The two wills: heaven and earth
In the book of Genesis, we see God take dust of the earth and create mankind. Mysteriously, this earthen vessel was formed in the image and likeness of its Creator. When we pray for God’s will to be done on “earth” we are praying for His will to be accomplished within us earthen vessels.
In order for this to be brought forth, we must cast aside our own turbulent will and desires in order to align our being with the heavenly Will. By pursuing Christ in love and obeying His commandments, we begin to see heaven unfold in our lives.
As mentioned in the first part of this series, we must not think of heaven as being separated from us by some sort of physical distance. Heaven is not “somewhere up there” and earth “down here.” As Christ Himself said, “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Mat. 10:7) and in another place, “the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)
Heaven and earth are states of being, existential realities, both of which surround us.
There is the earthly will of fallen man with selfishness and passions; there exists as well the perfect will of our Lord. Where His will is known and accomplished, the Kingdom of heaven is manifested.
Living in the Kingdom of Heaven
The angels always seek the will of the Father as did Christ when He walked among us; which means they continually exist in heaven no matter where they happen to be located. For this is heaven: to live in such state where our hearts are completely pure and the only pleasure we have is God Himself.
St Maximos writes, he who worships God mystically with the faculty of the nous [the spiritual eye of the heart] alone, keeping it free from sensual desire and anger fulfills the divine will on earth just as the orders of angels fulfill it in heaven
St Maximos continues, nothing is offered to God in Heaven by the holy angels except noetic worship; and it is this that God also demands from us when he teaches us to say in our prayers, ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’
Not all of us will reach such a state of perfect being in this age, but we are instructed to pray for it because it is not only our goal, but it is our joy and fullness in this life: for God’s will to be done in these earthen vessels as it is done in the angelic realm.
Christ commands us to take upon ourselves the heavenly will saying “Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mat. 5:48). While that can seem like an overwhelming and impossible command, St Gregory of Nyssa reminds us that the journey toward perfection is perfection. God knows us and does not expect change to happen overnight; in fact, the most resolute changes often come upon us gradually.
Some practical steps
So, some of that sounds quite lofty, but what about folks like myself that are just average Christians? Here is what I have found to be helpful:
THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING
Pray, pray, pray! There is nothing that makes the demons powerless nor quenches the fires of fleshly desire more than prayer. And consequently, there is nothing that will bring more spiritual warfare into your life than prayer. Because it places you in opposition to the schemes of the devil, he will fight you. Additionally, because you will be taking up your cross and crucifying the old man, even your flesh will fight you. It doesn’t like crucifixion.
If you decide to pray then you will find that you remember things you need to do, you remember conversations that made you feel upset, and you will become distracted by little ideas and fantasies. You might even have theological ideas that seem brilliant.
Ignore all of these things, even the ideas that seem good. But what if it is so good that it has to be something from God? You still must brush it aside. When God wants to bestow something upon you, He will do it in a manner that furthers your salvation and in a time and place that is good. Interrupting prayer is not beneficial.
If the enemy cannot tempt you and lead your mind astray with something evil (a lustful or vain fantasy, a remembrance of wrong, etc) then he will plant into your mind seemingly good and grandiose ideas. All of the fathers of the Church teach this from their own experience; you and I are no exception to this rule.
If you don’t have a prayer book, then I would recommend just about any Orthodox prayer book you can find online (including this one). If you need to order one, then while you are waiting for it to ship you can begin by using my favorite prayer book: the Psalter (a.k.a. the Psalms).
One more note on this: go easy on yourself as you begin to build a prayer rule. You aren’t expected to pray like a monk. Be disciplined, but keep it light at first. As you find your desire for prayer increases, then gradually increase your prayer rule.
LEARN THE COMMANDMENTS
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov commanded all novices entering into a monastery (that is, those who were potential monks), to devote much of their time and attention to learning the commandments of Christ. Read the New Testament, and especially the gospels. Learn them by heart, and when you have done that, keep reading them.
Just as important as reading the gospels is understanding them. And nothing beats learning from someone who was extremely intelligent and illumined. While it is a bit pricey, the most approachable patristic commentary on the gospels is by Blessed Theophylact.
He pretty much breaks it down verse by verse with a commentary on each verse as you read along. Theophylact was very spiritual and very learned, he combined much of the commentary of earlier fathers with his own and made it concise as well. My wife and I recently purchased this set and have found it to be invaluable. You can order a copy here.
Part 1: Our Father who art in heaven
Part 2: Hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come
Part 3: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Part 4: Give us this day our daily bread
Part 5: And forgive us our trespasses…