Despite being young in the faith, it has been on my heart to write about the Lord’s Prayer for several months, so with the help of the Church Fathers, I will attempt to provide a “spiritual” interpretation of the prayer.
I will be utilizing the writings of St. Maximos the Confessor for nearly everything that is written. Also, I pulled from the wisdom of Blessed Theophylact and some of the desert fathers.
“OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN”
The opening words of this prayer contain quite a bit. Firstly, we state “our Father” not “my Father,” which signifies the brotherhood of all believers who call upon the name of our God in faith. We are all in this together. We are not a collection of free agents belonging to the Father, but rather one Body in Christ unified through Him and the Holy Spirit. This oneness of our nature is key to understanding the remainder of the prayer.
GOD AS FATHER
Because we have been fortunate enough to grow up with nearly 2,000 years of Christian tradition, calling God “Father” does not have the shocking effect that it had at the time of Christ. However, by calling on Him as our true Father with our entire being, we move into a higher reality:
- It signifies adoption as sons by grace and equality with the angels.
- If we are adopted by God then we are being deified.
- If we are being deified then we are participating in eternal Life, which is God Himself. We do so in a relational manner, as Father and sons.
- Adoption, sonship, deification, eternal life, healing, restoration, and freedom are not imputed upon us, but rather are received through communion and relational activity with God in our lives every day. This synergy with God is our salvation.
- Our human nature is healed and restored (more on that later).
- We are set free from the bondage of sin; the tyranny of evil that held us in its claws is being destroyed. Not just in the future age either, but we are called to freedom in this life time.
Regarding the word “heaven” much could be said. Heaven is the Kingdom, or realm, which is above all realms – it is where God’s presence is always known. It is where His will is realized at all times. We enter into this Kingdom that is around us and within us by aligning ourselves to Him. Heaven is the realm of relational communion with Christ. It can be reached in this life, and we certainly hope to reach it at least in the age to come.
Try not to think of heaven as a place, but a higher reality. When our Lord Jesus came and walked among us 2,000 years ago, the full extent of his divinity was not known by all, though it was very much present. He took Peter, James, and John to Mt. Tabor for his transfiguration, which did not change Jesus at all, but rather opened the eyes of the disciples’ hearts to the reality of the Lord Jesus.
In the same way, when we pray to our Father in heaven, we do not pray to some old fellow “up there” somewhere. Heaven is the higher reality in which we are called to enter right now.
8 thoughts on “The Lord’s Prayer, Part 1”
Thanks for sharing this. I’m looking forward to reading your insights in the upcoming posts. Your explanation of ‘heaven’ is a particularly important one for ‘evangelical’ Christians to wrap our heads around. Although he’s surely not Orthodox in the denominational sense, the writings of N.T. Wright have helped me immensely in learning to understand what is meant in scripture by ‘heaven.’
Hi Steven, I’ve seen a couple of short videos by NT Wright on youtube. From what I have heard, he has been greatly influenced by Orthodox theology (much like CS Lewis). Though I haven’t read any of his works, the bits I have heard from him I like.
Jeremiah. I am moved and inspired by the faith and the gifts God has given you.
About 20 years ago the following prayer was in our Church bulletin. There was no author given.
I would like to share it her. It is entitled, “I Cannot Pray.”
I cannot say “Our” If my religion has no room for others and their needs.
I cannot say “Father” If I do not demonstrate this relationship in my daily life.
I cannot say “Who Art in Heaven” If all my interests and pursuits are in Earthly things.
I cannot say “Hallowed be Thy Name” If, I, who am called by His name, am not holy.
I cannot say “Thy kingdom come” If I am unwilling to give up my own sovereignty and accept the righteous reign of God.
I cannot say “Thy will be done” If I am unwilling or resentful of having It in my life.
I cannot say “On Earth as it is in Heaven” Unless I am truly ready to give myself to His service here and now.
I cannot say “Give us this day our daily bread” Without expending honest effort for it or by ignoring the genuine needs of my fellow men.
I cannot say “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” If I continue to harbor a grudge against anyone.
I cannot say “Lead us not into temptation” If I deliberately choose to remain in a situation where I am likely to be tempted.
I cannot say “Deliver us from the evil one” If I am not prepared to fight in the spiritual realm with the weapon of prayer.
I cannot say “Thine is the power” If I fear what my neighbors and friends may say or do.
I cannot say “Thine is the Glory” If I am seeking my own glory first.
I cannot say “Forever” If I am too anxious about each day’s affairs.
I cannot say “Amen” Unless I honestly say, “Cost what it may, this is my prayer.”
Thank you, Constance. That is good…and definitely a lot more concise than what I have planned for this series 😉
Your writings and inspiration are remarkable, and for someone new, or not new, to Orthodoxy, God has given you a blessing. Glory to God!
All truth is a gift from God for His glory, you are certainly right about that. I can claim no credit for these ideas, I’m sitting on the shoulders of giants in the Body of Christ.
Hello, Thnk you for your insightful commentary! As I was saying my final evening prayers I kept repeating the first two verses. Occasionally I say it one word at a time and sometimes in phrases. It often gives different perspectives! I foresee a lifetime of new understandings as I walk around the tree. Orthodoxy does many times have such a slower but calming pace.
So actually what I got hung up on was that “God IN Heaven” seems to mean heaven is a PLACE that is BIGGER than GOD????
Also please explain why the prayer references “in heaven” twice and “ON” earth?
While we refer to God as being “in” heaven, God cannot be contained by anything. Similarly, we refer to the Uncontainable One being contained in the womb of the Virgin Mary. When God condescends to be “in” anything, He is not limited to that space. It may be best to think of heaven as “where God’s sovereignty and love are fully expressed and realized.” It is not so much a physical place as it is a reality in which people and spirits live. God is completely uncontainable, so even if heaven were an actual place with particular dimensions, stating God is “in” heaven would be recognizing that He has condescended to make His presence known in a special way there. But God is everywhere present and filling all things; He is infinite in every good way.
Regarding your second question, “in” heaven vs. “on” earth, I think is fairly simple. Heaven is a realm of perfection in which we are called to dwell; earth is a surface on which we are living. Heaven surrounds those dwelling in it as an ocean surround the creatures that live “in” it.