The Lord’s Prayer, Part I

Concerning Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven

Hallowed be thy name

They kingdom come

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

Concerning Prayer

Cyprian, On the Lord’s Prayer 2–3

2. The Gospel precepts, beloved brethren, are nothing other than divine teachings, foundations on which hope should be built, buttresses for strengthening faith, nourishment for cheering the heart, directions for guiding our journey, bulwarks for obtaining salvation. While these precepts instruct those who are learning the faith on earth, it leads them to heavenly kingdoms. There are many things God willed to be said and heard by means of his servants, the prophets. But how much greater are those things that the Son speaks, the Word of God who was in the prophets, bearing witness with his own voice. No longer is he commanding us to prepare the way for his coming, but he himself is coming and opening and showing us the way, so that we, who once were wandering reckless and blind in the shadow of death (Is. 9:2), have been illuminated by the light of grace, holding to the way of life, with the Lord as our leader and guide.

These are his beneficial admonitions and divine precepts by which he directs his people in the way of salvation. He also gave us a model for prayer, advising and instructing the purpose of our prayer. He who brought us to life also taught us to pray with the same kindness that he willed to give [us life]. . . .

For what can be a more spiritual prayer than what is given to us by Christ, by whom also the Holy Spirit was given to us? What request to the Father can be more truthful than what the Son delivered to us out of the very mouth of the one who is the truth (John 14:6)? . . .

3. When we make our prayer let the Father recognize the words of his own Son. May he who lives inside our heart be also in our voice, and, since we have an advocate with the Father for our sins (1 John 1:9), let us, as sinners petitioning on behalf of our sins, express the words of our advocate. For since he says that whatsoever we shall ask of the Father in his name (John 16:23b) he will give us, how much more effectually do we obtain what we ask in Christ’s name, if we ask for it using his own prayer?

Cyprian, The Lord’s Prayer 9

How great, dearest brethren, are the mysteries of the Lord’s Prayer, how many, how magnificent, gathered together in a few words, yet abundant in spiritual power. There is nothing whatever with regard to our pleading and our prayer omitted, nothing not contained in this summary of heavenly doctrine.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Sermon the Lord’s Prayer 1

On the relationship between prayer, doctrine, and good works

Our Lord, after having said: Go you, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, added: And teach them to observe all things I have commanded you (Matt. 28:19–20). He showed in this that, alongside the doctrine of religion and the right knowledge, we should endeavor to harmonize our lives with the Divine commandments. In addition to the words of the Creed, they added the prayer that our Lord taught to his disciples in short terms, because it contains the teaching for good works in a sufficient manner. Every prayer contains teaching of good works to any one who cares to think attentively of duty, because we wish our works to be that which we ask in our prayer that they should be. He who cares, therefore, for perfection and is anxious to do the things that are pleasing to God, will pay more attention to prayer than any other thing, and he who does not care for any virtue and is not anxious to do the things that are pleasing to God, it is clear that he will show also no interest in prayer. . . .

He made use of these short words as if to say that prayer does not consist so much in words as in good works, love and zeal for duty. Indeed, any one who is inclined to good works, all his life must needs be in prayer, which is seen in his choice of these good works. Prayer is by necessity connected with good works, because a thing that is not good to be looked for is not good to be prayed for. More wicked than death by stoning is death, which would come to us if we asked God to grant us things which contradict His commandments. He who offers such prayers incites God to wrath rather than to reconciliation and mercy. A true prayer consists in good works, in love of God, and diligence in the things that please Him. He who is intent on these things and whose mind contemplates them, prays without hindrance always, and at all times, whenever he does the things that please (God). To such a one invocations of prayers are always needful, because it is fitting for him who strives after good things to ask God to help him in these same things after which he is striving, in order that all his life might be in accordance with God's will.

Augustine, Sermon 58.12

Eternal and temporal petitions—we are to pray for them all everyday

So we see that the three earlier petitions—Hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done, as in heaven, also on earth—are forever. The four that follow, though, belong to this life. Give us today our daily bread—are we going to go on asking for our daily bread every day, when we arrive at that total satisfaction? Forgive us our debts—will we be saying that in that kingdom, when we will not have any debts? Bring us not into temptation—will we be able to say it then, when there will not be any temptation? Deliver us from evil—will we say it, when there will not be any to be delivered from?

So the latter four are necessary because of daily life, the former three because of eternal life. But let us ask for them all, so that we may reach that life; and here let us beg, in order not to be cut off from it. This prayer is to be said by you every day once you have been baptized. This Lord’s Prayer, you see, is said every day in the church at God’s altar, and the faithful hear it. So I am not afraid of our not remembering it very exactly. Even if some of you cannot keep hold of it very perfectly, you will keep hold of it by hearing it every day.

