For the Good Estate of the Holy Churches of God, Let us Pray to the Lord

Third Talk on the Divine Liturgy

First Talk

Second Talk

Photo: Dmitry Kiryukhin Photo: Dmitry Kiryukhin     

We continue to analyze the text of the Divine Liturgy. Last time, we examined the first petition: “In peace, let us pray to the Lord,” and spoke about how Christ is the peace of our souls. The presence of Christ in our lives is the only thing that is truly necessary for us, inasmuch as we can only pray, labor, and generally live with the help of the grace of Christ.

In response to the deacon’s petition, the people (or the choir) respond: “Lord, have mercy” (Κύριε ἐλέησον). When we say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” or “Lord, have mercy,” we mean: “Lord, give me that which I need,” that is, “help me,” “save me,” “take pity upon me,” “be merciful to me,” “enlighten me,” “guide me,” “heal me.” All of our needs and requirements are contained in one phrase: “Lord, have mercy.” These three words encompass everything. Remember, the Old Testament tells how the Jewish people, wandering through the desert, fed upon manna—which became for each what his body needed. Similarly, the prayer, “Lord, have mercy,” becomes for every person an expression of what he needs.

It’s much more beneficial for us to say: “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” than to tell God: “Listen, give me this, give me that.” We have to fully commit ourselves to God both in daily life and in our relationship with Him. Of course, we can ask God for something specific (such a desire is quite understandable in human terms), but it’s much better to have confidence in God’s providence and invoke His mercy. God knows what we need, what we lack, and when and how to give it to us.

Further, the deacon proclaims: “For the peace from above, and the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.” In other words, “Let’s ask the Lord to give us Heavenly peace and salvation for our souls.” As you can see, the second petition of the litany continues the first, and they both speak to us about how the Lord Himself is the peace for the human soul.

Partaking of Divine grace, this energy of Divinity coming directly from God, a man immediately finds peace. After all, the first thing grace brings to our soul is peace. Therefore, when the fathers of the Church want to determine whether a man is under the influence of Divine grace or the influence of satan, they look first of all at whether he has peace in his soul or whether he’s in turmoil. Peace of soul is one of the first signs that what is happening to a man is from grace. If the soul is full of turmoil and anxiety, you can immediately understand that the evil one is acting there.

It’s impossible for God to dwell in a man who is full of turmoil and a troubling uneasiness. God will never find rest for Himself in the heart of such a man. When a man is in turmoil, when everything is upside down in his soul, grace leaves him. God has nothing to do with turmoil, anxiety, and commotion.

“The peace from above” comes down from God the Father Himself and isn’t dependent upon circumstances and events of this world. The peace of God doesn’t depend on what’s happening around us, in our family, in society, in the entire world—wherever. Of course, “the peace from above” has nothing in common with the nirvana of the Hindus who seek to achieve a loss of consciousness and an indifference to everything around them. No, the man of God shares in human pain, empathizes, and sympathizes with all of creation. The Christian is by no means insentient. It’s impossible to abide supposedly in peace and tranquility when there’s so much pain around you. This is not a Christian state.

What, however, happens with the man of God? Despite the fact that he empathizes with someone else’s grief and shares someone else’s pain, despite the fact that he’s in the same state of suffering as the whole world, nevertheless, the peace of God reigns in the depths of his heart and soul. He’s full of trust in God and he has no doubt that in the end, God will do what’s necessary and won’t leave anyone. The peace of God’s presence flows from the certainty that God is with us and that He will not leave us until the last moment of our lives.

In the second petition, besides the peace descending from God the Father, the deacon calls us to pray to the Lord for the salvation of our souls. To this, the people again respond: “Lord, have mercy.” Then come petitions that are, let’s say, more earthly in their content, concerning our daily life.

The third petition of the litany reads: “For the peace of the whole world, the good estate of the holy Churches of God, and the union of all, let us pray to the Lord.” In other words, “Let’s entreat the Lord for peace throughout the whole world, for the firm standing of holy Churches of God, and for the unity of all.

We pray, first of all, for peace to reign on earth, by which we, together with the Church, mean both the external and the internal world—the world of human souls. Praying for the external world, we ask that there be no wars, catastrophes, sorrowful circumstances, difficulties—a state that will of course never fully come to pass. No matter what we undertake, there will still be some evil in some corner of the world—we can’t avoid it. And yet we pray for the peace of the entire world, we ask God that people might find peace, that everything might be good for them, that they might be happy, healthy, and calm—but mainly that they might have the grace of God.

The peace of the whole world is the presence of Christ in the hearts of men—this is the peace of the world. Christ brought this peace to the world, for He Himself is the Peace of the world. The angels sang of this on the night of the Nativity of Christ: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace.” Peace came into the world, and of course, this isn’t external peace, because there never was external peace on earth; and as events show, there never will be: There will always be wars somewhere, unfortunately. The genuine, true Peace—Christ—came to earth and revealed Himself to the world.

Thus, the Church prays for peace in every sense of the word. And notice that it prays for the whole world. We don’t pray just for any one group of people, not even for the Orthodox alone, or Christians alone—we pray for the entire world. All people are our brethren, all people are children of God, all are called to the Kingdom of God, and we must pray for all people, that they might have the peace of God, the presence of God in their hearts.

Secondly, we pray for “the good estate of the holy Churches of God,” that the holy Church of God, scattered across the face of the entire earth, might stand firm, and be strong and unshakable.

