The Lord’s Prayer According to St. Maximos: Part 1

The Lord’s Prayer According to St. Maximos

Fr. Basil Aden

Part 1: Trinity, Divinization, “Father,” Hallowed, Kingdom

St. Maximos the Confessor (ca. 580-662) was a writer on the spiritual struggle and an ardent defender of the true Orthodox faith.  He resigned his position as a government aristocrat and official and become a monk first in Istanbul and then in Africa. He became a fierce defender of Orthodoxy against “Monothelitism,” the heresy that the Incarnate Son of God had two natures but only one will.  Because of his opposition to the imperial dogma, he was put on trial in Constantinople and exiled.  Still organizing against the false doctrine, he was put on trial again.  His tongue and right hand were cut off to prevent him from speaking or writing the truth.  He died in about 662 AD soon after.  The Sixth Ecumenical council vindicated him in 680-81 AD. More of this church father’s writings appear in the Philokalia than any other writing. He wrote the short treatise on the Lord’s Prayer in about 628-30 AD.  It is included in the Philokalia, Volume 2.

Maximos’ Treatise on the Lord’s Prayer is Exceptional

Other church fathers have offered their teachings on the Lord’s Prayer.  Among them are Gregory the Great, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Tertullian.  But Maximos’ work is exceptional in two regards.  First it is an excellent example of the allegorical method of interpreting Scripture, one of the two major approaches to reading the Bible.  Second by means of the allegorical method, Maximos reaches extraordinary and, we might say, exceptional insight.

The Lord’s Prayer has been called the “perfect prayer.”  But for Maximos it is the perfect and complete revelation of what the Lord has accomplished for our salvation.  As Maximos puts it, “The Prayer includes petitions for everything that the divine Logos effected through His self-emptying in the incarnation.”[1]  He continues, “It teaches us to strive for those blessings of which the true provider is God the Father [alone] through the natural mediation of the Son in the Holy Spirit.[2]

We might respond, “Wait a minute.”  The Lord’s Prayer is addressed to our Heavenly Father, where does the Son and the Holy Spirit fit in?  The answer is that St. Maximos is called the Confessor because of his strong defense of the truth of the Holy Trinity as the fathers of the Nicene, Constantinople and Chalcedon ecumenical councils defined it.[3]  The doctrine of the Holy Trinity holds that the Persons of the Trinity are distinct but not separated.  So, praying to one Person of the Trinity does not exclude the others.

But we might also question why the prayer “teaches us to strive for the blessings of God.”  We assume that the petitions of the prayer are asking for the blessings that God provides.[4] Indeed Maximos affirms this thought saying, “Prayer is petition for the blessings given by the Incarnate Logos.[5]

But in this writing, Maximos teaches us that what we ask for, we should also seek.  If we pray “Thy Kindgom” come,” for example, we should also “Seek first the Kingdom and its righteousness” (Mattew 6:33).

This brings up Maximos’ second overarching theme alongside the Holy Trinity.  This topic is divinization, the ultimate goal of the Christian life.  He wrote: “The purpose of the divine counsel [of the prayer] is the deification of our nature.[6]

If we look for it, the theme of divinization appears in Scripture many times in many ways.  The Lord spoke about this transformation of human nature to be “like God,” when He prayed, “I pray for those who will believe in me.. that they all may be one, as You Father are in Me and I in You that they also may be one in us” (OSB John  7:20-21).  And the Gospel of John spoke of it as becoming chidren of God when he taught “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right be to called children of God (OSB John 1:12).  And again in 1 John, the apostle wrote,  See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (NRSV 1 John 3:1).  Finally the apostle wrote in 2 Peter about our participation in the inner life when he wrote, He has given us “exceedingly great and precious promses, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature…” (OSB 2 Peter1:4).

Maximos puts the goal of becoming like God together with our adoption as sons of God.”[7]  And this divinization of becoming one with and in the Holy Trinity should be our chief  concern as God’s children.  Now Orthodoxy emphasizes that such divinization is by grace.  The Lord grants us deification of our human nature through the Incarnation.[8]  Therefore, Maximos writes “… the divine Logos of God the Father became son of man and man so that He might make men gods and sons of God.[9]

But divinization is not a one-time thing.  It is something we grow into by work of the Holy Spirit in us.  Divinization involves our cooperation with the Holy Spirit, our “synergy.”  So the prayer involves active “seeking.”

