Daily Meditations

The Lord’s Prayer (Part I)

ALTHOUGH IT IS very simple, and is used so constantly, The Lord’s Prayer is a great problem and a difficult prayer; it is the only one which the Lord gave, yet, reading the Acts, one never finds it used by anyone at all, which is not what one would expect from the words that introduce the prayer in Luke II: I, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.’ But not being quoted does not mean not being used, and in a way the Lord’s Prayer is not only a prayer but a whole way of life expressed in the form of a prayer: it is the image of the gradual ascent of the soul from bondage to freedom.

The prayer is built with striking precision. Just as when a pebble falls into a pond we can observe the ripples spreading from the place where the pebble fell, farther and farther towards the banks, or on the contrary, we may begin with the banks and work back to the source of the movement, in the same way the Lord’s Prayer can be analysed either beginning with the first words, or else with the last. It is infinitely easier to begin the progression from the outside towards the centre of the prayer, although for Christ and for the Church it is the other way which is right.

This is a prayer of sonship – ‘Our Father’ – and in a certain sense, although it may be used by anyone who approaches the Lord, it expresses adequately only the relationship of those who are in the Church of God, who, in Christ, have found their way to their father, because it is only through Christ and in him that we become the sons of God.

This teaching of a spiritual life can best be understood when set in parallel with the story of Exodus and within the experience of the beatitudes. Starting with the last words of the prayer and moving towards the first, we see it as a way of ascent; our starting-point at the end defines a captivity, the last word at the beginning defines our state of sonship.

The people of God, who had come free to the land of Egypt, had gradually become enslaved. The conditions of their life brought home to them their state of slavery: work was heavier and heavier, the conditions of living more and more miserable; but this was not enough to make them move towards real freedom. If misery increases beyond a certain point, it may lead to rebellion, to violence, to attempted escape from the painful, unbearable situation; but essentially neither rebellion nor flight make us free, because freedom is first of all an inner situation with regard to God, to self and to the surrounding world.

Every time they attempted to leave the country, new and heavier tasks were given to the Jews. When they had to make bricks, they were refused the necessary straw, and Pharaoh said: ‘Let them go and gather straw for themselves’ (Ex 5: 7), and ‘Let more work be laid upon them, that they may labour therein.’ He wanted them so completely exhausted, so completely concerned with the toil that they should have no thought for rebellion or deliverance any more.

In the same way there is no hope for us as long as we are enthralled by the prince of this world, the devil, with all the powers at his disposal to enslave human souls and bodies and keep them away from the living God. Unless God comes himself to deliver us, there will be no deliverance, but eternal slavery; and the first words we find in the Lord’s Prayer are for this very thing: ‘Deliver us from Evil.’ Deliverance from evil is exactly what was done in the land of Egypt through Moses, and what is achieved at baptism by the power of God, given to his Church. The word of God resounds in this world, calling everyone to freedom, giving the hope that comes from heaven to those who have lost their hope on earth. This word of God is preached and resounds in the human soul, making a man a learner of the Church, making him one who stands as an outsider in the porch, one who has heard the call and has come to listen (Rom 10: 17).

When the learner is determined to become a free man in the kingdom of the Lord, the Church undertakes certain actions. What would be the good of asking a slave, who is still in the power of his master, whether he wants to be free? If he dares ask for the freedom which is offered, he knows that he will be cruelly punished the moment he is left alone again with his master. Through fear and from a habit of slavery a man cannot ask for freedom until he is delivered from the authority of the devil. Therefore, before any question is asked of the one who stands there, with a new hope in divine salvation, he is made free from the power of Satan. This is the meaning of the exorcisms which are read at the outset of the baptismal service both in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

It is only when a man is free from the bonds of slavery that he is asked if he renounces the devil and if he wants to join Christ. And only after a free answer does the Church integrate him into herself, into the Body of Christ. The devil wants slaves, but God wants free men in harmony of will with him. The evil one in terms of Exodus was Egypt and Pharaoh, and all the values attached to them, namely, to be fed and kept alive, on condition that they were submissive slaves. And for us the act of prayer, which is a more essential, final act of rebellion against slavery than taking up arms, is at the same time a sort of return into our sense of responsibility and relatedness to God.

~Adapted from Archbishop Anthony Bloom, Living Prayer