Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Lord, Our God, You have granted mortals remission of sins through repentance, and as an example of awareness and confession of our sins, You have given us the repentance through forgiveness of the prophet David. Will You, Master, in Your great goodness, show mercy to us, for we have fallen into many and grievous sins, and in Your great compassion wife away our offenses. For it is You, Lord, we have offended, Who knows what lies hidden in the secret hearts of men, and Who alone has authority to remit sins. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 50). Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, do not turn us away from Your presence, but as a good and loving God, grant that our last breath we may offer You a sacrifice of righteousness, and an oblation at Your Holy Altar. Through the mercy, compassion and love for mankind of Your Only-Begotten Son, with Whom You are blessed, together with Your all-holy, good and life-creating Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
(Adapted from the Translation by Narthex Press of the 12 Orthros Prayers)
There are twelve prayers that a priest offers during the Orthros (Matins) service which are never heard aloud. Each has a theme that sets the tone for the day. I don’t think there is anything wrong with me sharing these prayers or for anyone to pray them. I enjoy sharing thoughts about faith and about Christ each day, as well as giving you occasional insights into the priesthood. I hope the reflections on these prayers will give all of us something to think and add to our spiritual journeys. I’m changing the format of the Prayer Team for these reflections—both the scripture verse and the prayer will precede the reflection for this unit.
Psalm 50/51 references the “secret heart.” It asks God to “teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” (Psalm 51:6) Each of us has a secret heart. A place where our deepest pains are, our darkest secrets, our greatest fears. Even the most open of people who freely share their feelings, I believe, have secret places that even they won’t share. We might share the surface of those feelings, but their deepest depths remain hidden.
In the Old Testament, David was a child-hero who defeated a giant named Goliath. David became king of the Israelites. He was a husband and father. He had friends. And he had sins, some serious ones. He desired to have a woman named Bathsheba, who was not his wife. He committed adultery with her. He then sent her husband, Uriah, one of his soldiers, and one of his friends, to the front lines of the battle, where he knew Uriah would be killed. And Uriah was killed.
A prophet named Nathan was sent by God to David. He told David the story of a poor man who had one ewe lamb. That was all he had. And a rich man who had flocks and herds. A traveler asked the rich man for one of his lambs to eat. Instead of taking from his riches, the rich man took the one lamb of the poor man and killed it for the traveler. When Nathan asked David what should happen to that rich man, David said that the man deserved to die. Nathan said to David, “You are that man.” Because of what David had done to Uriah and Bathsheba.
That is when David realized, in his secret heart, the depths of his sin. What was he going to now? Tell his subjects, tell his soldiers, tell his family? And even if they all knew, how could David ever feel whole again? David realized that the only way his secret heart could feel healed was through the mercy of God. David wrote most of the Psalms, and Psalm 50/51 was written in response to Nathan’s condemnation of what he had done. David asked not only for wisdom in his secret heart, but he asked God to create in Him a clean heart and put in him a renewed spirit. He asked God to restore to him the joy of God’s salvation.
Prayer number ten references Psalm 50, and David’s prayer of repentance. There isn’t a day when we don’t sin. There isn’t a day when we won’t struggle with our secret heart. That’s why this is another beautiful and powerful prayer to offer. We are hopefully not going to sin as gravely as David did. Many of us think, “Well, I’ve never killed anyone,” or “I’ve never cheated on my spouse.” And those two things may very well be true. But we’ve all killed the self-esteem of someone else—that is called gossip. And we’ve all been unfaithful, not in the sexual sense, but in the sense of not being as checked in as we should to our families, our friends, our surroundings, strangers and even ourselves. That’s why this prayer is relevant to all of us. We’ve all fallen into sin. We all need God’s compassion. We know that only God has the authority to remit sins. And we know that only God can create the clean heart in us, and give light to the darkness of our secret hearts.
Finally, the desire for a clean heart and for the comforting of our secret heart is not something we can do one time for all time. This is why we should offer this prayer, as well as Psalm 51 often, because the cycle of sin is ongoing, and thus the cycle of God’s mercy, forgiveness and recreating our hearts must be ongoing as well.
Encouragement for today: Pray Psalm 51, and ask God to come into your secret heart.
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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