The Lord’s Prayer According to St. Maximos: Part 4

The Lord’s Prayer According to St. Maximos: Part 4 Forgiveness, Temptation, Deliverance

Forgive Us as We Forgive

Maximos goes on from the seeking after the “incorruptible bread of wisdom and the knowledge of God, to the fifth  petition.  The Confessor surprises us when he says in this petition that we ask God to imitate us.[1]  In this petition we ask the Righteous God to enforce His justice and to treat us in the same way we treat our neighbors.[2]  If we forgive others, the God of justice should forgive us.  But  if we do not forgive, we cannot expect the righteous God to forgive us (Matthew 6:15).

Note that this petition is not only meant for the good of the one who wrongs us.  It is for our own good, for if we hang on to the memory of offenses against us, we draw a dividing line of bitterness between us and our fellowman.  And we suffer the festering wound of resentment.

But the deeper someone has hurt us, the more difficult it is to forgive.  How can we forgive deeply felt wrongs?  Maximos observes that God “dispassionately” forgives His creation.[3]  Thus if we are His children, we also must let go of our the passions of offense, resentment, and revenge.

This thought suggests that the secret of forgiving others lies in one of Maximos’ major themes: the subduing of the passions.  How are the passions subdued?  We  must let go of our concerns for the visible world.[4]   This is the lesson of the previous petition that we should not be concerned about the bread that sustain us in this life but to pray for the Bread of the knowledge of Christ who unites us with the Holy Trinity.  It is also the lesson of the petitions of “Thy Kingdom come” and “Thy will be done,” for they teach us to let go of wordlly concerns and seek the Kingdom and the rule of the Kingdom, the will of God.

Maximos teaches that those who are unconcerned with earthly things can readily forgive those who trespass against him.  For “no one can deprive him of the good to which he aspires and which by nature is unassailable.”[5]  Indeed, nothing material can harm the spiritual unless we let it.  If we are truly “dead to the world but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11) as Paul teaches, then hateful words against us have the same effect as insults hurleed at a corpse.

Those who have freed themselves of the passions, therefore strive to be at peace with all

so that they are not bound to the cares of this world once again.  They do not hold anything against anyone so that Christ the Judge will not hold their sins against them.  Instead, He will give them a “just recompense for what they have done in this life.” [6]

Lead Us Not into Temptation but Deliver Us

Maximos goes on to teach that neglecting to forgive others makes us vulnerable to temptation and the assault of evil. When we judge others, God hands us over to temptiation.[7]  He allows evil to assail us so that we might learn to realize our own faults.

As he comments on the sixth and seventh petitions, Maximos gives two definitions of temptation and evil. The first is that temptation is the “law of sin,” that is the rule of sin over us, and evil is the devil.  In this sense the devil has “mixed” evil with human nature.[8]  How?  By persuading humans to switch their desire from what is to allowed to what is prohibited.  The Almighty permitted Adam and Eve to eat of every tree of the garden except the one which was  forbidden.[9]  Thus, the ancestors of the human race were not content with the abundance of what their Creator permitted.  The devil planted in their hearts a spirit of craving for more than what the Lord graciously gives.  When they yielded to rebelliousness, the result of their sin was the judgment of corruption.

On the other hand, Maximos defines temptation and evil in terms of his concern of “dispassion.”  In this sense, temptation is the soul’s inclination for the passions and evil.  And sin is the way that the soul satisfices this inborn tendency.[10]

In any case, Maximos warns that God is just and  does not protect unforgiving sinners from the consequences of their sin.  But He gives them up to the wiles of temptation and the rule of evil over them.  And he hands them over to the tendencies of the flesh.[11]

The lesson is that we should forgive others not only to receive forgiveness from God.  But we should pardon those who wrong us so that God would not allow us to face the trial of temptation.  Conversely, God answers those who forgives their debtors as God forgives them.  He gives them His grace twice.[12]  Once by forgiving their sins which they have committed.  And then by delivering them from the trials that may come in the future.

On the literal level of interpretation, it would seem that God is the actor, especially in these last petitions.  We pray that God would give.  We pray that God would forgive.  We pray that God would not lead us into temptation.  We pray that He would “deliver us from evil.

However, Maximos reminds us of the role that we play in these petitions as the intelligent creation of God with a mind and will.  The Confessor says that adoption as God’s children comes by grace. But as newborn children must grow up and live the life given to them, so those born to New Life in Christ must grow up in Him.  Those who are reborn in Christ must live the Life to which they were called.  In this way, those who are adopted into the Family of God must sincerely accept the rebirth given to them and by keeping the commandments “cultivate the beauty” of the grace given to them. [13]  They should “lay hold of the divine by emptying themselves of the passions” to the same extent as the Christ the Logos laid aside His glory and became man for our sake.[14]

A Deliberate Choice

Consequently, Maximos teaches that God’s answer to our entreaties entails a choice.  Yes, we pray that God would give us all the blessings of the prayer.  But then we must open our hearts to accept them.  We should not be like the little girl who asks for a doll for Christmas but then never plays with it.  Instead she neglects and abuses it.

