Thursday, May 28, 2015

Fr. Alexis on Our Father Who Art in Heaven

Having warned His disciples about the pitfalls of praying for the wrong things with vain repetitions, having cautioned them about the dangers of praying for the wrong reasons such as being seen by others, our Lord then directs His disciples about the way they should pray giving as an example the most widely known prayer in Christendom, the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. Many times, we may say it without fully appreciating the significance of each phrase or how every sacred vessel of meaning orients us towards God, towards life, and towards each other in ways that can transform us, purify us, and ultimately make us a bit more like Christ. To help their fellow believers appreciate the treasure of the Lord’s Prayer, some of the Church Fathers have written beautiful commentaries that suggest not only what the petitions in the prayer mean, but how they should be reflected in our lives.

The Lord’s Prayer begins with pure revelation from on high. There is a God in heaven and He is our Father. Saint Augustine notes that the word “father” calls forth from within the soul both love, “for what is dearer to sons than a father,” and the sentiments of a humble petitioner [supplex affects] (Sermon on the Mount, book 2, chapter 4, PL 34.1276). The words “Our Father” should bring to mind immediately the parable of the prodigal son, which assures us that “He never turns away from us, but it is we who distance ourselves from Him” (Saint John Chrysostom, Exhortation to Theodore After His Fall, Letter 1). Saint Augustine further notes that just saying the words, “our Father” we have received the greatest possible gift, to be sons and daughters of God (Sermon on the Mount, book 2, chapter 4, PL 34.1276). Thus, love, humility, and gratitude are set before us as prime virtues with the mere utterance of the first words of this most holy prayer. Those words tell us not only who God is, but who we are and where our home lies. And this should warm our hearts, comfort our souls, and cause our spirit to leap for joy.

That this Father is “our Father” also means that we “belong to a great family” (Augustine, Sermon 9) and despite the vast inequality among fathers on earth, we are equal in the sense of having the same Father in heaven. That we say “our Father” and not “my Father” means that we share the same Father and that “we do not look for our own best interests, but for those of our neighbor.” This in turn “takes away hatred, quells pride, casts out envy, and brings in love, the mother of all good things. It eliminates the inequality of human things, and shows how far the equality reaches between the king and the poor man, if at least in those things which are greatest and most indispensable, we are all of us brethren” (Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 19 on Matthew, PG 51.45). In other words, we learn that we are all brothers and sisters, children of a single of Father, children of heaven, and equal in the one honor that really matters, our relationship with God.

Finally, if our Father is in heaven, then our place is in heaven as well. But how are we to be in heaven while yet on earth? Saint John Chrysostom answers, “The distance between heaven and earth is even greater if we are negligent, but if we do our best, we shall find ourselves at its gates in a single moment, for these distances are not determined by the interval between places, but by the quality of one’s frame of mind [οὐ γὰρ μήκει τόπων, ἀλλὰ γνώμῃ τρόπων]” (Homily 1 on Matthew, PG 56.23). And this is precisely what the “Our Father” said from the heart does. It “lifts us up,” “gives wings to our mind,” (Homily 14 on Ephesians, PG 62.105) teaching us to “set our mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth” (Colossians 3:20). In so doing, we find not only stability and permanence (Discourse 6 to the Newly Illumined), but “goodness itself, sanctification, rejoicing, strength, glory, purity, eternity,… and as much can be conceived concerning the divine nature by the divine scriptures and our own thoughts” (Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Discourse 2 on the Lord’s Prayer). “Our Father which art in heaven!” What a treasure this is for those who know it to be true!


Source: Fr. Alexis Trader, "Our Father which Art in the Heavens," Ancient Christian Wisdom blog, February 27, 2015, accessed May 28, 2015,

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