Yeah, I probably sound like a broken record on this topic. But, the more I follow Orthodox Christian prayer, the more I am overwhelmed at how the request for mercy is more essential than any other petition that we may offer. Looking at the Morning prayer in the Orthodox Study Bible, in the opening trisagion, mercy is asked for seven times. It is repeated another six times in the intercessory prayers and four times in the benediction. In the evening prayers, mercy is asked for a total of twenty-two times. So, if one were to pray these (an Orthodox Christian should pray at least in the morning and at night), one would pray for mercy thirty-nine times. Include variations of the word and various orders and fellowship disciplines, it is asked for even more.
Untitled (© John Gresham)
This is not to say that we Protestants don’t ask for it. But, there are some serious flaws in our prayers that we ought to correct. Let me point out this one, that we believe we don’t have to use any sort of written prayers. While it is true that the Holy Spirit does act in and on our individual souls, it is also a unifying force. We see this in Acts 2 where the disciples are all together on one accord. And what puts us together on one accord more so than prayer? The prayers of Orthodoxy have been around for 2000 years. The early church fathers came together and deemed mercy to the greatest of all petitions we can offer. So, the church handed down the tradition that all Christians should be united in this basic plea to God. We are to offer up our personal request according to our needs, give thanksgivings according to our joys, and offer up all other prayers according to our walk with the Lord. But, whoever and where ever we are on life’s journey, we are all united by our need for God to show us unmerited kindness as we all have missed the mark of living in holiness. We all stand in the need of mercy more than anything else. Thus, it should be the forefront, center, and conclusion of all of our prayers.
And this is not to say that Orthodox Christians are perfect. But, what has the fractured and individualistic nature of our prayers given to us? Look at the number of denominations and (so-called) non-denominations we have. Do we have unity of heart and mind among us? Among African-American Baptist alone we went from one national body to four major ones and an untold number of spin-off fellowships headed by men, and some women, who’s only purpose in leaving the parent body was to become the HNIC (Head Negro In Charge). As our denomination recognizes no hierarchical authority, the trend of such spin-offs will only continue based on egotistical preachers who would rather follow popular trends of gratification than academic scholarship and living in spiritual discipline. With this fractured spirit among “one” denomination of one ethnic group, our prayers are then reduced to individualistic exercises of self-importance rather than anything done in the spirit of unity.
Perhaps I am being harsh. Maybe I should concern myself with my own faith and stop looking at what other folks are doing. But, I dare anyone to look at your morning and evening prayers and analyze your words. What is the thing you ask God for more than anything else? Is that petition a universal need of everyone? Does that petition bring you to total humility to God’s will?
Our slave ancestors and Jim Crow survivors of all denominations did hold one prayer in common. Lord, have mercy. If we choose not to go back to the prayers of our ancient Christian forefathers, at least we should go back to the roots of our faith in America. At least let our denominational heads agree that every Christian should make this common plea the central focus of daily prayer and develop a common text that underscores it’s importance. In these times, we all need God’s mercy more than anything else. It only makes sense that we have written prayers that unites us in this petition.