“Our Father, who art in heaven” 

Tertullian, On Prayer 2-3

2. The prayer begins with bearing witness to God and on the value of faith: Our Father who is in heaven. For we both pray to God and confessing the faith of which this mode of address is an indication. It is written: To them who believed in him he gave the power, that they should be called the sons of God (John 1:12). Although the Lord very often proclaimed God as a Father to us, he also declared that we are to call no one on earth “father” except the Father in heaven (Matt. 23:9). And so, by praying in this way we are obeying his instruction. Happy are they who recognize God as their Father! . . . However, when we say “Father” we are also naming God in a form of address which demonstrates both devotion (pietas) and power (potestas). Moreover, the Son is invoked in the Father, for he says, I and the Father are one (John 10:30). Nor is the mother, the church, neglected, since the mother is found within the Father and the Son, for the name of Father and Son find their meaning in her.

Cyprian, On the Lord’s Prayer 8, 11

Common prayer signifies the unity of the church

8. Before everything else, our teacher of peace and instructor of unity does not want prayers to be made alone and individually with the result that a person prays only for himself. For we don’t say, “My Father, which art in heaven,” nor “Give me this day my daily bread.” Nor should anyone ask that only his own debt be forgiven him, or that he alone may not be led into temptation or delivered from evil. Our prayer is public and common; and when we pray, we do not ask for the individual, but for the whole people, because we are all one people. The God of peace and the teacher of harmony, who taught unity, willed that everyone should pray in this way for all, just as he, himself, brought us all into one (cf. John 17:21).

We should live as children of the Father

11. So great is the mercy of the Lord, so abundant his condescension and goodness, that he desired that we should make our prayer in this manner in the sight of God, that we should address the Lord as “Father,” and that we should be considered sons of God, as Christ the son of God. . . . We should remember, therefore, dearest brethren, and realize that when we address God as our Father we should act as children of God, so that just as we have pleasure in having God as our Father, so he should have pleasure in us. Let us act as temples of God (1 Cor. 6:19), so that it may appear that God dwells in us. Let our conduct not fall away from the spirit; rather, we, who have begun to be spiritual and heavenly, should think and perform spiritual and heavenly things.

Gregory of Nyssa, The Lord’s Prayer

Jesus’ gives us a share of heavenly power

When our Lawgiver, the Lord Jesus Christ, brings us to divine grace, he does not do so at Mount Sinai covered with darkness and smoking with fire (cf. Ex. 19:16–19; Heb. 12:18–24). Nor does he strike fear into us by the meaningless sound of trumpets. He does not purify the soul by three days’ chastity and by water that washes away dirt (cf. Ex. 19:12–15). Nor does he leave the whole assembly (as Moses did) behind at the foot of the mountain (Ex. 19:23–24), allowing only one to make the ascent to its summit, which was hidden by a darkness completely concealing the glory of God.

Instead, he leads us, not to a mountain, but to heaven itself, which the Lord has rendered accessible to men by virtue. Furthermore, he gives us not merely visions of the divine power (cf. Eph 1:19), but a share in that power, bringing us, as it were, to kinship with the divine nature. He does not hide his supernal glory in darkness, making it difficult for those who want to perceive it. Rather, he illumines the darkness by the brilliant light of his teaching and then grants the pure of heart (cf. 5:8) the vision of his ineffable glory in shining splendor.

The prodigal returning to the Fatherland

Our Father who art in heaven. The words seem to indicate a deeper meaning, since they remind us of the fatherland from which we have fallen and of the noble birthright that we have lost. In the story of the young man who left his father’s home and went away to live after the manner of swine (Luke 15:15–16), the Word shows the misery of humanity in the form of a parable, which tells of the young man’s departure and dissolute life. And he does not bring him back to his former happiness until he has become fully conscious of his present plight and entered into himself, rehearsing words of repentance. Now these words agree, as it were, with the words of the prayer, for he said, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you (Luke 15:21). He would not have added to his confession the sin against heaven, if he had not been convinced that the country he had left when he sinned was not heaven. This confession, therefore, gave him easy access to the father who ran toward him and embraced and kissed him (Luke 15:20c). And thus, the return of the young man to his father’s home became to him the occasion to know the Father’s great love. For this paternal home is the heaven against which, as he says to his father, he has sinned.

