LORD HAVE MERCY!?
by Stephanie Yazge
We hear it so often in our services. It seems like hundreds of times we hear “Lord have mercy” Some people have even been heard to say, “Why do we repeat ourselves so much? Didn’t God hear us the first time? What are we praying for that we say it over and over again? Let’s take a closer look, starting with the litany that begins most of our services: the Great Litany.
The first thing we say (or actually, the deacon or priest says for us all) is “IN PEACE, let us pray to the Lord:” When we enter the Church to be with Christ, to pray and worship Him, it is the time to be at peace, to find peace. And if you had a hectic time just getting to church, this petition should help stop you in your frantic tracks. It is a reminder to change gears and regroup as we come into God’s presence. As the next petition confirms, asking for “the peace from above, and for the salvation of our souls.” Christ taught us that he came to give us HIS peace, which is not of this world, the kind that will endure all the trials and tribulations this world can give. His peace places us in the eye of life’s hurricane, so that no matter how much of a whirlwind is around us every day we have God’s peace within us. That’s what we are praying for first of all, and we need to do it every time we gather to pray.
Once we have centered ourselves in Christ, we ask for “the peace of the whole world, for the good estate of the holy churches of God, and for the union of all men …“ We don’t look for God’s peace so that we can crawl into our own little world, where nothing can get to us or reach us. We expand our view to acknowledge that we must pray for all of God’s created world and HIS church, which should be ONE, but on a human level is divided by differences of doctrine, misunderstandings and sometimes by pure hate. There can be no peace where such things exist.
We also pray for “THIS holy house, and for those who with faith, reverence and the fear of God enter therein …” That means us. Specifically it is for our own parish community and those who have come to church with a certain attitude toward God. Notice the words faith, reverence, and the fear of God as qualifiers! They describe a person who believes with his/her whole heart, who reveres God (which can often be seen by one’s conduct in God’s house i.e. is on time, is praying with the rest of the community and not socializing during the liturgy, etc.) and has a fear of God. That is not a fear of a big, mean god. It is a fear of not being worthy to stand in the presence and the glory of God as we come into his presence with Him every time we gather to pray especially if we are approaching the Eucharist — the Body and Blood of Christ Himself.
After this petition, we become more specific in our petitions, mentioning people and things that constantly need the Lord’s mercy. They only become boring repetitions when the words fail to pierce our minds and hearts, when we stop praying with the deacon and priest. And how do we keep from becoming bored?
Make the liturgy come alive in your own mind and heart by consciously following every petition. If you are too embarrassed to sing along with the choir, then at least speak the words “Lord have mercy.” When it is appropriate, call to mind specific people and situations to add silently to a petition. A perfect example is praying for those whom you know are “sick and suffering.” Or who are among the captives, i.e. Americans and others being held captive in the Middle East. There is always someone who needs our prayers. And we pray for the weather, “healthful seasons and abundance of the fruits of the earth.” After the drought of 1988, that petition should get some attention! We need to pray for ourselves, too. The last two petitions are just for that purpose.
Our coming before God, asking him to have mercy on us is fundamental to our faith. Christ told us if we ask for something in His Name, it will be given. And we must keep asking for these elemental things we find in the litanies because whatever God gave us in yesterday is gone. We must come back to Him every day and ask, in our humility knowing that only He can grant what we ask. And when we gather to pray we have to remember that unless we do participate with our mind and heart, and not just as a body in the pew, we will never come to know the joy of the presence of our Lord, who is the only one who can give us peace and great mercy.
Khoureeye Stefanie Yazge is from St. George church in Terre Haute, IN.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America