The Church constantly suffers attack from without, experiencing abuse and enmity from various temptations, scandals, seductions—what have you. Christians also have enmity with the Church from within when they make schisms and introduce heresies. Satan is also at enmity with the Church. Therefore, we pray that the Church might have stability and fortitude, that it might stand strong. Fortunately, there’s no danger that the Church itself will fall and be crushed: God protects it, and it will never be crushed. But in human terms, we, people, members of the Church, need to stand firmly on our feet and support our brethren.

Do you know what great responsibility we all bear in this regard, although we often have no understanding of it? As members of the Church of Christ, we bear responsibility for the entire world, for our brethren, for our children, for our neighbors, for all people—for those who are far from the Church, and for those who are near to it. And firstly, for those who are far from the Church. After all, by the example of our life—if we truly become, with God’s help, how God wants to see us—we can help these people to a much greater degree. Unfortunately, our infirmity often causes the spiritual death of others.

We have to realize that we all make up one body. If everything is in order here and now, it doesn’t mean what’s happening in the Church as a whole has nothing to do with us. The Church of God is scattered across the entire world, and there are countries where the Church is still persecuted to this day. And even until today, the Church ceaselessly brings forth martyrs. Yesterday, for example, the Synod of the Bulgarian Church canonized several martyrs who suffered in the years of persecution against the Church.[1] In Russia, Albania, Romania, Serbia, Georgia, there are thousands of New Martyrs. There are New Martyrs in China and in other countries. There are still countries where the Church is persecuted, where Christ is persecuted, where it’s impossible to preach Christ and talk about Him. Some Christians have paid for their Baptisms with their lives; the lives of others are in constant danger and they face many problems. And the churches themselves in these countries face unbelievable difficulties. At one point there existed an Orthodox Church in India, although there’re almost no Orthodox there now. The Orthodox priests and missionaries were expelled from India, with only a few Orthodox priests who were Indian remaining, who are secretly trying to preserve their parishes and churches. Satan fights against the Church throughout the world. Therefore, we pray in Liturgy for “the good estate of the holy Churches of God.”

Some people ask me if I feel any difference between my life on the Holy Mountain and my present life in Cyprus. This is how I usually answer: When I lived in the desert on the Holy Mountain and was a novice with Elder Joseph, I knew from experience how the devil battles with man. I knew what was happening with me in this battle. When I became a spiritual father, and then an abbot, I learned through Confession what kind of battle the devil wages against other people. When I became a bishop in Cyprus, then I saw how the devil battles against the Church. And I testify before you that the devil’s most ruthless warfare is against the Church.

Through satan’s machinations, everything we plan to do for the Church goes topsy-turvy. Even the simplest thing—like printing a small brochure, for example—is impossible to do just “once and done.” All kinds of obstacles and difficulties will certainly arise; the brochure will be printed all crooked and backwards. Everything will work against this labor. To accomplish something, you have to overcome the strongest resistance. Or maybe we want to build a church. You can’t even imagine how many difficulties and temptations we’ll have to face! When the church is finally built, it’ll be seen as a miracle, but while it’s still being built, the problems and temptations will wrench your soul right out of you.

How many things work out so easily in the world—new houses grow up like mushrooms! How many magnificent secular publications come off the printing press without the slightest problem! But in the Church, whatever you undertake, your plans are fulfilled with the shedding of much sweat and blood, overcoming many difficulties; a great struggle, great resistance—from the devil himself, and from people with weak souls. It requires a great feat and great prayer for the Church of God for it to have strength, fortitude, well-being, for it to fulfill its mission and proclaim the word of God throughout the world.

Then the deacon prays for unity, or “the union of all.” In modern society, the word “unity” has been used quite a lot recently. But society means one thing by unity, and the Church another. “The union of all” is not some kind of potato salad where all the ingredients are mixed up in the same bowl. “The union of all” means the conversion of all people to Christ and union with Him in the true faith. This is true unity. This is the unity we beseech in the Liturgy: the conversion of all people to Christ. But in society, unity is often understood as, let’s say, boiling everything down in the same pot. However, that’s not unity but a mixture, where people and entire nations lose their individuality. Take, for example, the notorious multiculturalism. Those who admired multiculturalism eventually realized that that there’s something wrong with this policy, that everyone should care for their cultural individuality a little bit.

Nowadays, there’s a lot of talk about the ecumenical character of the unity of the Church. But what does the unity of the Churches mean? First of all, it must be said that there is no unity of churches, because the Church of Christ is one, and that is the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. There is no other church. So how should we understand unity then?—the return to the bosom of the Church of those who have fallen away from it, whether Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses—whoever. They must all return to the Church and unite with it—this is the unity of all that the Church prays for—certainly not that we be thrown together into one “salad.”

There’s a beautiful prayer in the text of the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great: “Lead back those who are in error and join them to Thy Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” The Church prays for its children who have fallen away, who have separated from it, who have strayed from the straight path, that the Lord might return them and that they might be reunited with the holy Church of God. This is what St. Basil is talking about—not that the Church would lose its identity and become part of some impersonal gathering, coming to a state that’s disastrous for its children and the Church itself. Fortunately, the Lord has assured us that the gates of hades won’t overcome the Church.

Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol
Translation by Jesse Dominick

Pravoslavie.ru

10/25/2021

[1] It’s not clear when His Eminence originally delivered this talk.—Trans.

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