Saint Maximos the Confessor on The Lord’s PrayerHome > Belief & History, Christian Education, Liturgical, Prayers and Practice, Saints > Saint Maximos the Confessor on The Lord’s Prayer
Saint Maximos the Confessor on The
If the purpose of the divine counsel is the deification of our nature, and the aim of divine thoughts is to supply the prerequisites of our life, it follows that we should both know and carry into effect the power of the Lord’s Prayer, and write about it in the proper way. And since you, Sir, in writing to me your servant have been inspired by God to mention this prayer in particular, it is necessarily the subject of my own words as well; hence I beseech the Lord, who has taught us this prayer, to open my intellect so that it may grasp the mysteries contained in it, and to give me words equal to the task of elucidating what I have understood. For hidden within a limited compass this prayer contains the whole purpose and aim of which we have just spoken; or, rather, it openly proclaims this purpose and aim to those whose intellects are strong enough to perceive them. The prayer includes petitions for everything that the divine Logos effected through His self-emptying in the incarnation, and it teaches us to strive for those blessings of which the true provider is God the Father alone through the natural mediation of the Son in the Holy Spirit. For the Lord Jesus is mediator between God and men, as the divine apostle says (cf. 1 Tim; 2:5), since He makes the unknown Father manifest to men through the flesh, and gives those who have been reconciled to Him access to the Father through the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 2:18). It was on their behalf and for their sake that without changing He became man, and is now the author and teacher of so many and such great new mysteries as yet beyond our understanding.
Of these mysteries that He has granted to men in His boundless generosity, seven are of more general significance; and it is these whose power, as I have said, lies hidden within the Lord’s Prayer/ These seven are theology, adoption as sons by grace, equality with the angels, participation in eternal life, the restoration of human nature when it is reconciled dispassionately with itself, the abolition of the law of sin, and the destruction of the tyranny that holds us in its power through the deceit of the evil one.
Let us examine the truth of what we have said. Theology is taught us by the incarnate Logos of God, since He reveals in Himself the Father and the Holy Spirit. For the whole of the Father and the whole of the Holy Spirit were present essentially and perfectly in the whole of the incarnate Son. They themselves did not become incarnate, but the Father approved and the Spirit co-operated when the Son Himself effected- His incarnation. At the incarnation the Logos preserved His intellect and His life unimpaired: except by the Father and the Spirit He was not comprehended in essence by any other being whatsoever, but in His love for men was united hypostatically with the flesh.
The Logos bestows adoption on us when He grants us that birth and deification which, transcending nature, comes by grace from above through the Spirit, The guarding and preservation of this in God depends on the resolve of those thus born: on their sincere acceptance of the grace bestowed on them and, through the practice of the commandments, on their cultivation .of the beauty given to them by grace. Moreover, by emptying themselves of the passions they lay hold of the divine to the same degree as that to which, deliberately emptying Himself of His own sublime glory, the Logos of God truly became man.
The Logos has made men equal to the angels. Not only did He ‘make peace through the blood of His Cross between things on earth and things in heaven’ (Col. 1:20), and reduce to impotence the hostile powers that fill in the intermediary region between heaven and earth, thereby making the festal assembly of earthly and heavenly powers a single gathering for His distribution of divine gifts, with humankind joining joyfully with the powers on high in unanimous praise of God’s glory; but also, after fulfilling the divine purpose undertaken on our behalf, when He was taken up with the body which He had assumed. He united heaven and earth in Himself, joined what is sensible with what is intelligible, and revealed creation as a single whole whose extremes are bound together through virtue and through knowledge of their first Cause. He shows, I think, through what He has accomplished mystically, that the Logos unites what is separated and that alienation from the Logos divides what is united. Let us learn, then, to strive after the Logos through the practice of the virtues, so that we may be united not only with the angels through virtue, but also with God in spiritual knowledge through detachment from created things.
The Logos enables us to participate in divine life by making Himself our food, in a manner understood by Himself and by those who have received from Him a noetic perception of this kind. It is by tasting this food that they become truly aware that the Lord is full of virtue (cf. Ps. 34:8). For He transmutes with divinity those who eat it, bringing about their deification, since He is the bread of life and of power in both name and reality. He restores human nature to itself. First, He became man and kept His will dispassionate and free from rebellion against nature, so that it did not waver in the slightest from its own natural movement even with regard to those who crucified Him; on the contrary, it chose death for their sake instead of life, thereby demonstrating the voluntary character of His passion, rooted as it is in His love for humankind. Second, having nailed to the Cross the record of our sins (cf. Col. 2:14), He abolished the enmity which led nature to wage an implacable war against itself; and having summoned those far off and those near at hand – that is, those under the Law and those outside it – and having broken down the obstructive partition-wall – that is, having explained the law of the commandments in His teaching to both these categories of humankind – He formed the two into one new man, making peace and reconciling us through Himself to the Father and to one another (cf. Eph. 2:14-16): our will is no longer opposed to the principle of nature, but we adhere to it without deviating in either will or nature.
