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     (A Guide For Participating In The Divine Liturgy Of St. John Chrysostom)
by the Very Reverend Michel Najim & T.L. Frazier

11.The Lord’s Prayer


As a look at any biblical concordance reveals, the God of Israel was rarely called “Father” in the Old Testament. In the two places where He was, it was in later books written outside of Palestine.204 If fatherhood was associated with God, it was usually by way of analogy and not as a direct address.205 Most of the rare rabbinical references to God as Father come after the time of Christ; and while God is called Father in the Jewish prayers after meals, the preponderance of the evidence suggests that God wasn’t addressed as Father before the coming of Jesus.

The proper name for God, revealed to Moses in the burning bush, was, “I AM WHO I AM,” or YHWH (pronounced “Yahweh”) in Hebrew.206 Yahweh was the all-mighty Creator of the Universe, the One who granted victory on the battlefield, delivering His people from enemies. Yahweh was to be held in awe, His throne being on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. The name of God was fearful to pronounce. The High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies once a year at Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement, and after fasting and doing penance, would pronounce God’s name in a whisper. Only the priests officiating at this feast were initiated into the proper pronunciation of God’s holy and mystical name. The name was considered too holy to be pronounced by the average person; so sacred, in fact, that it wasn’t even permissible to write it: people had to write instead adonay, “my Lord.” In short, the practice of Jewish prayer before the advent of the Savior was to heap up a multitude of formal titles ascribing to God complete sovereignty and lordship in contrast to human impotence and smallness. How scandalized everyone must have been at Jesus’ familiarity with God, whom he called, “my Father!” In Aramaic, the language which Jesus spoke, the word is abba. This is the word used when a small child lovingly addresses his father, like “daddy” in English. After Jesus instituted the Eucharist, while in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You.”207

Interestingly, according to an ancient rabbinical tradition, one of the things Jesus was accused of was misappropriating the sacred pronunciation of the name of Yahweh from the High Priest and using it to perform miracles.208

As followers of Christ, we have been given this same privilege of addressing God as “Abba.” Paul writes, “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, `Abba, Father!’”209 What an awesome thing to contemplate! Therefore, during the Divine Liturgy, we can “dare” to pray Abinu sh’baShammayim, which in Hebrew is, “Our Father in heaven”:

“OUR FATHER Who are in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come; Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily210 bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

When the prayer is finished, the priest recites a doxology: “For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages.”

It is uncertain exactly when the Lord’s Prayer was first included into the Liturgy. Since the Lord commanded us to pray it, the odds are that it has always been a part of Christian worship. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem in the fourth century tells us in the fifth lecture of his Mystagogical Catecheses that the Lord’s Prayer followed the Commemoration; in other words, it was were it stands today.

The priest then wishes peace to all. Turning toward the icon of Christ on the Iconostasis, he (or the deacon) says: “Let us bow our heads to the Lord.” After calling God our Father, we now call Christ our Lord. Acknowledging Jesus of Nazareth as our Master, we bow our heads to His icon, indicating our dependence on Him. As we bow, we say:  “To You, O Lord.”  The response suggests that we bow to Christ -- but to no other. While we bow our heads, the celebrant asks God to look down upon those who have bowed before Christ, for they have bowed their heads not to flesh and blood, but to the only God. Then he implores God to travel with those who journey by land, sea, and air, as well as to heal the sick.

Then follows a doxology which the priest prays aloud. Once more the priest addresses the Father, calling to mind the grace and compassion of the Only-begotten Son, and the goodness and holiness of the life-giving Spirit. The doxology, addressed specifically to the Father “through...Your Only-begotten Son,” ensures that our prayers will be granted. As the Savior promised, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give you.”211


204 Tobit 13:4 and Ecclesiasticus 51:10. There are also references to God as father in some apocryphal works like the Wisdom of Solomon, but these may be later Christian interpolations.
205 E.g., Deuteronomy 32:6; Psalm 103:13; Isaiah 63:16; Malachi 2:10.
206 Exodus 3:14-15.
207 Mark 14:36.
208 Victor Buksbazen, The Gospel in the Feasts of Israel (Bellmawr, NJ:The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1954), 38.
209 Galatians 4:6. Cf. Romans 8:15.
210 The early Church usually understood the “daily bread” as the living, eucharistic bread which the Father gives us in the Liturgy. The Greek word for “daily,” epiousios, is nearly impossible to translate accurately because it occurs nowhere in Greek literature except in Matthew 6:11 and Luke 11:3. Biblical commentators and lexicographers generally translate the word in the sense of “day by day,” or “necessary (for sustenance),” or, “for the coming Day,” in the sense of the coming Day of the Lord, when “you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom” (Luke 22:30). Because of the obscurity of the word, Origen in the third century went as far as saying that the evangelists coined it especially for the Lord’s prayer. He may not have been too far from the truth!
211 John 16:23.

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Page created: 24-12-2012.

Last update: 24-12-2012.