Here is the way Maximos puts it: “The Lord bestows adoption on us when He grants us birth and deifiction, which…comes by grace,” but “the guarding and preservation of this in God depends on the resolve of those thus born.  It requires the sincere acceptance of  the grace bestowed on them [the faithful], and through the practice of the commandments, on their cultivation of the beauty given to them by grace.[10]

For this reason, Maximos gives us a different perspective on the prayer that the Lord Jesus taught us.  He writes that we should study the prayer as our teacher who guides us on the path of divinization.  Maximos summarizes, “The purpose of the divine counsel [of the prayer] is the deification of our nature, and the aim of divine thoughts is to suppply the prerequisites of our life.[11]  That is to say that in the prayer we learn what we are to seek and the requirements that this seeking entails.

Recall that the apostle wrote, “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3).  Maximos teaches us to apply these words of scripture to the Lord’s Prayer. Indeed, the prayer summarizes all we need for growth in godliness, that is “sanctification.”  In St. Paul’s words, it teaches us to put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (OSB Ephesians 4:24).

In summary, the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and  divinization are the context in which Maximos examines the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.  He writes fifteen pages before He gets down to the study of the seven petitions of the Prayer.  Everything that he teaches goes back, finally to these two mega-themes.

Our Father in Heaven

The great defender of Orthodoxy starts with the opening address to God the Father.  For Maximos, that means he starts with “theology” and the revelation of God the Holy Trinity.  Our guide to the Lords Prayer states that “from the beginning [of this prayer] we are taught to revere, invoke, and worship the Trinity in Unity.”[12]

Thus, Maximos teaches that when we call God “Father,” we are also invoking the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The Persons of the Holy Trinity are indeed a “unity.”  They are “consubstantial,” that is of one substance or essence.  According to this teaching, the Holy Trinity exists eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  As Maximos puts it, the Son and the Holy Spirit co-exist with the Father “in substantial form.”[13]  The Father is the source and the Son and the Spirit “have their being in Him from eternity.”  That is, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father.  The Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father.

So when we pray to the Father, we are tacitly including the Son and the Holy Spirit.  So Maximos says, “at the outset of this prayer, then we honor the coessential supraessential Trinity as the creative cause of our coming into existence.”[14]

How is it that we are so bold as to call God, the Creator of the Universe, “Father”?  Our guide to the prayer teaches us that by nature, we call God the “Creator” since He has made us. But by grace, we call God “Father” because he has given us rebirth as children of God.[15]

In this prayer, therefore, we are like children asking their father for whatever we need. Jesus said, “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (OSB Matthew 7:9 & 11).

But Maximos stresses that we would not know or dare to pray to God as “Father” except by the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

As Maximos says, “The true provider is God the Father alone through the natural mediation of the Son in the Holy Spirit.[16]  Maximos writes that Christ makes the “unknown Father manifest” thorugh His incarnation in the flesh.  And He gives “access to the Father” to those He has reconciled to the Father through the Holy Spirit (c.f. Ephesiasn 2:18).[17]

Yet rememeber that Maximos’ emphasis is that the Lord’s Prayer should teach us.  We have already learned that the Lord’s Prayer instructs us to call the Holy and Almighty God “Father.”  Now he writes that since we have learned to venerate our Creator as Father “by grace” as children of God, we should “strive to stamp our Creator’s qualities on our lives.[18]

In the same vein, the Lord taught us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors, “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (OSB Matthew 5:45).  If we call God “Father,” we should emulate Him and so demonstrate that we are His children.  He adds, by all our words, thoughts, and deeds we should “glorify the author of our adoption, who is by nature Son of the Father.[19]

Hallowed Be Thy Name

We have learned what it means to call God “Father.”  Now we come to the first petition, “Hallowed be Thy Name.”  In explanation, Maximos gets right down to his emphasis on asceticism.  He states, “If we want to become like our heavenly Father, then our earthly desires and concerns cannot rule us, but only the spirit of adoption.”