The Logos purifies human nature from the law of sin by not permitting His incarnation for our sake to be preceded by sensual pleasure. For His conception took place miraculously without seed, and His birth supranaturally without the loss of His Mother’s virginity. That is to say, when God was born from His Mother, through His birth He tightened the bonds of her virginity in a manner surpassing nature; and in those that are willing He frees the whole of human nature from the oppressive rule of the law which dominates it, in so far as they imitate His self-chosen death by mortifying the earthly aspects of themselves (cf. Col. 3:5). For the mystery of salvation belongs to those who choose it, not to those who are compelled by force.
The Logos destroys the tyranny of the evil one, who dominates us through deceit, by triumphantly using as a weapon against him the flesh defeated in Adam. In this way he shows that what was once captured and made subject to death now captures the captor: by a natural death it destroys the captor’s life and becomes a poison to him, making him vomit up all those he was able to swallow because he had the power of death. But to humankind it becomes life, like leaven in the dough impelling the whole of nature to rise like dough in the resurrection of life (cf. l Cor. 5:6-7). It was to confer this life that the Logos who was God became man – a truly unheard of thing – and willingly accepted the death of the flesh.
The Lord’s Prayer, as I have said, contains a petition for each of these things. First, it speaks of the Father, His name, and His kingdom. Second, it shows us that the person who prays is by grace the son of this Father. It asks that those in heaven and those on earth may be united in one will. It tells us to ask for our dally bread. It lays down that men should be reconciled with one another and unites our nature with itself when we forgive and are forgiven, for then it is not split asunder by differences of will and purpose. It teaches us to pray against entering into temptation, since this is the law of sin. And it exhorts in to ask for deliverance from the evil one. For the author and giver of divine blessings could not but be our teacher as well, providing the words of this prayer as precepts of life for those disciples who believe in Him and follow the way He taught in the flesh. Through these words He has revealed the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge (cf. Col. 2:3) that as pure form exist in Him; and in all who offer this prayer He kindles the desire to enjoy such treasures. It is for this reason, I think, that scripture calls this teaching ‘prayer’, since it contains petitions for the gifts that God gives to men by grace. Our divinely inspired fathers have explained prayer in a similar way, saying that prayer is petition for that which God naturally gives men to the manner appropriate to Him, while a vow, conversely, is a promise of what men who worship God sincerely resolve to offer Him. The fathers cite many Scriptural texts to illustrate this distinction such as, ‘Make your vows to the Lord our God and perform them’ (Ps. 76:11. LXX), and ‘I will give Thee, 0 Lord, what I have vowed’ (Jonah 2:10. LXX), which refer to vows. On the subject of prayer they quote such texts as ‘Hannah prayed to the Lord, saying, O Lord of hosts, if Thou wilt indeed listen to Thy handmaid and give me a child’ (cf. 1Sam. 1:11), and ‘Hezekiah the king of Judah and the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz prayed to the Lord’ (cf. 2 Chr. 32:20), and ‘Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven’ (Matt. 6:9), as the Lord said to the disciples. Consequently, a vow is a decision to keep the commandments, confirmed by a promise on the part of the person making the vow; and a prayer is a petition by one who has kept the commandments that he may be transformed by the commandments he has kept. Or, rather, a vow is a contest of virtue that God welcomes most readily whenever it is offered to Him; and prayer is the prize of virtue that God gives joyfully when the contest is won.
Since, then, prayer is petition for the blessings given by the incarnate Logos, let us make Him our teacher in prayer. And when we have contemplated the sense of each phrase as carefully as possible, let us confidently set it forth; for the Logos Himself gives us, in the manner that is best for us, the capacity to understand what He says. ‘
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come’ (Matt. 6:9-10) It is appropriate that at the outset the Lord should teach those who pray to start with theology, and should initiate them into the mode of existence of Him who is by essence the created Cause of all things. For these opening words of the prayer contain a revelation of the Father, of the name of the Father, and of the kingdom of the Father, so that from this beginning we may be taught to revere, invoke and worship the Trinity in unity. For the name of God the Father exists in substantial form as the only-begotten son. Again the kingdom of God the Father exists in substantial form as the Holy Spirit: what Matthew calls ‘kingdom’ in this context one of the other Evangelists has elsewhere called ‘Holy Spirit’, saying, ‘May Thy Holy Spirit come and purify us. For the Father’s name is sot something which He has acquired, nor is the kingdom a dignity ascribed to Him: He does not have a beginning, so that at a certain moment He begins to be Father or King, but He is eternal and so is eternally Father and King. In no sense at all, therefore, has He either begun to exist or begun to exist as Father or King. And if He exists eternally, not only is He eternally Father and King but also the Son and Holy Spirit co-exist with Him eternally in substantial form, having their being from Him and by nature inhering in Him beyond any cause or principle: they are not sequent to Him, nor have they come into existence after Him in a contingent manner. The relationship of co-inherence between the Persons embraces all three of them simultaneously, not permitting any of the three to be regarded as prior or sequent to the others.
