The Lord’s Prayer According to St. Maximos: Part 3

The Lord’s Prayer According to St. Maximos:  Part 3 Thy Will and Daily Bread

Thy Will Be Done

This  description of the allegorical method describes Maximos’ approach to the Lord’s Prayer. He states, “For hidden within the limited compass this prayer contains the whole purpose and aim… or rather it openly proclaims this purpose and aim to those whose intellects are strong enough to perceive them.[1]  With that explanation of the allegorical method, we can go on to the third petition.  We found that for Maximos, “earth” is not this present world but a state of equilibrium in which there is joy, virtue, and liberty, a condition that enable the gentle to inherit the Kingdom.[2]

So then what does it mean to pray “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven”?  Maximos’ interpretation follows from his teaching on the  purification of the intellect.  When we have quenched the desires of the bodily senses, we may hallow God’s name.  And when we have set aside our hunger for pleasure with its lust and anger we may enter into the Kingdom to which the gentle are invited.[3]  After hallowing God’s name and entering into the Kingdom, we can pray for God’s will to be accomplished.

But when is God’s will so realized?  We might assume that it is when we obey the commandments, when we love our neighbor as ourselves, when we care for the poor and vulnerable, or even when we put our faith in Christ for our salvation.

But Maximos is recommending the mystical way:  the way of the direct knowledge of God.  This is the way of union with God the Holy Trinity.  We take that way when we set [one’s] mind on the things above, not on earthy things (OSB Colossians 3:2).  Above all we set our minds on the goal of divinization and becoming like God by grace.

If that is when God’s will is done, then Maximos asks where is the will of God perfectly done?  And who does it?  He answers, “In heaven by the angels.”  He states, “Nothing is offered to God in heaven except intelligent worship, and it is this that God demands from us when He teaches us to say in our prayers, ‘Thy will be done…’” [4]  Among the angels there is no sensual pleasure, no anger, no conflict, but only “intelligence naturally leading intelligent beings towards the source of intelligence.”[5]

But where is Heaven?  Heaven, we might say, is the eternal contemplation of God, for what do the faithful do in heaven, but contemplate the majesty, holiness, and goodness of God?  Paul put it “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known (1 Corinthians 13:2).

Thus, those who “worship God mystically” with an intellect free of anger and passionate desires, become “co-worshipers with the angels and citizens of heaven[6] with them (Philippians 3:20).  For Maximos God demands only this kind of worship.  And when we do it in spirit and in truth, we fulfill God’s will.  When our intellect is devoted to God, we imitate the angels.  Then we do God’s will on earth as the angels fulfill it in heaven.

Give Us Our Daily Bread

At this point, we have covered the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.  In them, Maximos calls us to action.  He states, “Let our intelligence, [that is, our “intellect], be moved to seek God.  Let our desire be roused in longing for Him.  And let our incensive power, [that is, motivating power] struggle to keep guard over our attachment to Him.”[7]  If we live accordingly, then Maximos says, God will give us the “daily bread,” the food that nourishes our souls and sustains our life with God.

Here again, Maximos gives an allegorical interpretation of the prayer. He teaches that we are not praying for the food that nurtures our bodies.  The Lord said, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.  And all these things shall be added to you” (OSB Matthew 6:31-33).  Maximos asks rhetorically, why the Lord would teach us to pray for what we have no need to pray?[8]

Praying for Earthly Bread

Maximos teaches that We should only pray for what God has commanded us to pray.[9]  Yet Maximos concedes that if we pray for God to provide us with what we need for earthly life, we should not be over-indulgent.  We should be satisficed with what will sustain us, and then pray only for what we need for the day.  So that “we eat for the sake of living, and not be guilty of living for the sake of eating.[10]  We should free ourselves of the domination of the body and use the material things of this life to acquire the spiritual things of the next.[11]

Praying for Heavenly Bread

Maximos’ comments on the the traditional interpretation of the petition for daily bread are commonplace.  More insightful is the allegorical interpretation of this petition.  Maximos offers a reading that he says came from the Lord Jesus.  Remember that the Lord taught us to set aside any worry about what to eat, drink, or wear.  Maximos adds the perspective of asceticism.  He emphasizes that if we want to make spiritual progress, we must free ourselves from the attachment to material things, most of all, food.