Therefore, Maximos says, “We hallow or sanctify the name of our heavenly Father by grace when we mortify our desire for material things and purify ourselves from corrupting passions.” [20]  Note that Maximos has changed the form of the verb.  We pray that God’s Name may be hallowed.  Maximos takes it a step farther and asks how we can hallow God’s name?

A comment of Cyril of Jerusalem would help us understand how appropriate this step is.

St. Cyril writes,

The Name of God is in its nature holy, whether we say so or not; but since it is sometimes profaned among sinners… [but], we pray that in us God’s Name may be hallowed; not that it comes to be holy from not being holy, but because it becomes holy in us, when we are made holy, and do things worthy of holiness.”[21]

Maximos repeats the same thought: “Hallowed be Thy Name” means that we should seek that the Name of God be made holy in us.  This happens when the “Kingdom,” that is the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in us.

For Maximos, this “sanctification” or being made holy is the process of overcoming the passions.  He writes that it is the “complete mortification and cessation of desire in the senses”[22] (Maximos 1981, 291).  “Mortification” is self-denial, a dying to that which is unholy and sinful.  The writer of Colossians describes it when he writes, “Therefore put to death your members [your bodily nature] which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (OSB Colossians 3:5).

When one “dies to self,” then one can “put on the “new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (NIV Ephesians 4:24).  Note the translation is from The New International Version.  This version translates the phrase “according to God” by the words “created to be like God.”  When we read this verse in this way, we find a reference to divinization in one of Paul’s letters.  When one dies to the old self, one can put on the new self like a baptismal garment.  And this “new self” shares a likeness to God in holiness and righteousness.

How does one “die to self”?  The answer lies at the heart and purpose of the Philokalia.  In an introductory note to Volume 2, St. Theodoros (the Great Ascetic) wrote, “The Fathers define prayer as a spiritual weapon.  Unless we are armed with it we cannot engage in warfare, but are carried off as prisoners to the enemy’s country.  Nor can we cleave to God with an upright heart, for it is God who gives prayer to him who prays and who teaches man spiritual knowledge.[23]

In this spiritual struggle, Maximos says that we “purify ourselves of corrupting  passions.”[24]  And that means mortifying, that is, putting to death the “desire for material things,” “the desire in the senses.”[25]  St. Theodorus wrote: “He who gives himself to desires and sensual pleasures and lives according to the world’s way will quickly be caught in the net of sin.  And sin, when once committed, is like fire put to straw, a stone rolling downhill, or a torrent eating away its banks.  Such pleasures [that satisfy desire], then, bring complete perdition on him who embraces them.[26]

Of all of these passions, Maximos focuses on anger, the partner of desire.  He observes that where there is anger, we know that there is desire contending for pleasures.  But when desires cease, then anger ceases.[27]  Therefore, Maximos advises us to “repudiate anger and desire.”[28]

Thy Kingdom Come

With that thought, Maximos goes on to the second petition, “Thy Kingdom come.” He writes that when we renounce anger and desire, we can next “invoke the rule of the Kingdom” (Theodoros 1981, 191-92).

But Maximos has an unusual “take” on the  prayer for the realization of the Kingdom.  He says it is the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Where does the saint get this thought which seems to appear out of nowhere?  A footnote explains that there is a rare varient of Luke 11:13 which reads “May the Holy Spirit come.”  Gregory of Nyssa referred to this version in his work on the Lord’s Prayer.  This rendition may seem strange, but one can find a parallel to this thought in Luke 11:13: “If you then, being evill, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (OSB Luke 11:13).

Certainly, of all the good things that the Father gives us, the Holy Spirit is the best.  The Lord promised that while He was absent in body from his disciples, the Father would send the Holy Spirit to “teach them all things” and to remind them of the Lord’s teaching (John 14:24-26).