At the outset of this prayer, then, we honor the coessential and supraessential Trinity as the creative cause of our coming into existence. Secondly, we are taught to proclaim the grace of our adoption, since we have been found worthy of addressing our Creator by nature as our Father by grace. Thus, venerating this title of our begetter by grace, we strive to stamp our Creator’s qualities on our lives, sanctifying His name on earth, taking after Him as our Father, showing ourselves to be His children through our actions, and through all that we think or do glorifying the author of this adoption, who is by nature Son of the Father.
We hallow or sanctify the name of our heavenly Father by grace when we mortify our desire for material things and purify ourselves of corrupting passions. For sanctification is truly the complete mortification and cessation of desire in the senses. When we have achieved this we assuage the uncouth turbulence of our incensive power, for the desire that arouses it and persuades it to fight for its own pleasures has now been quelled by holiness. For anger, being by nature the protagonist of desire, stops of its own accord when once it sees the desire has been put to death.
It is thus fitting that, anger and desire repudiated, we should next invoke the rule of the kingdom of God the Father with the words ‘Thy kingdom come’ (Matt. 6:l0), that is, ‘May the Holy Spirit come’; for, having put away these things, we are now made into a temple for God through the Holy Spirit by the teaching and practice of gentleness. ‘For on whom shall I rest,’ says Scripture, ‘but on him who is gentle and humble, and trembles at my words?’ (cf. Isa, 66:2). It is dear from this that the kingdom of God the Father belongs to the humble and the gentle. For ‘blessed are the gentle, for they will inherit the earth’ (Matt. 5:5). It
is not this physical earth, which by nature occupies a middle place in the universe, that God promises as an inheritance for those who love Him – not, at least, if He is speaking truly when He says, ‘In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in. marriage, but are as the angels in heaven’ (Matt. 22:30), and ‘Come, you whom my Father has blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ (Matt. 25:34), and elsewhere again to someone else who has striven with goodwill, ‘Enter into the joy of your Lord’ (Matt. 25:21). And after the Lord St Paul also says, ‘The trumpet will sound and first the dead in Christ will rise up incorrupt; then we who are alive and remain will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall be with the Lord for ever’ (cf. 1 Thess. 4:16-17).
Since these things have been promised to those who love the Lord, what man prompted by intelligence and wishing to serve it would ever say, from a literal reading of Scripture alone, that heaven, and the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world, and the mystically hidden joy of the Lord, and the perpetual dwelling with the Lord enjoyed by the saints, are to be identified with the earth? In this text (Matt. 5:5) I drink that the word ‘earth’ signifies the resolution and strength of the inner stability, immovably rooted in goodness, that is possessed by gentle, people. This state of stability exists eternally with the Lord, contains unfailing joy, enables the gentle to attain the kingdom prepared from the beginning, and has its station and dignity in heaven. It also permits the gentle to inherit the principle of virtue, as if virtue were the earth that occupies a middle place in the universe. For the gentle person holds a middle position between honor and obloquy, and remains dispassionate, neither puffed up by the first nor cast down by the second. For the intelligence is by nature superior to both praise and blame; and so, when it has put away the sensual desire, it is no longer troubled by either the one or the other, having anchored the whole power of the soul in divine and unassailable liberty. The Lord, wanting to impart this liberty to His disciples says, ‘Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls’ (Matt. 11:29). He calls the rule of the divine kingdom ‘rest’ because it confers on those worthy of it a lordship free from all servitude. If the indestructible power of the pure kingdom is given to the humble and the gentle, what man will be so lacking in love and so completely without appetite for divine blessings that he will not desire the greatest degree of humility and gentleness in order to take on the stamp of the divine kingdom, so far as this is possible for men, and to .bear in himself by grace an exact spiritual likeness of Christ, who is by nature the truly great king? In this likeness, says St Paul, ‘there is neither male nor female’ (Gal. 3:28), that is, there is neither anger nor desire. Of these, the first tyrannically perverts judgment and makes the mind betray the law of nature; while the second scorns the one dispassionate cause and nature, that alone is truly desirable, in favor of what is inferior, giving preference to the flesh rather than to the spirit, and taking pleasure more in visible things than in the magnificence and glory of intelligible realities. In this way with the lubricity of sensual pleasure it seduces the intellect from the divine perception of spiritual realities that is proper to it.
