Early Church Fathers
Sermon IX. [LIX. Ben.]
Again, on the Lord's prayer, Matt. Vi. To the Competentes.
1. You have rehearsed what you believe, hear now what you are to pray for. Forasmuch as you would not be able to call on Him, in whom you should not first have believed; as saith the Apostle, "How shall they call on Him, in whom they have not believed?"1 Therefore have you first learned the Creed, where is a brief and sublime rule of your faith; brief in the number of its words, sublime in the weight of its contents.2 But the prayer which you receive to-day to be learned by heart, and to be repeated eight days hence, was dictated (as you heard when the Gospel was being read) by the Lord Himself to His disciples, and came from them unto us, since "their sound went into all the earth."3
2. Ye then who have found a Father in heaven, be loth to cleave to the things of earth. For ye are about to say, "Our Father, which art in heaven."4 You have begun to belong to a great family. Under this Father the lord and the slave are brethren; under this Father the general and the common soldier are brethren; under this Father the rich man and the poor are brethren. All Christian believers have divers fathers in earth, some noble, some obscure; but they all call upon one Father which is in heaven. If our Father be there, there is the inheritance prepared for us. But He is such a Father, that we can possess with Him what He giveth. For He giveth an inheritance; but He doth not leave it to us by dying. For He doth not depart Himself, but He abideth ever, that we may come to Him. Seeing then we have heard of Whom we are to ask, let us know also what to ask for, lest haply we offend such a Father by asking amiss.
3. What then hath the Lord Jesus Christ taught us to ask of the Father which is in heaven? "Hallowed be Thy Name."5 What kind of blessing is this that we ask of God, that His Name may be hallowed? The Name of God is always Holy; why then do we pray that it maybe hallowed, except that we may be hallowed by it? We pray then that that which is Holy always, may be hallowed in us. The Name of God is hallowed in you when ye are baptized. Why will ye offer this prayer after ye have been baptized, but that that which ye shall then receive may abide ever in you?
4. Another petition follows, "Thy kingdom come."6 God's kingdom will come, whether we ask it or not. Why then do we ask it, but that that which will come to all saints may also come to us; that God may count us also in the number of His saints, to whom His kingdom is to come?
5. We say in the third petition, "Thy will be done as in heaven, so in earth."7 What is this? That as the Angels serve Thee in heaven, so we may serve Thee in earth. For His holy Angelsobey Him; they do not offend Him; they do His commands through the love of Him. This we pray for then, that we too may do the commands of God in love. Again, these words are understood in another way, "Thy will be done asin heaven, so in earth." Heaven in us is the soul, earth in us is the body. What then is, "Thy will be done as in heaven, so in earth"? As we hear Thy precepts, so may our flesh consent unto us; lest, whilst flesh and spirit strive together, we be not able to fulfil the commands of God.
6. "Give us this day our daily bread,"8 comes next in the Prayer. Whether we ask here of the Father support9 necessary for the body, by "bread" signifying whatever is needful for us; or whether we understand that daily Bread, which ye are soon to receive from the Altar; well it is that we pray that He would give it us. For what is it we pray for, but that we may commit no evil, for which we should be separated from that holy Bread. And the word of God which is preached daily is daily bread. For because it is not bread for the body, it is not on that account not bread for the soul. But when this life shall have passed away, we shall neither seek that bread which hunger seeks; nor shall we have to receive the Sacrament of the Altar, because we shall be there with Christ, whose Body we do now receive; nor will those words which we are now speaking, need to be said to you, nor the sacred volume to be read,when we shall see Him who is Himself the Word of God, by whom all things were made, by whom the Angels are fed, by whom the Angels are enlightened, by whom the Angels become wise; not requiring words of circuitous discourse; but drinking in the Only Word, filled with whom they burst forth10 and never fail in praise. For, "Blessed," saith the Psalm, "are they who dwell in Thy house; they will be always praising Thee."11
7. Therefore in this present life, do we ask what comes next, "Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors."12 In Baptism, all debts, that is, all sins, are entirely forgiven us. But because no one can live without sin here below, and if without any great crime which entails separation from the Altar, yet altogether without sins can no one live on this earth, and we can only receive the one Baptism once for all; in this Prayer we hear how we may day by day be washed, that our sins may day by day be forgiven us; but only if we do what follows, "As we also forgive our debtors." Accordingly, my Brethren, I advise you, who are in the grace of God my sons, yet my Brethren under that heavenly Father; I advise you, whenever any one offends and sins against you, and comes, and confesses, and asks your pardon, that ye do pardon him, and forthwith from the heart forgive him; lest ye keep off from your own selves that pardon, which comes from God. For if ye forgive not, neither will He forgive you. Therefore it is in this life that we make this petition, for that it is in this life that sins can be forgiven, where they can be done. But in the life to come they are not forgiven, because they are not done.
8. Next after this we pray, saying, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."13 This also, that we be not led into temptation, it is necessary for us to ask in this life, because in this life there are temptations; and that "we may be delivered from evil," because there is evil here. And thus of all these seven petitions, three have respect to the life eternal, and four to the resent life "Hallowed be Thy name." This will be for ever. "Thy kingdom come." This kingdom will be for ever. "Thy will be done as in heaven, so in earth." This will be for ever. "Give us this day our daily bread." This will not be for ever. "Forgive us ourdebts." This will not be for ever. "Lead us not into temptation." This will not be for ever. "But deliver us from evil." This will not be for ever: but where there is temptation, and where there is evil, there is it necessary that we make this petition.