Interpretation of the Prayer - Lord, have Mercy!
An Excerpt from The Philokalia, Vol. 5
On the importance of awareness and understanding in prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy
on me! And more concisely: Lord, have mercy! These prayers have been bequeathed
to Christians from the time of the Apostles and it was decreed that they should
constantly use these invocations, as also they do. However, while doing so very
few now know the meaning of: Lord, have mercy! Therefore they invoke
fruitlessly. They cry: Lord, have mercy! but do not receive mercy from the Lord
because they themselves do not know what they are seeking.
And so we must know: What
kind of mercy from the Lord Jesus is this? What Kind? Every kind: all that is
needed by us in our present fallen state is in His right hand. For He, from the
time when He was incarnated and became man, and endured such sufferings, and by
the shedding of His most holy blood redeemed man from the hands of the devil - from
that time HE has become in some special way the Lord and Sovereign of human
nature. Thus everything of ours is now in his hands.
The Lord was even before his
incarnation, from the beginning, Lord of all, seen and unseen, as their Creator
and Maker. According to their being so it is and will be, but not according to
the free activity of reasonable creatures. Devils and, after them, men, did not
want of their own accord, to have Him as their Lord and Sovereign, and they
detached themselves from Him who was the Ruler of all. For the All-gracious
God, having created men and Angels independent and endowed them win reason,
does not want to destroy this independence of their and rule over them by
force, against their will. Therefore those of them who wish to be under the
power and rule of God, over them He rules and those he defends, but those who
do not wish it, those He leaves to do their own will as independent. That is
why Adam too when, seduced by the apostate devil, himself became an apostate
from God and did not wish to obey His commandments, He left him to his
free-will, not wishing to rule over him domineeringly. But the envious devil,
having seduced him in the beginning, did not cease to seduce him further, until
he had made him by his irrationality like senseless cattle and until he began
to live like unreasoning animals.
Then the most merciful God
took pity on him and bowed the heavens and came down to earth and became man
for man's sake, and having redeemed him by His most pure blood, He provided a
saving way of life for him, showed him in the holy Gospel how to please God,
regenerated and recreated him by divine baptism, instituted heavenly
nourishment for him in the most pure mysteries and, to speak briefly, with the
sublimest wisdom found means how He could be inseparably with man and man with
Him so that the devil should have no more place in man. But even after this He
nevertheless forces no one but leaves all free to accept the salvation that is
offered to them or to perish. And so it goes: Some are saved; but others are
negligent about salvation, some of whom do not believe the Gospel at all, while
others believe but do not live according to the Gospel.
Those who are now Christians,
after so many gifts of grace, after so many divine benefits, have again been
seduced by the devil and by the action of the world and the flesh have been
separated from God and have fallen under the yoke of slavery to sin and the
devil, doing his will, but have not yet become quite insensible so as not to
feel the evil that they have suffered, and understand their mistake and
acknowledge the slavery into which they have fallen, but they do not see in
themselves the power to be delivered from it - those have recourse to God and
cry: Lord, have mercy, that the most merciful Lord may pity them and have mercy
on them and accept them as the prodigal son and again grant them His divine
grace and deliver them from slavery to sin, banish the devils from them and
restore their freedom that in this way they may be able to live the rest of
their life in a manner pleasing to God and keep the Divine commandments.
And so those Christians who
with such an aim cry, Lord, have mercy! are certainly granted the Divine mercy
and receive grace to be delivered from slavery to sin and be saved. But those
who have not at all the above thoughts and do not recognise the misery of their
position and their slavery to the will of the flesh and worldly habits, and
have not even time to think about their slavery, but without any such aim,
simply from habit cry, Lord have mercy! - how can these receive the Divine
mercy: and especially such amazing and infinite mercy? It is better for such
people not to receive it than to receive it and lose it again, for then there
would be a double sin.
I shall now explain to you by
examples also. Imagine to yourself a man poor and destitute who wishes to
receive alms from some rich person. What does he say when he comes to the rich
person? Something like: "Have mercy on me! Pity my poverty and set my life
in order." Or someone has a debt and has nothing to pay it with. Wishing
to be delivered from this burden he comes to the decision to ask his creditor
to forgive him his debt. He approaches him and what does he say? Also simply:
"Have mercy on me! Pity my poverty and forgive me the debt that I owe
you." Similarly, when anyone is at fault in some matter before another and
wishes to receive his forgiveness, what does he do? He comes to the person
against whom he has sinned and says: "Have mercy of me! Forgive me for what
I did against you."