In the same way, it seems that if the Lord is teaching us to call upon the Father in heaven, he wants to remind you of our beautiful fatherland. And by putting into your mind stronger things, he sets you on the path toward your original country.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Homily on the Lord’s Prayer 1

The freedom of the Spirit for children of the Father

Those who have received the Holy Spirit by whom they necessarily expect immortality, while still in this world, it is fitting that they should live in the Spirit, resign themselves to the Spirit and possess a mind worthy of the freedom of men led by the Holy Spirit, and that they should also flee from all the works of sin and acquire a conduct that is in harmony with the citizenship of the heavenly abode.

This is the reason why I do not teach you to say our Lord and our God, although it is evident that you ought to know that He is God, Lord and Maker of everything and of you also, and that it is He who will transfer you to the delight of these benefits. I order you to call Him our Father, so that when you have been made aware of your freedom and of the honor in which you have participated and the greatness which you have acquired—things by which you are called the sons of the Lord of all and your own Lord—you will act accordingly till the end. I do not wish you to say my Father but our Father, because He is a Father common to all in the same way as His grace, from which we received adoption of sons, is common to all. In this way you should not only offer congruous things to God, but you should also possess and keep fellowship with one another, because you are brothers and under the hand of one Father. |8 

I added who is in heaven, so that the figure of the life in heaven, to which it has been granted to you to be transferred, might be drawn before your eyes. When you have received the adoption of sons, you will dwell in heaven, and this abode is fit for the sons of God.

“Hallowed be they Name”

Tertullian, On Prayer 3

The name of God the Father had been revealed to no one, not even Moses, who had expressly asked concerning it, got his answer, but by another name (Ex. 3:14–15). But to us it has been revealed in the Son. For we know that the Son is the Father’s new name: I am come, he says, in the name of Father (John 5:43). And again, Father, glorify thy name (John 12:28). And,
more openly, I have manifested your name to people (John 17:6). It is that name we ask to be hallowed, not because it is fitting for people to wish God well—as though there were some other to whom such wishes could be made, or as though he would be in trouble unless we did so. Of course it is fitting for God to be blessed at every place and time, and by everyone, with a view to the remembrance of his benefits, which are always due. But this clause nonetheless serves the purpose of speaking well. Besides, when is the name of God not of itself holy and hallowed, since it is he of himself who hallows others? He is the one to whom the attendant angels do cease not to say, Holy, holy, holy (Is. 6:3). Therefore we also, should we prove worthy, are to put on angelic vesture, are here already learning that heavenly song to God and that task of future glory.

Cyprian, The Lord’s Prayer 12

We say [“Hallowed be thy name”] not wishing that God should be made holy by our prayers, but asking the Lord that his name should be hallowed in us. Indeed, how could God, who is himself the one who hallows, be hallowed? As he said himself, Be holy, as I too am holy (Lev. 20:7; 1 Pet. 1:16). We ask and beseech that we sho are made holy in baptism should have the ability to persist in the way we have begun. And we request this every day. Our need is of daily sanctification, so that we who daily fail should have our sins purged by continual hallowing. . . . He says that we have been hallowed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God and we in turn, because our master and judge warns the one who has been healed and revived by him to sin no more lest something worse should befall him (John 5:14), pray that this hallowing should remain within us.

“Thy Kingdom Come”

Origen, On Prayer 25.1

If, according to the word of our Lord and Savior, the Kingdom of God does not come with observable signs, . . . but rather the Kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:20–21), then it is clear that whoever prays for the coming of the kingdom of God rightly prays that the kingdom of God may be established, bear fruit, and be perfected in him. . . . Every saint who is ruled by God as his King and obedient to God’s spiritual laws, as it were, lives within himself as in a well-ordered city. The Father is present to him, and Christ reigns with the Father in the soul that is perfect according to the words that mentioned earlier: We will come to him and will make our dwelling (John 14:23). And I think that the kingdom of God may be understood as the blessed condition of the governing mind and the right ordering of wise thoughts. By the kingdom of Christ, the saving words reach those who hear, and the works of justice and the other virtues are accomplished. For the Son of God is himself the Word and Justice.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Homily on the Lord’s Prayer 1

It is fitting for those who have been called to the Kingdom of Heaven in the adoption of sons, and who expect to dwell in heaven with Christ (as the blessed Paul said, we shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord [1 Thess. 4:17])—to think of things that are worthy of that Kingdom, to do the things that are congruous with heavenly citizenship, to consider the earthly things small and believe them to be below their dignity to speak and think of them. No one who is so placed as to live in the court of a king, and is considered worthy to see him always and converse with him, will go and wander in the bazaars and inns and such like, but will have intercourse only with those who always frequent the places where he is. In this same way, we who are called to the Kingdom of Heaven, are not allowed to relinquish our fellowship with it or with the things that suit the citizenship therein, and busy ourselves with the commerce of this world in which there is much evil trading and unholy work.

