Welcome to St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Blog! Here we will be posting articles to help us explore the treasures of the Eastern Catholic experience, with hopes to draw our readers nearer to the living God.
The following is the first in a series on the Our Father that explores the Lord’s Prayer in light of commentary from the Fathers of the Church. They are written by our parish priest, Fr. Andrew Summerson, S.Th.D. originally for our Eparchial newspaper, Horizons.
Our Father who art in heaven. In this brief phrase, we are taken to the heart of God’s identity. Gregory of Nyssa compares this short petition to the revelation of God to Moses on Mount Sinai. There, on the mountaintop, God revealed himself covered in darkness and smoking with fire. In this opening evocation we get a clearer picture of God than Moses himself could ever dream of: “He leads us not to a mountain but to heaven itself…he does not hide the supernatural glory in darkness, making it difficult for those who want to contemplate it; but He illumines the darkness by the brilliant light of His teaching and then grants the pure of heart the vision of the ineffable glory in shining splendor” (Our Father, Sermon 2).
Along with the privilege of knowing God’s true identity as the Father, the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer reveals our identity to us. We are sons of God. This is an absolutely novel teaching to the New Testament. Origen, the most learned man of the ancient Church, remarks that no prayer addresses God as Father in the Old Testament. Any depiction of God as Father in the Old Testament speaks of our Sonship in terms of possession as property, similar to slavery (On Prayer 22, cf. Dt 32:18-20).
The apostle Paul confirms Origen’s view. “I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe.” (Gal 4:1-3). We were slaves until the “fullness of time had come,” That is the coming of Jesus Christ, where we receive adoption as sons not the “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:15).
The terms of being sons of God the Father are specific, it means conforming our lives to His only Begotten-Son Jesus Christ, creating in us an ever-more perfect sonship. For this reason, Origen exhorts us not to pray the Our Father half heartedly, for “every thought, word, and deed of theirs, formed by the Only-Begotten Word after Himself, reproduces the image of the invisible God…the saints, being the image of an image, and that image of the Son, take the impression of sonship.”
Elsewhere Maximus the Confessor urges us to this moral perfection “We sanctify his name on earth in taking after him as a Father, in showing ourselves by our actions to be his children, and in extolling by our thoughts and our acts the Father’s Son by nature, who is the one who brings about this adoption.” (Commentary on the Our Father, 4).
Prayer helps form this sonship in us. Gregory of Nyssa compares this prayer to the parable of the prodigal son, just as the Son is clothed anew with sonship: A robe, a ring, and new sandals, this prayer is an experience of God the Father’s loving kindness, clothing us with divine sonship and reminding us of our heavenly fatherland. (cf. Our Father, sermon 2).