Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What does it mean when we say, “Our Father Who Art In Heaven”? - Part II

More commentary on Saint Gregory of Nyssa’s Second Discourse on the Lord’s Prayer.

“Our Father who art in Heaven” reminds us of the “homeland from which we have fallen,” says Saint Gregory of Nyssa. What is this “homeland” he is referring to? He is reminding us that our true homeland is “Heaven,” the place where your “Father” lives. Do you call home “Heaven”? Once you accept this idea of “home” then think about how far we have fallen to find ourselves in this existence here on earth where death, strife and suffering abound. It is the appreciation of this gap between our life in exile here on earth compared to our true home in Heaven that is essential to have in mind to properly recite the Lord’s Prayer with sincerity.

Saint Gregory uses the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 to emphasize this point. In in this story the departure of the young son from his father’s home is like our fall from heaven. He leaves a abundant life with his father only to find himself in utter despair deprived of all his homeland freely provided for him. Saint Gregory most importantly points out that he is not brought back to his homeland, back to his original prosperity, until he acquires a consciousness of his dire misfortune. To return the son had to awaken to his desperate situation and express his regret. Before he was accepted in return the son offered this prayer, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” With this expression of regret he was welcomed back with open arms back into his homeland. The key was his confession and recognition of his fallen condition. In return the father gave him a new robe symbolizing the first robe that man lost due to his disobedience when he ate the forbidden fruit and become aware of his nakedness. He was also given a ring with a carved stone which signifies the regaining of the divine image. And, he was given shoes to symbolically protect his heel from the bite of poisonous snakes symbolizing the attacks from the devil on our weak points. We must recognize that we are living at a great distance from our true homeland. We need to express our regret that we have deviated so far from what God has naturally given us. With faith and sincere confession, we too will be welcomed back like the prodigal son. Calling on "Our Father Who Art in Heaven" is a recognition of the place of our true home in Heaven, the kinship with have with our God, and our desire to return home.

Children of God
Scripture says, “To whoever received Him, He gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). By calling God our “Father” we imply that we have committed ourselves to the way of perfection, to become a likeness in His image through goodness. Similarly He points out, if we retain evil traits such as envy, hate, slander, conceit, greed, and desire for glory, the father we call to will be one who has kinship to these traits. And who has kinship with these traits? Saint Gregory writes, “The prayer of a evil person, as long as the evil remains in him, is an invocation of the Devil.”

Saint Gregory points out that the path we are assumed to be on when we recite this prayer is one that leads us back to paradise and our attainment of a likeness with God to become “just, holy, good and the like.” This is not a physical path whose distance we can measure, but a spiritual one based on the simple act of free choice. He says, “Because no physical labor is necessary to make the choice of what is good–and free choice can be followed by success in whatever one chooses–it is possible for you to occupy heaven immediately upon putting God into your mind.” It is a life of virtue, living God’s commandments, following the direction of “Our Father Who art in Heaven.”

So, to approach God and say “Our Father Who art in Heaven” we must first examine our way of life. We need to examine it to make sure it embodies the qualities worthy of divine kinship. We need to fully recognize the nature of our true homeland and how far we have fallen. We must have a contrite heart and regret about our present condition. Only then can we call upon God as “Our Father.”

More on prayer

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