With the phrase, “hallowed be thy name,” we move into the first petition of the Our Father. Exiting from the descriptive, indicative mood, where we declare God to be in the heavens, we now enter the imperative. Why should we demand that God’s name be sanctified? Isn’t that a given? Then why don’t we just say “holy is your name” in the same declarative spirit as the beginning of the prayer?
The Fathers approach to this phrase sheds some light on this strange injunction. The objective holiness of God’s name is not in doubt. St. John Chrysostom writes, “For his own glory he has completed and ever continuing the same.” (Homily on Matthew 19.7) He goes on to say this petition is an imperative directed at us: “He commands him who prays to seek that He may be glorified also by our life.” (ibid.) Sanctifying the Lord’s name is a petition that demands our Holiness, not adding anything to the glory of his divinity.
St. Gregory of Nyssa describes someone who sanctifies the Lord’s name with this lovely image: “He touches the earth but lightly with the tip of his toes, for he is not engulfed by the pleasurable enjoyments of this life, but is above all deceit that comes by the senses.” (Sermon 3)
The Divine Liturgy helps us to walk with light feet upon the Earth and respond appropriately to this petition. In preparation for the Eucharist, we sing the Cherubic Hymn as the priest presents the gifts, where we sing “now lay aside all earthly cares.” After this moment, we are able to join with the angels the triumphant “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Angels are beings shot through with the praise of God; they exist solely for this purpose. For this reason, Gregory of Nyssa, in line with the larger patristic tradition, describes the life of someone who sanctifies the Lord’s name as the “angelic way of life.” “For,” he writes, “man can glorify God in no other way save by his virtue which bears witness that the Divine Power is the cause of his Goodness.” (Sermon 3).
The Fathers make this explicit here. Sanctifying the Lord’s name means self-control, an aversion to lust and the opposition to the fortitude to the assaults of the passions. In short, it’s a life of moderation and freedom from sin. If we need help with fulfilling this petition, there is help: It’s called confession.
Every soul that shows forth the Goodness of God, is a sign that there is a little bit more of the Kingdom of God realized here and now on earth. By making our attempt to fulfill this command “Hallowed be thy name,” secure a place in the world for the second petition “thy kingdom come.”
Originally appeared in Horizons, The Official Newspaper of the Eparchy of Parma