it suffer God’s enemy to approach to it at the time of prayer. For frequently he steals upon us, and penetrates within, and by crafty deceit calls away our prayers from God, that we may have one thing in our heart and another in our voice, when not the sound of the voice, but the soul and mind, ought to be praying to the Lord with a simple intention. But what carelessness it is, to be distracted and carried away by foolish and profane thoughts when you are praying to the Lord, as if there were anything which you should rather be thinking of than that you are speaking with God! How can you ask to be heard of God, when you yourself do not hear yourself? Do you wish that God should remember you when you ask, if you yourself do not remember yourself? This is absolutely to take no precaution against the enemy; this is, when you pray to God, to offend the majesty of God by the carelessness of your prayer; this is to be watchful with your eyes, and to be asleep with your heart, while the Christian, even though he is asleep with his eyes, ought to be awake with his heart, as it is written in the person of the Church speaking in the Song of Songs, I sleep, yet my heart wakes. Song of Songs 5:2 Wherefore the apostle anxiously and carefully warns us, saying,
Continue in prayer, and watch in the same; Colossians 4:2 teaching, that is, and showing that those are able to obtain from God what they ask, whom God sees to be watchful in their prayer.
32. Moreover, those who pray should not come to God with fruitless or naked prayers. Petition is ineffectual when it is a barren entreaty that beseeches God. For as every tree that brings not forth fruit is cut down and cast into the fire; assuredly also, words that do not bear fruit cannot deserve anything of God, because they are fruitful in no result. And thus Holy Scripture instructs us, saying,
Prayer is good with fasting and almsgiving. Tobit 12:8 For He who will give us in the day of judgment a reward for our labours and alms, is even in this life a merciful hearer of one who comes to Him in prayer associated with good works. Thus, for instance, Cornelius the centurion, when he prayed, had a claim to be heard. For he was in the habit of doing many almsdeeds towards the people, and of ever praying to God. To this man, when he prayed about the ninth hour, appeared an angel bearing testimony to his labours, and saying,
Cornelius, your prayers and your alms are gone up in remembrance before God.
33. Those prayers quickly ascend to God which the merits of our labours urge upon God. Thus also Raphael the angel was a witness to the constant prayer and the constant good works of Tobias, saying,
It is honourable to reveal and confess the works of God. For when you prayed, and Sarah, I did bring the remembrance of your prayers before the holiness of God. And when you buried the dead in simplicity, and because you did not delay to rise up and to leave your dinner, but went out and covered the dead, I was sent to prove you; and again God has sent me to heal you, and Sarah your daughter-in-law. For I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels which stand and go in and out before the glory of God. Tobit 12:12-15 By Isaiah also the Lord reminds us, and teaches similar things, saying,
Loosen every knot of iniquity, release the oppressions of contracts which have no power, let the troubled go into peace, and break every unjust engagement. Break your bread to the hungry, and bring the poor that are without shelter into your house. When you see the naked, clothe him; and despise not those of the same family and race as yourself. Then shall your light break forth in season, and your raiment shall spring forth speedily; and righteousness shall go before you, and the glory of God shall surround you. Then shall you call, and God shall hear you; and while you shall yet speak, He shall say, Here I am. Isaiah 58:6-9 He promises that He will be at hand, and says that He will hear and protect those who, loosening the knots of unrighteousness from their heart, and giving alms among the members of God’s household according to His commands, even in hearing what God commands to be done, do themselves also deserve to be heard by God. The blessed Apostle Paul, when aided in the necessity of affliction by his brethren, said that good works which are performed are sacrifices to God.
I am full, says he.
having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God. Philippians 4:18 For when one has pity on the poor, he lends to God; and he who gives to the least gives to God — sacrifices spiritually to God an odour of a sweet smell.
34. And in discharging the duties of prayer, we find that the three children with Daniel, being strong in faith and victorious in captivity, observed the third, sixth, and ninth hour, as it were, for a sacrament of the Trinity, which in the last times had to be manifested. For both the first hour in its progress to the third shows forth the consummated number of the Trinity, and also the fourth proceeding to the sixth declares another Trinity; and when from the seventh the ninth is completed, the perfect Trinity is numbered every three hours, which spaces of hours the worshippers of God in time past having spiritually decided on, made use of for determined and lawful times for prayer. And subsequently the thing was manifested, that these things were of old Sacraments, in that anciently righteous men prayed in this manner. For upon the disciples at the third hour the Holy Spirit descended, who fulfilled the grace of the Lord’s promise. Moreover, at the sixth hour, Peter, going up unto the house-top, was instructed as well by the sign as by the word of God admonishing him to receive all to the grace of salvation, whereas he was previously doubtful of the receiving of the Gentiles to baptism. And from the sixth hour to the ninth, the Lord, being crucified, washed away our sins by His blood; and that He might redeem and quicken us, He then accomplished His victory by His passion.
The Fullness of Prayer
35. But for us, beloved brethren, besides the hours of prayer observed of old, both the times and the sacraments have now increased in number. For we must also pray in the morning, that the Lord’s resurrection may be celebrated by morning prayer. And this formerly the Holy Spirit pointed out in the Psalms, saying,
My King, and my God, because unto You will I cry; O Lord, in the morning shall You hear my voice; in the morning will I stand before You, and will look up to You. And again, the Lord speaks by the mouth of the prophet:
Early in the morning shall they watch for me, saying, Let us go, and return unto the Lord our God. Hosea 6:1 Also at the sunsetting and at the decline of day, of necessity we must pray again. For since Christ is the true sun and the true day, as the worldly sun and worldly day depart, when we pray and ask that light may return to us again, we pray for the advent of Christ, which shall give us the grace of everlasting light. Moreover, the Holy Spirit in the Psalms manifests that Christ is called the day.
The stone, says He,
which the builders rejected, has become the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; and it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; let us walk and rejoice in it. Also the prophet Malachi testifies that He is called the Sun, when he says,
But to you that fear the name of the Lord shall the Sun of righteousness arise, and there is healing in His wings. Malachi 4:2 But if in the Holy Scriptures the true sun and the true day is Christ, there is no hour excepted for Christians wherein God ought not frequently and always to be worshipped; so that we who are in Christ — that is, in the true Sun and the true Day — should be instant throughout the entire day in petitions, and should pray; and when, by the law of the world, the revolving night, recurring in its alternate changes, succeeds, there can be no harm arising from the darkness of night to those who pray, because the children of light have the day even in the night. For when is he without light who has light in his heart? Or when has not he the sun and the day, whose Sun and Day is Christ?
36. Let not us, then, who are in Christ — that is, always in the lights cease from praying even during night. Thus the widow Anna, without intermission praying and watching, persevered in deserving well of God, as it is written in the Gospel:
She departed not, it says,
from the temple, serving with fastings and prayers night and day. Let the Gentiles look to this, who are not yet enlightened, or the Jews who have remained in darkness by having forsaken the light. Let us, beloved brethren, who are always in the light of the Lord, who remember and hold fast what by grace received we have begun to be, reckon night for day; let us believe that we always walk in the light, and let us not be hindered by the darkness which we have escaped. Let there be no failure of prayers in the hours of night — no idle and reckless waste of the occasions of prayer. New-created and newborn of the Spirit by the mercy of God, let us imitate what we shall one day be. Since in the kingdom we shall possess day alone, without intervention of night, let us so watch in the night as if in the daylight. Since we are to pray and give thanks to God for ever, let us not cease in this life also to pray and give thanks.
Source. Translated by Robert Ernest Wallis. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050704.htm>.