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MESSAGE OF THE MONTH
(March 2006 -- 2nd Article)
“Lord, Have Mercy”
By the Rev. Metropolitan Avgoustinos of Florina, from the weekly bulletin “Kiriaki,” Feb. 13, 2005
[translated from Greek by the staff of the Greek Orthodox Brotherhood of St. Poimen].
Have mercy on me, oh Lord…(Matt 15:22)
My dear brethren, one of the greatest evils which plague humanity in our days is ingratitude. Conversely, one of the greatest virtues one may possess is gratitude; in other words, each one of us ought to consider himself obliged to express thankfulness to all those who are our benefactors. Each of us owes gratitude to the father that gave us life, the mother that raised us, the teacher who taught us, the priest that blessed us. This also extends to every other person from whom we were the recipients of good will, assistance, or benefit.
When we carefully examine the corresponding actions of all of our benefactors, what do we notice? We notice that the benefit we realized through them is fairly small and insignificant; that is, small and insignificant when compared to what all of us realize from our Great Benefactor, Who is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
God’s acts of mercy as well as His material and spiritual benefactions are countless. If you find the way to count the stars in the heavens, you will be able to come up with the number of benefactions which we continuously enjoy. These benefactions are ever-present during each day and night, fall and spring, summer and autumn… As the fish that swim in the vast sea, so man who continuously wonders within the great ocean of God’s benefactions. Does our heart not go on beating, second after second, minute after minute? Think for a second that right at this moment, as you are sitting down, it might stop! This is why each heartbeat, each pulse should be a small but nevertheless sincere sign of gratitude, a small “thank-you” to God. “In everything give thanks” (I Thes. 5:18), for this is how we can express our gratitude to God.
One of God’s benefactions is also our ability to go to church. This is because a church is a holy place; it is Heaven-like, a piece of Paradise. And if you do not believe this, you ought to not go there anymore. It is essential that faith accompanies every single visit to a church; it is the only way through which the church receives an infinite dimension for all of the faithful. You ask: “What is it that takes place there?” For starters, the church welcomes, accepts, and receives us. Who is it that does that? Is it this famous person or that well-known neighbor? Is it a government minister or even our prime minister or the president of our republic? These people are nothing; they are a big zero when compared with Him Who governs the universe. It is God Who welcomes, accepts, and receives us. He receives us for a hearing and He keeps His “ears” wide open so that He can listen to our prayers. The church is where He allows us to become His audience; it is the place of this holy “interview” and what is it that we ask our Heavenly Father to grant us? Have you ever paid close attention to our Divine Liturgy? As a young child pleads with his father, we likewise plead with Him to grant us material as well as spiritual riches and goods. Let us examine what specifically we ask Him to grant us.
Our Divine Liturgy contains a total of twenty petitions, each one of them no less important than the other. The first thing we ask upon the start of the Liturgy is “for the peace from above.” Our Heavenly Father, please grant us peace; we ask for this peace neither from the east nor from the west. We cannot await peace from all these who talk about peace and plan wars at the same time. Hypocrites! It is only within our Church that our petition is pure and real; and this petition is so very timely and necessary in our days, for today’s wars may be easily conducted through the use of nuclear weapons. “Grant peace to this world—we ask You for peace in the whole world, Lord!”
What else do we ask? We ask for “the stability of the holy churches of God.” Lord, protect Your churches disbursed throughout this world; protect them so they stand well and steadfast and withstand the continuous attacks of the barbarians, the atheists, the heretics. Let them not be shaken or staggered from such attacks. Protect Your Church, Christ, and keep Her firm and unshaken to the end of ages.
We also ask for unity. Our world is separated into a thousand broken pieces; nations are divided and in a continuous ideological struggle with each other. We thus ask and plead with our Lord that these thousand broken pieces be united, so that they “shall be one fold and one Shepherd” (John 10:16)
We pray for all those in public service who govern us. Lord, give them sound minds and, most important, strong hearts, so that they do not neglect but always remember Your high values and standards, that our nation may continue to progress spiritually.
We ask that you also strengthen and protect our armed forces that guard and protect our borders.
We also remember and pray for all of our Church’s faithful. Lord, protect the widows, orphans, those who are ill and bed-ridden and moan in physical pain, the sailors who are constantly exposed to danger while they sail Your oceans, the captives, the slaves and all those who are imprisoned in one manner or another… Our Church neglects nobody! As a good mother, She remembers all of Her children, and thus pleads to God for our entire world.
Every petition for material or spiritual goods offered by our Church on our behalf is answered by the people through the chanter with, “Lord, have mercy.” The chanter’s voice is the only one heard but it should be loudly pronounced by all of the Church. “Lord, have mercy,” save us, give us all these things we need as the good Father that You are. “Lord, have mercy” is a very brief prayer. They are three simple words, yet combined, they contain such power, especially when they are repeated as they should be, with deep faith and devotion to God!
