If you’re from a Protestant background like me, you are probably familiar with the Lord’s Prayer and the Common Doxology, ie, Praise God from whom all blessings flow/ Praise Him, all creatures here below.... and that’s just about it, as far as prescribed corporate prayer goes. The rest includes our petitions to the Lord, all those for whom we are praying.
As I make my home now in the Orthodox Church, I’ve been introduced to many, many more corporate prayers. There are prayers the church says together during Liturgy on Sunday, during various feasts and fasts and prayers we say at home, at designated hours of the day. Well, my daily office (prayer rule) begins on arising and concludes when I lay my head down at night. I’m working on the in-between hours.
A friend asked me once, “Why would you say a prayer that has been written down hundreds of years ago? What’s wrong with spontaneous prayers from the heart?” “Nothing is wrong with spontaneous prayers from the heart”, I said ...”but how is reading a prayer any different from singing hymns that the church has been singing for generations?”
I was recently reminded by Fr. Seraphim that our corporate prayers, those of the daily office of Orthodox Christians, serve an important purpose: to daily instruct us in our relationship to God ...as in, who God IS. By saying them routinely, the words become easy to recall and, over time, they become prayer of the heart. If I am only bringing to God in my prayers a list of petitions, then how easy does it become to create God in my own image? And how easy is it to forget that I am a sinner...that I should be bowing down before my Lord in humility.
My prayer book, called the “Hours of Prayer” begins with the Midnight Office, or Prayers on Arising:
“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to you, O God, glory to you.
(Stand quietly for a few moments until mind and body are still; then again make three bows and begin:)
Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to you, O God, glory to you.
Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of truth, who art in all places and fillest all things, Treasury of all goods things and giver of life, come and dwell in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, Now and ever unto the ages of ages. Amen.
All holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord pardon our sins. Master, forgive our transgressions. Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities to the glory of your name.
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
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 daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For thine 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 forever. Amen.
Lord have mercy
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever. Amen.
Come, let us adore God, our King.
Come, let us adore Christ, our King and our God.
Come, let us adore and bow down to Christ Himself, our King and our God.”
It is called the Midnight Office, or Midnight Prayer, to commemorate the night on which Christ was delivered to the Jews. Originally, monastics would rise in the middle of the night to sing praises to God.
In these prayers, there is no room for my mind to wander or search for the right words. At the early hour of dawn, when I am struggling to wake from slumber, I am upheld by the strength and wisdom of corporate prayer. Standing in my prayer corner and lighting the candles, the cold darkness of morning is softly illumined by a visible reminder that Christ is Lord and all shall be well.
It’s an obedience that strengthens me spiritually, like nourishing rainfall for the garden.