It is our aim to make the intelligence stand alone, stripped through the virtues of its affection for the body; for this affection, even when totally dispassionate, is still natural. The spirit, completely triumphing over nature, has to persuade the intellect to desist from moral philosophy m older to commune with the supra-essential Logos through direct and undivided contemplation, in spite of the fact that moral philosophy help the intellect to cut itself off from, and to go beyond, things pertaining to the flux of time. For when the intellect has become free from its attachment to sensible objects, it should not be burdened my longer with preoccupations about morality as with a shaggy cloak.
Elijah clearly reveals this mystery in a typological manner through his actions (cf. 2 Kgs. 2:11-14). For when he was borne aloft he gave Elisha his cloak, that is, the mortification of the flesh which constitutes the chief glory of moral conduct. He did this so that Elisha should have the support of the Spirit in his
battle against hostile powers and should triumph over the flux and instability of nature, typified by the Jordan; so that, in other words, he would not be immersed in the turbidity and slime of material attachment and thus prevented from Crossing over into the holy land. Meanwhile, Elijah himself advanced freely towards God, Unencumbered by attachment to any created thing. His desire being undivided and his will unmixed, he made his dwelling with Him who is simple by nature, carried there by the interdependent cardinal virtues, harnessed spiritually to one another like horses of fire.
Elijah knew that in the disciple of Christ there must be no imbalance of dispositions, for such diversity is proof of a lack of inward unity. Thus the passion of desire produces a diffusion of blood around the heart, and the incensive power when roused causes the blood to boil. He who already lives and moves and has his being in Christ (cf. Acts 17:28) has annulled in himself the production of what is imbalanced and disunited: as I have said, he does not bear within him, like male and female, the opposing dispositions of such passions. In this way, the intelligence is not enslaved by the passions and made subject to their fickleness. Naturally endowed with the holiness of the divine image, the intelligence urges the soul to conform itself by its own free choice to the divine likeness, in this way the soul is able to participate in the great kingdom that exists in a substantive manner in God, the Father of all, and to become a translucent abode of the Holy Spirit, receiving – if it may be expressed in this way – the whole authority of the knowledge of the divine nature in so far as this is possible. Where this authority prevails, the production of what is inferior automatically comes to an end and only what is superior is generated; for the soul that through the grace of its calling resembles God keeps inviolate within itself the Substance of the blessings bestowed upon it. In souls such as this Christ always desires to be born in a mystical way, becoming incarnate in those who attain salvation, and making the soul that gives birth to Him a Virgin Mother; for such a soul, to put it briefly, is not conditioned by categories like those of male and female that typify a nature subject to generation and corruption.
Let no one be shocked to hear me speak of the corruption that is inherent in generation. For when one has justly and dispassionately examined the nature of what comes into being and ceases to be, one will clearly see that generation begins with corruption and ends in corruption. Christ, and the Christ-like way of life and understanding, as I have said, are free of the passions characteristic of such generation. At least, this is the case if St Paul was speaking the truth when he said that in Christ Jesus “there is neither male nor female’ (Gal. 3:28), meaning by these terms the characteristics and passions of a nature subject to generation and corruption. For in Christ and the Christ-like way of life there is only a deiform understanding imbued with divine knowledge, and a single disposition of will and purpose that chooses only virtue.
Moreover, in Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew (cf. Gal. 3:28). By this is meant differing or, rather, contrary views about God. The Greek affirms a host of ruling principles and divides the one fundamental principle into opposing operations and powers, devising a polytheistic worship full of contradictions because of the multitude of objects to be venerated, and ridiculous because of its many modes of veneration. The Jew affirms a fundamental principle which, although one, is narrow, imperfect and almost non-existent, since it is devoid of immanent consciousness and life; and so he falls into an evil which is just as bad as that into which the Greek falls for the opposite reason, namely disbelief in the true God. For he limits the fundamental principle to a single Person, one that exists without Logos and Spirit, or that merely possesses Logos and Spirit as qualities; for he fails to realize what kind of God this would be if deprived of these two other Persons, or how He could be God if assigned them as accidents by participation, as is the case with created intelligent beings. Neither Greek nor Jew, then, has any place at all in Christ. In Him there is only the principle of true religion and the steadfast law of mystical theology, that rejects both the dilatation of the Divinity, as in Greek polytheism, and the contraction of the Divinity, as in Jewish
monotheism. In this way the Divine is not full of internal contradictions, as it is with the Greeks, because of a natural plurality, nor is it regarded as passible, as it is by the Jews, because of being a single Person, deprived of Logos and Spirit, or only possessing Logos and Spirit as qualities, without itself being Intellect and Logos and Spirit.