Accordingly by “bread,” Maximos refers to the saying of Jesus: “I am the Bread of Life” (OSB 6:35).  And then the Lord  said, “The Bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (OSB 6:33).

In this allegorical approach, “this day” does not refer to a day on the calendar.  It refers to this “present age.”  And the “bread” is the heavenly food that the Almighty intended to give to Adam and Eve in the Garden, food that would make them immortal (Genesis 2:90).  However, Adam and Eve could not partake of this “food of immortality” because of their sin.  Instead, they ate the fruit of disobedience and the Lord condemned them to death and corruption.

Now, however, Maximos points out that the bread of everlasting life is offered “in this age.” as Jesus said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (OSB John 6:5).

This profound teaching of the Lord suggests a traditional Eucharistic interpretation of the Bread: it is the Body of Christ given to the faithful in Holy Communion.  In keeping with this sense, The Orthodox Study Bible comments: “In Communion, we truly eat His [Jesus’] flesh and drink His blood and this grants the faithful eternal life” (vs. 54) (OSB 2008, fn. to John 6:53-56).

Nothing in Maximos would deny this approach.  But he has another but complementary emphasis.  He teaches that Jesus Christ, “the Bread of Life:  gives Himself to all who ask.[12]  The Lord offers Himself as the new manna.  As that bread from heaven sustained the People of God on their journey to the Promised Land, so the Lord offers Himself as food for our journey to the promised Kingdom.

What does it mean that Christ gives Himself?  Maximos explains that, “Christ is the bread of life, of wisdom, spiritual knowledge, and of righteousness.”[13]  Let’s slow down to probe the meaning of this short statement.  First, it teaches that when the Lord gives Himself, He gives eternal life.  Accordingly, Jesus said, “If anyone eats this bread he will live forever” (OSB John 6:51).

Second, eternal life is wisdom and the knowledge of God.  The Lord taught this insight when He said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

Third, this knowledge of God and God’s Son is a mystical unity with God.  Jesus said, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in Him.  As the living father sent me and I live because of the Father so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me” (OSB John 6:56-57).

The knowledge of God is of inestimable value.  Maximos teaches  says that “The person who loves God values the knowledge of God more than anything created by God and pursues such knowledge ardently and ceaselessly.”  Why? According to Maximos, “Spiritual knowledge unites knower and known, while [spiritual] ignorance is always a cause of change and self-division.[14]

Finally, Maximos teaches that in giving Himself to us, Christ gives us His righteousness.  In the same vein, St. Paul wrote, “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (OSB 1 Corinthians 1:30). Thus, Maximos teaches that Christ leads upward to divine truth.  By the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we are cleansed.  We are  are called the children of God.  And we participate in the divine nature.[15]  Thus when we become joined to Christ, He truly becomes our righteousness (OSB 2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Lord gives Himself as the bread of eternal life, of wisdom and the knowledge of God, and of righteousness.  But Maximos observes that He does not do this “in the same way.”[16] He gives the Bread from Heaven according to the ability of the person’s intellect whether great in achievement or less.[17]  Again Maximos writes that the Logos (Christ) becomes everything to the believer to the degree that the person is “nourished through virtue and wisdom.”[18]

Thus, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to soar towards God in prayer, rising from the realm of created things to the spiritual knowledge of God.[19]


[1] (Maximos 1981, 286)

[2] (Maximos 1981, 292)

[3] (Maximos 1981, 297-98)

[4] (Maximos 1981, 298)

[5] (Maximos 1981, 298)

[6] (Maximos 1981, 298)

[7] (Maximos 1981, 298)

[8] (Maximos 1981, 299)

[9] (Maximos 1981, 299)

[10] (Maximos 1981, 390)

[11] (Maximos 1981, 390)

[12] (Maximos 1981, 299)

[13] (Maximos 1981, 303)

[14] (Maximos 1981, 282)

[15] (Maximos 1981, 304)

[16] (Maximos 1981, 299)

[17] (Maximos 1981, 299)

[18] (Maximos 1981, 299)

[19] (Maximos 1981, 54)