Those who entreat Your lovingkindness; those who love us and those who hate us; those who have asked us to pray for them, unworthy though we may be.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 34)
Jesus said “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and one the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Christ is Risen!
We are having problems in our office with our internet connection. Because of drop boxes not syncing, today’s prayer is out of sequence. Today’s was supposed to be “remember the afflicted,” but instead that will appear tomorrow. Sorry for any confusion.
There were some pretty harsh rules in the Old Testament Law. In Leviticus 24:19-20, we read “When a man causes a disfigurement in his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has disfigured a man, he shall be disfigured.” The Old Testament Mosaic Law brought order where there was chaos, and with that order a strictness and rigidity.
When Jesus began His ministry, His goal was to supersede the Law. His goal was not to bring back chaos, but to move the people to a new way of thinking and acting, a way that followed love, mercy, and compassion, rather than justice and punishment. In Matthew 5:43-45, which was part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said many things that were truly revolutionary for their time. He said “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” In Luke 6:32, He said “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” And in Luke 6:35, He said, “But love your enemies and doo good and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High.”
Perhaps the most humbling utterance of prayer is this part of the prayer of St. Basil. Having prayed for people at all stages of life, and for those who are afflicted, we arrive at a prayer for “those who love us and those who hate us”. (This petition also appears in the Compline services of the Orthodox Church, including the Small Compline that is read on a daily basis in the evenings, the Small Compline that is part of the Salutations to the Virgin Mary/Akathist Hymn during Great Lent, and the Great Compline which is offered during Great Lent.) To remember in prayer those whom we love is good. Imagine remembering those whom we dislike, I dare say, even those we hate, and those who we know hate us. Jesus set such an incredible example as He hung on the Cross and prayed for those who were killing Him. He asks us to pray for those who make life hard for us. As an experiment, pray for a month for the people who make your life the hardest. In many instances, prayer like this softens the heart of our enemy. Not in all instances though. However, in just about every instance, it softens our heart. When we stand in judgment before the Lord, we will answer for what is our hearts, not what is in the heart of anyone else. We can’t help it if some people “hate us,” but we can certainly help not hating in return.
The phrase “those who love us and those who hate us” is sandwiched in between two additional phrases. We pray for those who entreat God’s lovingkindness (and continue, even if they hate us). In essence, we pray for everyone who is praying, we are enjoining our prayers with theirs. We asked the saints to pray with us when we entreat the Lord, in other words we ask them to pray for us. We must, in return then, pray for one another.
The phrase continues with us remembering “those who have asked us to pray for them”. As we hear all three parts of this phrase of prayer, those who entreat God, our enemies, and those who have asked us to pray for them, we should be thinking of specific people. If I think of three people, and if everyone in church thinks of three people—one who needs help, one who is our enemy, and one who asked for prayer—there would literally be hundreds of people being lifted up in prayer. What an incredible thought!
The phrase concludes with a statement of humility, “unworthy though we may be.” This isn’t meant to temper the incredible thought we just shared about hundreds of people being lifted up in prayer. It is meant to remind us that this incredible privilege to prayer and incredible thought to lift up hundreds of names in prayer is made possible by the grace and blessing of God. Of course, no one is worthy of their own accord to approach the majesty of God. But God, in His love for us, allows us to come into dialogue with Him in prayer. He makes us worthy. He makes us worthy of His grace. In the midst of God’s grace and mercy towards us, it is certainly appropriate to extend that same grace and mercy to those who are our enemies.
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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