Mystical theology teaches us, who through faith have been adopted by grace and brought to the knowledge of truth, to recognize one nature and power of the Divinity, that is to say, one God contemplated in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It teaches us to know God as a single unoriginate Intellect, self-existent, the begetter of a single, self-existent, unoriginate Logos, and the source of a single everlasting life, self-existent as the Holy Spirit: a Trinity in Unity and a Unity in Trinity. The Divinity is not one thing in another thing: the Trinity is not in the Unity like an accident in a substance or vice versa, for God is without qualities. The Divinity is not one thing and another thing: the Unity does not differ from the Trinity by distinction of nature; the nature is simple and single in both. Nor in the Divinity is one thing dependent on or prior to another: the Trinity is not distinguished from the Unity, or the Unity from the Trinity, by inferiority of power; nor is the Unity distinguished from the Trinity as something common and general abstracted in a purely conceptual manner from the particulars in which it occurs: it is a substantively self-subsistent essence and a truly self-consolidating power. Nor in the Divinity has one thing come into being through another: there is within it no such mediating relationship as that of cause and effect, since it is altogether identical with itself and free from relationships. Nor in the Divinity is one thing derived from another: the Trinity does not derive from the Unity, since it is ungenerated and self-manifested. On the contrary, the Unity and the Trinity are both affirmed and conceived as truly one and the same, the first denoting the principle of essence, the second the mode of existence. The whole is the single Unity, not divided by the Persons; and the whole is also the single Trinity, the Persons of which are not confused by the Unity. Thus polytheism is not introduced by division of the Unity or disbelief in the true God by confusion of the Persons.
When Christian doctrine avoids these errors it achieves a genuine splendor. By Christian doctrine I mean the teaching of Christ, the new proclamation of truth in which there is neither male nor female, that is, the signs and passions of human nature when subject to birth and decay; neither Greek nor Jew, that is, contrary views of the Divinity; neither uncircumcision nor circumcision (cf. Col. 3:11), that is, the different kinds of worship appropriate to these views, the first divinizing nature because of the passions and setting the creature against the Creator, and the second because of its misuse of symbols of the Law vilifying visible creation and slandering the Creator as the source of evil. Both constitute equally an insult to the Divine and lead equally to evil. Neither in Christian doctrine is there barbarian or Scythian, that is, the deliberate fragmentation of the single nature of human beings which has made them subject to the unnatural law of mutual slaughter; neither is there bond or free, that is, the fortuitous division of this same nature which leads to one person despising another although both are by nature of an equal dignity, and which encourages men to dominate others tyrannically, thus violating the divine image in man. ‘But Christ is all and in all’ (Col. 3:11), in spirit fashioning the unoriginate kingdom by means of that which lies beyond nature and law.
This kingdom is characterized, as we have shown, by humility and gentleness of heart. It is the combination of these two qualities that constitutes the perfection of the person-created according to Christ. For every humbler person is invariably gentle and every gentle person is invariably humble. A person is humble when he knows that his very being is on loan to him. He is gentle when he realizes how to use the powers given to him in a manner that accords with nature and, withdrawing their activity completely from the senses, places them at the service of the intelligence in order to produce the virtues. In this way his intellect moves incessantly towards God, while where his senses are concerned he is not in the least perturbed by any of the things that afflict the body, nor does he stamp his soul with any trace of distress, thereby disrupting his joy-creative state. For he does not regard what is painful in the senses as a privation of pleasure: He knows only one pleasure, the marriage of the soul with the Logos. To be deprived of this marriage is endless torment, extending by nature through all the ages. Thus when he has left the body and all that pertains to it, he is impelled towards union with the divine; for even if he were to be master of the whole world, he would still recognize only one real disaster: failure to attain by grace the deification for which he is hoping.
Let us, then, ‘cleanse ourselves from all pollution of the flesh and spirit’ (2 Cor. 7:1), so that when we have extinguished our sensual desire, which indecently wantons with the passions, we may hallow the divine name. And with our intelligence let us bind fast our anger, deranged and frenzied by sensual pleasure, so that we may receive the kingdom of God the Father, that comes to us through gentleness.