All such people know what
they are asking for and why they are asking, and they receive their petitions
according to circumstances, and what they receive they turn to good account for
Now take on the other hand a
sinner who is spiritually poor and in debt before God and has frequently
offended Him. If he cries as if to God: Have mercy on Me! but meanwhile does
not understand what he is saying and why he is speaking, and does not even know
what that mercy consists of which he wishes to receive from God and the use of
it to him, but simply from habit cries: Lord, have mercy! then how can God give
him mercy when he cannot even recognise what he has received and therefore will
not turn his attention to it and will make ill use of it or will augment still
more that by which he became a sinner?
The mercy of God is nothing
else but the grace of the Holy Spirit which we sinners must ask from God,
unceasingly crying to Him: Have mercy on me! Show Thy mercy, my Lord, to me a
sinner, in the pitiful state in which I am, and accept me again into Thy grace.
Give me the Spirit of power that He may strengthen me in resisting the
temptations of the devil and my sinful bad habits. Give me the Spirit of
Counsel that I may become prudent and come to feeling and amend my life. Give
me the Spirit of fear, that I may fear to offend Thee, and may fulfil Thy
commandments. Give me the Spirit of peace, that I may guard the peace of my
soul, and gather all my reasonings and be quiet and untroubled by thoughts.
Give me the Spirit of purity, that He may keep me pure from all defilement.
Give me the Spirit of meekness, that I may be gentle-minded in my relations
with my Christian brethren and restrained from anger. Give me the Spirit of
humility, that I may not think highly of myself and that I may not be proud.
Whoever knows and feels how
necessary is all that has been said and, asking it of the most merciful God,
cries: Lord, have mercy! will surely receive what he asks and be granted the
mercy of God and His grace. But whoever knows nothing of what we have said and
merely from habit cries: Lord, have mercy! for him it is not possible to
receive any mercy from God. For he had already previously received many mercies
from God but he was unaware of it and did not thank God who gave him them. He
received the Divine mercy when he was created and became a man. He received
mercy when he was recreated in baptism and became an Orthodox Christian. He
receive mercy when he was delivered from so many perils of soul and body which
he experience in life. He received the Divine mercy every time he was granted
to partake of the most pure Mysteries. He receive the mercy of God every time
he sinned before God and grieved Him by His sins, and was not destroyed and not
punished as was due. He received the Divine mercy when so many different
benefits were bestowed on him by God, but either he was not aware of it or he
forgot. How can such a Christian receive further mercy from God when he does
not know and does not feel that he has received so many mercies from Him? And
now even if he cries: Lord, have mercy, he does not know what he is saying and
pronounces these words without any thought or aim, but simply from habit.
The fifth volume of the Philokalia is not yet published. Origins of this excerpt are unknown.
Posted on 10/9/2007.
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Fr. Savas of the Holy Monastery of Philotheou, Mount Athos, on Prayer
Fr. Savas was a disciple of Elder Ephraim of Philotheou [now of St. Anthony's Monastery, Florence, AZ] for 30 years.
On prayer and the nous (the intellect):
Your mind, your nous is a coffee cup, from which your heart drinks and is filled. If the cup has good stuff in it, the heart will drink of good. If the cup is not full and pours into the heart continually, the heart will thirst.
If there is room left in the cupif it is not filled with good to drink, the enemy will come and pour poison into your cup, as much as is space for it. A little drop of poison is just a bitter taste in the hearta whole lot of poison, like something that sours the stomach, is nearly deadly for the heart.
So why drink poison? Fill the cup to the rim, or betterkeep it overflowing with the good drink that is spiritual thoughts, sobering joys of Christ's mercy, of death, of the Church, of the Panagia, of the Saints, etc. When you see poison has been added to your cup, start dripping in, pouring in, much good stuff. Open the Scriptures, the Psalms, or best of all the dripping faucet of "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me".
Then the enemy will rage helplessly, for without any room to add poison to your cup, he will not be able to reach your heart and wound it. This is the "secret" of watchfulness and continual prayera FULL cup of divine good. Keep the cup full of good, and keep that drink flowing into your thirsty heart, to quench its thirst and to edify it constantly.
May you overthrow the enemy, by the Name of Christ, by His grace, and by His Cross, the invincible weapon, unto the salvation of your souls, and that we may share the glory of His Dominion, now and forever!