So it is appropriate that we pray for the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor and Comforter, to be “with us and in us” (John 14:26).  To that end, the Father makes us the temple of the Holy Spirit, according to Maximos.[29]

As we renounce the passions, Maximos assures us that we acquire the virtues of “humilty and gentleness.”  The thought that gentleness is a virtue may be new to us.  But it is a translation of the Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:50).  The Greek term for “meek” refers to what is mild, gentle, having a tender strength (Strong’s #4239, 209).  Accordingly, Maximos says “the  Kingdom belongs to the humble and the gentle.[30]

We find in the Gospels that the Kingdom is the inheritance of those who have ministered to Christ in the disguise of the needy.  It is also the reward of the good stewards (Matthew 25:41).  And it is the gift of the Holy Spirit for those who love the Lord and keep His commandments (John 14:15).  Thus, for Maximos when we pray “Thy Kingdom come,” “we cannot be [praying] that the Kingdom would come to “earth” as a place of worldliness and corruption.”[31]

To understand this unusual reading of the Beautitude, we must ask what the Kingdom is. In the “Parable of the Last Judgment,” the Lord said to the sheep on His right hand, “Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

Moreover the apostle writes in Hebrews that the kingdom that the faithful are receiving “cannot be shaken” (OSB Hebrews 12:26).  And as Maximos himself teaches that the Kingdom is  “the perpetual dwelling with the Lord enjoyed by the saints.”[32]  It is no wonder then that Maximos asks, how can this blessed kingdom be “identified with the literal earth”?[33]

Furthermore, Maximos’ concept of the Kingdom seems to be in line with the Lord who said, “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (OSB Romans 14:17).  “Eating and drinking” are activities of this earthly life. But righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit transcend the bodily needs of this world.

These thoughts prepare us to accept Maximos’ suggestion that “Thy Kingdom come” refers to “the resolution and strength of the inner stablilty, immovaby rooted in goodness” that is possessed by gentle people,” the meek who will inherit the earth.”[34]  Maximos explains that this stability is a kind of middle ground.  He says that the literal earth is in the middle position between heaven and hell.  So the mystical “earth” that we pray for rests in between honor and condemnation.[35]  Those who occupy this middle way are “dispassionate,” that is, they are without earthly passions.  And in their moderation they are neither puffed up or put down.”[36] Therefore, when we pray for the coming of the Kingdom, we pray that the blessed state of equinimity, balance, and rest of  the soul would come to us.  And that we have the grace to receive it.

The saint concludes that to the extent that we practice the virtues of humility and gentleness, we take on the stamp of the divine Kingdom.”[37]  By forsaking anger and desire and putting on the characteristics of Christ, we become deified.  We bear an “exact spiritual likekness to Christ”[38] who said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).  As we follow Christ, taking up  the yoke of our cross, then the Kingdom comes to us.


[1] (Maximos 1981, 286)

[2] (Maximos 1981, 286)

[3] His emphasis on the two natures and therefore two wills of the Incarnate Son of God is beyond the scope of this presentation.

[4] (Maximos 1981, 286)

[5] (Maximos 1981, 290)

[6] (Maximos 1981, 286)

[7] (Nikodimos 1979, 143)

[8] (Maximos 1981, 287)

[9] (Maximos 1981, 141)

[10] (Maximos 1981, 287)

[11] (Maximos 1981)

[12] (Nikodimos 1979, 290)

[13] (Nikodimos 1979, 290)

[14] (Nikodimos 1979, 291)

[15] (Maximos 1981, 291)

[16] (Maximos 1981, 286)

[17] (Maximos 1981, 286)

[18] (Maximos 1981, 191)

[19] (Maximos 1981, 191)

[20] (Maximos 1981, 191)

[21] (Cyril-of-Jerusalem 2013)

[22] (Maximos 1981, 291)

[23] (Theodoros 1981, 15)

[24] (Maximos 1981)

[25] (Maximos 1981, 291)

[26] (Theodoros 1981, 13)

[27] (Maximos 1981, 293)

[28] (Maximos 1981, 293)

[29] (Maximos 1981, 292)

[30] (Maximos 1981, 292)

[31] (Maximos 1981, 292)

[32] (Maximos 1981, 292)

[33] (Maximos 1981, 292)

[34] (Maximos 1981, 292)

[35] {Maximos, 1981

[36] (Maximos 1981, 292) [36]

[37] (Maximos 1981, 293)

[38] (Maximos 1981, 293)