Saint Maximos the Confessor on The

Lord’s Prayer

 St Maximos the ConfessorПреподобный Максим ИсповедникΜαξίμου του Ομολογητού

 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;