Having done all this, we may go on to the next phrase of the prayer, saying, ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matt. 6:10). He who worships God mystically with the faculty of the intelligence alone, keeping it free from sensual desire and anger, fulfils the divine will on earth just as the orders of angels fulfill it in heaven. He has become in all things a co-worshipper and fellow-citizen with the angels, conforming to St Paul’s statement, ‘Our citizenship is in heaven’ (Phil. 3:20). Among the angels desire does not sap the intellect’s intensity through sensual pleasure, nor does anger make them rave and storm indecently at their fellow creatures: there is only the intelligence naturally leading intelligent beings towards the source of intelligence, the Logos Himself. God rejoices in intelligence alone and this is what He demands from us His servants. He reveals this when He says to David, ‘What have I in heaven, and besides yourself what have I desired on earth?’ (Ps. 73:25. LXX). Nothing is offered to God in heaven by the holy angels except intelligent 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’ (Matt. 6:10).
Let our intelligence, then, be moved to seek God, let our desire be roused in longing for Him, and let our incensive power struggle to keep guard over our attachment to Him. Or, more precisely, let our whole intellect be directed towards God, tensed by our incensive power as if by some nerve, and fired with longing by our desire at its most ardent. For if we imitate the heavenly angels in this way, we will find ourselves always worshipping God, behaving on earth as the angels do in heaven. For, like that of the angels, our intellect will not be attracted in the least by anything less than God.
If we live in the way we have promised, we will receive, as daily and life-giving bread for the nourishment of our souls and the maintenance of the good state with which we have .been blessed, the Logos Himself; for if was He who said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven and gives life to the world’, (cf. John 6:33-35). In proportion to our capacity the Logos will become everything for us who are nourished through virtue and wisdom; and in accordance with His own judgment He will be embodied differently in each recipient of salvation while we are still living in this age. This is indicated in the phrase of the prayer which says, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ (Matt. 6:11).
I believe that the expression ‘this day’ refers to the present age. It is as if one should say, after a clearer understanding of the context of the prayer, ‘Since we are in this present mortal life, give us this day our daily bread which Thou hast originally prepared for human nature so that it might become immortal (cf. Gen. 1:9); for in this way the food of the bread of life and knowledge will triumph over the death that comes through sin.’ The transgression of the divine commandment prevented the first man from partaking of this bread (cf. Gen. 3:19). Indeed, had he taken his fill of this divine food, he would not have been made subject to death through sin.
He who prays to receive this daily bread, however, does not automatically receive it all as it is in itself: he receives it in accordance with his receptive capacity. For the Bread of Life in His love gives Himself to all who ask, but He does not give to all in the same way. He gives liberally to those who have done great things, and more sparingly to those who have achieved less. Thus He gives to each person in accordance with the receptive capacity of his or her intellect.
The Savior Himself has led me to this interpretation of the phrase we are considering, because He commands His disciples explicitly not to take any thought at all for sensible food saying, ‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will put on. For the heathen seek all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things as well will be given to you’ (Matt. 6:25, 32, 33). How then can it be that He teaches us to pray for what He commands us not to seek? Obviously He does not order us to do anything of the kind: we should ask in prayer only for things that we are commanded to seek. If the Savior commanded us to seek only the kingdom of God and righteousness, then surely He intended those who desire divine gifts to ask for this kingdom in their prayers, in this way, by showing what petitions are blessed by His grace. He conjoins the intention of those who ask with the will of Him who bestows the grace.
If, however, we also take this clause to mean we should pray for the daily bread that sustains our present life, let us be careful not to overstep the bounds of the prayer, presumptuously assuming that we will live for many cycles of years and forgetting that we are mortal and that our life passes by like a shadow; but
free from anxiety let us pray for bread sufficient for one day at a time, thus showing that as Christian philosophers we make life a rehearsal for death, in our purpose anticipating nature and, even before death comes, cutting off the soul’s anxiety about bodily things. In this way the soul will not transfer its natural appetite to material things, attaching itself to what is corruptible, and will not learn the greed that deprives it of a rich possession of divine blessings.
Let us therefore shun the love of matter and our attachment to matter with all the strength we have, as if washing dust from our spiritual eyes; and let us be satisfied simply with what sustains our present life, not with what pampers it. Let us pray to God for (his, as we have been taught, so that we may keep our souls unenslaved and absolutely free from domination by any of the visible things loved for the sake of the body. Let us show that we eat for the sake of living, and not be guilty of living for the sake of eating. The first is a sign of intelligence, the second proof of its absence. And let us be exact in the way we observe this prayer, thereby showing through our actions that we cleave fast to the one life lived in the spirit alone, and that we use our present life to acquire this spiritual life. We use it, that is to say, only in so far as we do not refuse to sustain our body with bread and to keep it as far as possible in its natural state of good health, our aim being not just to live but to live for God. For we make the body, rendered intelligent by the virtues, a messenger of the soul, and the soul, once it is firmly established in the good, a herald of God; and on the natural plane we restrict our prayer for this bread to one day only, not daring to extend our petition for it to a second day because of Him who gave us the prayer. When we have thus conformed ourselves to the sense of the prayer, we can proceed, in purity to the next petition, saying, ‘And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’ (Matt. 6:12).