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”

Tertullian, On Prayer

Next comes Thy will be done in heaven and on earth. This does not mean that anything is preventing God’s will from being accomplished, and that we are praying that he may succeed in carrying out his will. No, what we are asking is that his will be done in all things. Using a figurative interpretation of “flesh” and “spirit,” we ourselves are “earth” and “heaven.” Even if the verse should be understood in its plain sense, the point of the prayer is still the same: that his will be done in us on earth, as it is able to be done in heaven. What does God wish other than that we should walk according to his teaching? We pray, therefore, that he may provide us with the means and opportunity of doing his will, such that we may be saved both in heaven and on the earth. For the whole point of his will is the salvation of those whom he has adopted.

There is also the will of God that the Lord accomplished in preaching, and in the performing of works and in his perseverance. Since he declared that he was doing the will of the Father, not his own will (John 6:38)—without doubt the things he did were the Father’s will. By his example, we are now urged to preach, perform works, and persevere even unto death. This we can accomplish only through the will of God.

Origen, On Prayer 26.3

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We might ask how is the will of God done in heaven where there are spirits of wickedness (Eph 6:12), on whose account the sword of God will be stained with blood even in heaven (Isa 34:5)? If we pray that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven, are we not inadvisably praying that there remain on earth hostile spirits that dwell in the heavens? For many places of the earth become wicked because they are conquered by the spirits of wickedness that are in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).

But if we understand heaven allegorically and maintain that it stands for Christ and earth stands for the Church (for who is worthy to be the throne of the Father except Christ, and what can be compared to the Church as a footstool for the feet of God [cf. Isa 66:1]?), we will easily solve the difficulties raised here. We claim that each member of the Church should pray that he might accomplish the will of the Father and accomplish it perfectly (John 4:34). By being joined to him we can become one spirit with him (1 Cor. 6:17) and consequently accomplish the will of God so that it will be fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven. He who is joined to the Lord, according to Paul, is one spirit (1 Cor. 6:17). This interpretation, if considered carefully, cannot be easily dismissed.

And perhaps when our Savior says we should pray that the will of the Father be done on earth as it is in heaven, he is not telling us to pray that those physically on earth should become like those who are in heaven. Rather, by enjoining this prayer, the Lord wills that all beings on the earth, that is, those of the lower kind or earthly, should become like them whose citizenship is in heaven and have become fully all heavenly. For the sinner, wherever he may be, is on earth. If he does not repent, he will pass somehow to that which he is most alike. But he who does the will of God by obeying his saving and spiritual laws, is in heaven

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Homily on the Lord’s Prayer 1

[Concerning the petition, “thy will be done”.] This will happen if in this world we strive as much as possible to imitate the life which we shall live in heaven, because heaven contains nothing that is contrary to God, as sin will be abolished and the power of the demons will cease, and, in short, all things that fight against us will be destroyed. When all earthly things have ceased to exist, we shall rise from the dead and dwell in heaven in an immortal and immutable nature. We will do the will of God better than in anything else by wishing and acting as God wishes, and by thinking of things belonging to heaven, where there will be no power and no passion which will incite us against the will of God.

In this world we ought to persevere as much as possible in the will of God and not to will or do things that are against him. As we believe that the will of God reigns in heaven, so it should also hold sway in earth; and in the same way as it shall be in heaven, it is right for us not to do now the smallest act which by our will or our thought would contradict that will. This, however, is not possible as long as we are in our mortal and changeable nature, but we must turn our will away from the passions that are contrary (to the will of God) and not listen to them in any way, and do that which the blessed Paul commanded in saying: Be not conformed to this world, but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2). He does not command that passions should not beset us, but that we should not be conformed to things that will surely vanish with this world, and that the will of our soul should not be conformed to the ways of acting of this world.

Let us strive against all happenings whether painful or joyful, sublime or abject, in one word in any capacity high or low, which are capable more than others to lead us astray towards harmful thoughts and to divert our mind from good will, and let us be careful not to let our love fall on them, but let us strengthen our thoughts with daily improvements and cast away from us the injurious insinuations that come to us from the passions of this world, and bend our will day by day towards virtues, in our search for the things which are pleasing to God. We should only consider as unqualified good that which is pleasing to God, and endeavor in everything to spurn the pleasures of this world. We should also bear the tribulations that befall us, place the will of God before everything, and consider ourselves happy when we act thus, even if all the afflictions of this world should surround us. If we do not act in this way we shall be more wretched than all men, even if we are prosperous in all earthly things.