In this vein, Maximos teaches that the “tyranny of the passions” comes “by deliberate choice.”  There are two kinds of temptations, the saint says.[15]  The first, the “pleasurable kind, comes by “deliberate choice,” a choice that engenders sin.[16]  The second is “unsought.”  It comes as a trial, a testing of faith.  Though the suffering is not willfully chosen, we still have a choice whether to endure it thankfully and joyfully or to let it shake us up so that we complain and even denounce our Creator.[17]

A Conclusion and a Prayer

Yet in a larger sense, all the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer entail a choice of whether we apply them to ourselves or not.  It comes down to whether we seek the heavenly Kingdom or cling to the earthly passions.  If we choose to seek the concerns of this world over the Kingdom, then we will have to suffer the cares that they bring.  If we choose our own will rather than God’s, then we will have our own way, a way that leads to perdition.  If we long for the bread of materials things rather than the Bread of eternal life, we will have it until everything is taken away from us at death. If we choose not to let go of our resentments, then we will have to live with their bitterness.  If we choose to yield to temptation and to entangle ourselves in evil, then God will allow it.

But in choosing the one side, we are rejecting the other.  Thus we pray that we might receive the one and be delivered from the other.  Maximos reminds us that Christ has “overcome the world” (John 6:33).  As our Defender, He gives us all that we need for deliverance from the devil and every evil.  And as our leader, our  Commander-in-Chief, He arms us with His commandments[18] and gives us the weapons of the Spirit to repel the passions and prevail  in the virtues.

As our Bread from Heaven, Wisdom, Spiritual Knowledge, and Righteousness, Christ awakens in us “an insatiable desire for Himself.”[19]  He deems us worthy to be co-worshippers with the angels when we emulate them.[20]  He leads us onward up toward the summit of the divine truth of the Holy Trinity and gives us a share in the divine nature.[21]  And in the Lord’s Prayer, He offers all that is necessary for overcoming the passions and growing in godliness.  It is for us to seek all these blessings and to accept them with the resolve to apply them to ourselves in our struggle to participate in Life of the Holy Trinity as God’s children and heirs of eternal life.

So Maximos concludes his treatise on the Lord’s Prayer with a prayer:[22]  “May all of us who call on the Lord Jesus be delivered from the present delights and future afflictions of the evil one” by participating in the reality of the blessings held in store and already revealed to us in Christ our Lord Himself, who alone with the Father and the Holy Spirit is praised by all creation. Amen.[23]

Works Cited

Confessor, St. Maximos the. 1981. “Two Hundred Text on Theology and the Incarnate Dispensation.” In The Philokalia: the Complete Text, edited by et. al G.E.H. Palmer. London: Farber and Farber

Cyril-of-Jerusalem, St. 2013. “Lecture XXIII: On the Sacred Liturgy and Communion.” In The Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril. Christian Classics Ethereal Librar

G.E.H. Palmer, et. al. 1981. “Glossary.” In The Philokalia: the Complete Text edited by Philip Sherrard G.E.H. Palmer, and Kallistos Ware. London: Farber and Farber.

Maximos, The Confessor. 1981. “On the Lord’s Prayer.” In The Philokalia: the Complete Text (Compiiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makrios of Corinth), edited by Philip Sherrard G.E.H. Palmer, and Kallistos Ware. London: Farber and Farber

Nikodimos, St. . 1979. Edited by G. E. Palmer, The Philokalia: the Complete Text: Farber and Farber.

OSB, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. 2008. The Orthodox Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Theodoros, St. 1981. “Introductory Notes ” In The Philokalia: the Complete Text London: Farber and Farber.

Endnotes

[1] (Maximos 1981, 301)

[2] (Maximos 1981, 301)

[3] (Maximos 1981, 301)

[4] (Maximos 1981, 301)

[5] (Maximos 1981, 301)

[6] (Maximos 1981, 302)

[7] (Maximos 1981, 302)

[8] (Maximos 1981, 302)

[9] (Maximos 1981, 302)

[10] (Maximos 1981, 302)

[11] (Maximos 1981, 302-03)

[12] (Maximos 1981, 303)

[13] (Maximos 1981, 287)

[14] (Maximos 1981, 287)

[15] (Maximos 1981, 304)

[16] (Maximos 1981, 304)

[17] (Maximos 1981, 304)

[18] (Maximos 1981, 303)

[19] (Maximos 1981, 303)

[20] (Maximos 1981, 304)

[21] (Maximos 1981, 304)

[22] (Maximos 1981, 305)

[23] (Maximos 1981, 305)