According to the first interpretation proposed for the preceding section of the prayer, the words ‘this day’ symbolize the present age; and the person who prays in this age for the incorruptible bread of wisdom, from which we were cutoff by the original transgression, delights in one thing only: the attainment of divine blessings. It is God who by nature bestows these blessings, but it is the recipient’s free will that safeguards them. Similarly, such a person knows only one pain: the failure to attain these blessings. It is the devil who prompts this failure, but it is the person himself who makes it an actuality, because of his weakness of will with regard to the divine, and because he does not hold fast to the precious gift for which he has prayed. But if someone is not in the least concerned with anything in the visible world, and consequently is not overcome by any bodily affliction, then such a person truly and dispassionately forgives those who sin against him; for no one can rob him of the good to which he aspires and which by nature is unassailable.
A person of this land makes himself a pattern of virtue for God, if it may be put in this way; for by saying ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’, he exhorts God, who is beyond imitation, to come and imitate him; and he begs God to treat him as he himself has treated his neighbors. For he wishes to be forgiven by God as he himself has forgiven the debts of those who have sinned against him; hence, just as God dispassionately forgives His creatures, so such a person must himself remain dispassionate in the face of what happens to him and forgive those who offend him. He must not allow the memory of things that afflict him to be stamped on his intellect lest he inwardly sunders human nature by separating himself from some other man, although he is a man himself. When a man’s will is in union with; the principle of nature in this way, God and nature are naturally reconciled; but, failing such a union, our nature remains self-divided in its will and cannot receive God’s gift of Himself.
This surely is why God wishes us first to be reconciled with one another. He Himself has no need to learn from us how to be reconciled with sinners and to waive the penalty for a multitude of atrocious crimes; but He wishes to purify us of our passions and show us that the measure of grace conferred on those who are forgiven corresponds to their inward state. It is evident that when man’s will is in union with the principle of nature, he is not in a state of rebellion against God. Since the principle of nature is a law both natural and divine, and there is nothing in it contrary to the Logos, when a man’s will functions in accordance with this principle it accords with God in all things. Such a condition of the will is an inner state actively characterized by the grace of what is good by nature and hence productive of virtue.
This, then, is the inner state of the man who prays for Gnostic bread. After him comes the man who, constrained by nature, seeks ordinary bread, but sufficient for one day only. He will attain the same inner state as the first when he has forgiven his debtors their debts, as he knows that he is by nature mortal. Moreover, by accepting the uncertainty of the future and waiting each day for what is provided by nature, he anticipates nature, choosing to become dead to the world and to comply with the text, ‘For Thy sake we are put to death all the day long; we are regarded as sheep for slaughtering’ (Ps. 44:22; Rom. 8:36). He makes his peace with all in order to be free from all the depravities of this present age when he departs to eternal life, and to receive from the Judge and Savior of the universe a just recompense for what he has done in this life. Both these kinds of men, therefore, need to exhibit a pure disposition towards those who have offended them. This is true in general; but it has particular reference to the concluding words of the prayer: ‘And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from what is evil’ (Matt. 6:13).
Scripture reveals in these words that he who has not completely forgiven those who stumble, and has not brought his heart to God free from grievance and illuminated with the light of reconciliation with his neighbor, will fail to attain the grace of the blessings he has prayed for. Indeed, he will justly be handed over to temptation and to evil, so that, having retracted his judgments of other people, he may learn to purify himself of his own sins. Scripture here means by temptation the law of sin, of which the first man was free when he was created. And by ‘what is evil’ it means the devil, who has mixed this law of sin with human nature, deceitfully persuading man to transfer his soul’s desire from what is permitted to what is forbidden, and to turn aside to the transgression of the divine commandment. The result of this is the loss of the incorruptibility which had been given by grace.