“Lord, have mercy” was also resounded with great resolve by the woman of Canaan. We call her “the woman from Canaan” but this was not her name – it was a title indicating her city of origin, just as if we said today the “Athenian” woman. Her city was on the borders of Israel. When Christ drew near, she ran and started calling out to Him: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David” (Matt. 15:22). What did she want? She had a daughter that was most unfortunate, for she was greatly crippled by a demon. She would fall down with foam coming out of her mouth, torn to pieces like a fish out of water; simply put, a terrible sight.
The woman of Canaan searched for years for a doctor, or even a magician, and could find nobody to heal her daughter. With her hopes withered down to nothing, she comes to the hope of the world and loudly beseeches Him: “Lord, have mercy.”
Christ, however, dos not answer her. He appears to completely disregard her. She does not lose her hope; she runs after Him and proclaims and begs Him even louder: “Lord, have mercy.” The disciples intervene and ask our Lord, does He not hear her, does He not feel sorry for her, and does He not have any compassion for her? Christ had His purpose in this appearance of neglect for the woman of Canaan. He says to her: “It is not meet to take children’s bread and cast it to dogs” (Matt 15:26). This bread you seek, our Lord tells her, is for my children and not for the dogs. What did He mean? He wanted her to know that the miracles He does are for His people, Israel, and not for the unclean idolaters (the time had not come for them yet).
Christ’s characterization could be easily considered as a strong insult; He called her a dog. But the woman of Canaan did not get angry, she did not go away. She took our Lord’s words and made them her weapon. She thus turns around and tells her last hope: “Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table” (Matt 15:27). She admits to Him that she is not His child and instead is an insignificant dog in His yard. This small dog is now seated below his Master’s table. The Master and His children eat and this dog patiently waits to feed himself from the crumbs that fall down from the table. “I just need a small crumb, O Lord; I do not ask for the bread of Your children.”
What great and magnificent words she announces to our Lord. One crumb from Christ’s infinite strength: that is all that she wanted! And Christ, seeing this faith, this humility, this persistent prayer, tells her: “O woman, great is thy faith. Be it unto thee even as thou wilt” (Matt 15:28). The woman of Canaan had her prayer answered; her daughter was instantaneously healed by her hope, the Hope of the world…
Let us also learn and teach all others, my fellow Orthodox Christians, that our Church is not a false institution as so many heretical religions offer. Our Church is not a lie but truth, His truth. Through Her, our communion with God is real and alive, very much alive. This earth, the skies, and the stars may be a complete lie. Our whole universe may be a lie. There is one thing that will always be true, however, our Lord and His Bride, the blessed Orthodox Church. Let us imitate the woman of Canaan. Let us kneel and pray, saying unceasingly, “Lord, have mercy.”
“Lord, have mercy” was also said by our saints and they made miracles. In the old days, Christians used to kneel and tearfully repeat these words. The faithful in Russia say it and the entire church body hums. On the Holy Mountain, they hold onto a prayer rope all night long; each knot is one “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” And how about us? What do we do? We are typically present in church; our bodies are within the church while our spirit is absent. It is absent and we have no feeling, no spiritual consciousness, no shivering of our soul.
“Lord, have mercy” is the shortest prayer we have; it is nevertheless appropriate for all. Even the uneducated or a young child can say it, the infant that can barely speak as well as the white-haired grandfather. And our Lord keeps on listening to this “Lord, have mercy,” and answers it countless times each hour…
I likewise advise and recommend it to all of you. Are you unable to say long prayers? Are you finding it difficult to be in church during all of the services? Take a breath and call it out wherever you are: “Lord, have mercy.” Are you sitting down to eat? “Lord, have mercy.” Is the night upon you? “Lord, have mercy.” Is it morning? “Lord, have mercy.” Are you on your way to work? “Lord, have mercy.” Are you plowing the earth? “Lord, have mercy.” Are you grazing the flock? “Lord, have mercy.” Are you a factory worker? “Lord, have mercy.” Are you a soldier on guard duty? “Lord, have mercy.” Are you a sinner? “Lord, have mercy”.
This tiny prayer, “Lord, have mercy,” is capable of great miracles. That which we need and ask of God will be granted to us, for He is a father. Christ tells us: “If ye then know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father Who is in Heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” (Matt 7:11, Luke 11:13) If our physical father watches after us, and grants us our material wishes and needs, how much more He Whom we call out in “Our Father, Who art in Heaven…” God will truly grant us all of our wishes, if we truly believe, if we are truly Orthodox Christians!