Alternatively, by temptation Scripture means the soul’s predilection for the passions of the flesh; and by ‘what is evil’ the actual way in which this impassioned proclivity is satisfied. The just Judge does not liberate a man from either of these if he has not forgiven his debtors their debts. So long as he prays merely in words for liberation, God. allows him to be defiled by the law of sin; and so long as his will is stubborn and raw, He abandons him to the domination of evil; for he has chosen the shameful passions (cf. Rom. 1:26), of which the devil is the sower, in preference to nature, of which God is the creator. God leaves him free to incline, if he so wishes, towards the passions of the-flesh, and actually to satisfy that inclination. Valuing the insubstantial passions more highly than nature, in his concern for these passions he has become ignorant of the principle of nature. Had he followed that principle, he would have known what constitutes the law of nature and what the tyranny of the passions – a tyranny brought about, not by nature, but by deliberate choice. He would then have accepted the law of nature that is maintained through activities which are natural; and he would have expelled the tyranny of the passions completely from his will. He would have obeyed nature with his intelligence, for nature in itself is pure and undefiled, faultless, free from hatred and alienation, and he would have made his will once more a companion to nature, totally stripped of everything not bestowed by the principle of nature. In this way he would have eradicated all hatred for and all alienation from what is by nature akin to him, so that when saying this prayer he would be heard and would receive from God a double rather than a single grace: forgiveness for offences already committed, and protection and deliverance from those which lie in the future. For he would not be allowed to enter into temptation and to fall into the power of evil for one simple reason: his readiness to forgive his neighbors their debts.
Thus – to go back a little and comment briefly on what has been said – if we really wish to be delivered from evil and not to enter into temptation, we should trust in God and forgive our debtors their debts. ‘For if you do not forgive people their sins’, says Scripture, ‘your heavenly Father will not forgive you yours’ (Matt. 6:15). We should do this not only to receive forgiveness for the offences we have committed, but also to defeat the law of sin -because then we would not be allowed to undergo the experience of being tempted by it – and to trample on the originator of this law, the evil serpent from whom we entreat God to deliver us. For Christ, who has overcome the world (cf. John 16:33), is our leader. He arms us with the laws of the commandments, and by enabling us to reject the passions He unites us in pure love with nature itself. Being the bread of life, of wisdom, spiritual knowledge and righteousness, He arouses in us an insatiable desire for Himself. If we fulfill His Father’s will He makes us co-worshippers with the angels, when in our conduct we imitate them as we should and so conform to the heavenly state. Then He leads us up still further on the supreme ascent of divine truth to the Father of lights, and makes us share in the divine nature
(cf. 2 Pet. 1:4) through participation by grace in the Holy Spirit. By virtue of this participation we are called children of God and, cleansed from all stain, in a manner beyond circumscription, we all encircle Him who is the author of this grace and by nature the Son of the Father. From Him, through Him and in Him we have and always will have our being, our movement and our life (cf. Acts 17:28).
When we pray, let our aim be this mystery of deification, which shows us what we were once like and what the self emptying of the only-begotten Son through the flesh has now made us; which shows us, that is, the depths to which we were dragged down by the weight of sin, and the heights to which we have been raised by His compassionate hand. In this way we shall come to have greater love for Him who has prepared this salvation for us with such wisdom. Bringing the prayer to fulfillment through our actions, we shall manifestly proclaim God as our true Father, by grace. We shall show that the evil one, who is always tyrannically attempting to gain control of our nature through the shameful passions, is not the father of our life, and that we are not unwittingly exchanging life for death. For both God and the devil naturally impart their qualities to those who approach either of them: God bestows eternal life on those who love Him, while the devil, operating through temptations that we subject to our volition, causes the death of his followers.
For according to Scripture there are two kinds of temptation, one pleasurable, the other painful. One is the result of deliberate choice; the other is unsought. The first kind generates sin. We have been commanded by the Lord’s teaching to pray not to fall into this, for He says, ‘Lead us not into temptation’ (Matt. 6:13), and ‘Watch and pray so that you do not enter into temptation’ (Matt. 26:41). The other kind of temptation punishes sin, chastising a sin loving disposition with sufferings that are unsought. To the person who endures this kind of temptation – which comes in the form of a trial – and who in particular is not riveted to evil, the words of the apostle James may be applied: ‘My brethren, regard it as a great joy whenever you find yourselves beset by many trials; because the testing of your faith produces patient endurance; this endurance shapes the character; and the character thus shaped should be brought to fruition’ (cf. Jas. 1:2-4; Rom. 5:4). The evil one works his malice both through the temptation that is subject to our volition and through the trial that comes unsought. Where the first is concerned, by sowing the soul with bodily pleasures and by exciting it in this manner, he contrives to divert its desire away from divine love. Where the trial is concerned, in his wish to destroy nature through pain, he cunningly tries to force the soul, enervated by its sufferings, to calumniate and abuse the Creator.
But, knowing the wiles of the evil one, let us pray for deliverance from the temptations subject to our volition, so that we do not defied our desire from divine love; and let us bravely endure the trials that come unsought, since they visit us with God’s consent and by enduring them we show that we have not put nature before the Creator of nature. May all of us who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ be delivered from the present delights and the future afflictions of the evil one by participating in the reality of the blessings held in store and already revealed to us in Christ our Lord Himself, who alone with the Father and the Holy Spirit is praised by all creation. Amen.
+ St. Maximos the Confessor +