The Lord’s Prayer Interpreted According to Saint Maximos the Confessor
By Protobresbyter Theodoros Zisis
1. The superiority of Saint
the well known collection of spiritual and neptic writings, the Philokalia,
Saint Nikodemos of the Hagiorite has shown a notable preference for
the writings of Saint Maximos the Confessor in comparison with other
works of ancient and eminent teachers and saints.
Absent are the writings of the great theologians of the 4th
and 5th centuries, even those known for their mystical character
such as those of Saint Gregory of Nyssa and Saint Gregory the Theologian.
This preference is also manifested from the perspective of length in
comparison with the whole collection of writings included in the five
volumes of the Philokalia. Two-thirds of the
second volume, around 200 pages, is set aside for the works of Saint
Maximos. Only two later neptic writers, Peter of Damascus (8th
century), whose writings are found in the third volume, and Kallistos
and Ignatios Xanthoplous (14th century), of the fourth volume,
are granted a similar number of pages.
Nikodemos’ preference for the works of Saint Maximos is justified.
On the theological level, Maximos succeeded in presenting the mystical
and neptic elements of Christianity in a brilliant unity of teaching,
free from all philosophical—particularly Neo-Platonic—influences,
and wholly adapted to the ecclesiastical tradition. Origen, Evagrios,
and above all the mystical writings ascribed to Saint Dionysios passed
into the Orthodox ascetical and neptic tradition through Saint Maximos,
and through this he shaped one of the most recognized characteristics
of Orthodox theology: its mystical-ascetical character.
Saint Maximos’ better-known works—the Four Hundred Texts on Love,
On Theology and the Incarnate Dispensation of the Son of God Written
for Thalassios, and the Various Texts on Theology, the Divine
Economy and Virtue and Vice—Saint Nikodemos places a small work
entitled On the Lord’s Prayer. The inclusion of this little
work in the Philokalia stems from its deep neptic and spiritual
character, as well as the unique and interesting way in which Saint
Maximos interprets the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer which the Lord Himself
taught the Apostles in the Sermon on the Mount. Justifying
the placement of this work after the chapters,  Saint Nikodemos
the Hagiorite writes that he did this, first, because the interpretation
of the “Our Father” of Saint Maximos surpasses other similar interpretive
works, and second, because it is of great use to its readers. “The
exegetical undertaking of this Father concerning the “Our Father”, which
excels many others and bestows many benefits on its readers, follows
magnificent and useful spiritual work we will present here in brief.
The work is well structured: it has helpful divisions which the Saint
follows unwaveringly. In the preface, it is reported that the
reason for writing the work lies in his being prompted by someone of
ecclesiastical or political authority, some unnamed “Master”, who wrote
to him about the matter. The Saint feels a composite
love toward this person of authority, a love composed of both fear and
respect, of respect and goodwill. He believes that love of this
kind, a “mixed” love, brings about neither fear ending in hatred, stripped
of affection, nor affection ending in contempt, as occurs when not joined
with sober fear. Maximos wavered as to whether the request for
the interpretation ought to be answered, fearful of contempt.
Goodwill and affection, however, pushed him to write in the end, “lest
my failure to do so should be construed as hatred.” 
He writes because the command to write was given to him, in particular
he writes not that which he thinks, but that which God wills for us
to know for our benefit.
all else God desires the theosis of human nature, for which the ineffable
condescension of the Only-begotten Son—the Incarnation—took place.
The power of the Lord’s Prayer, the mastery of its hidden and mystical
aim, effectively brings about this end. Saint Maximos believes
that, in the words of the “Our Father”, we ask that God grant us the
blessings which arose from the work of the Incarnation of the Divine
Word. In it we are not asking for simple everyday things, but
for the fullness, the entirety, of the blessings of salvation.
“The prayer includes petitions for everything that the divine Logos
effected through his self-emptying in the incarnation.” 
From amongst these immeasurable blessings—immeasurable in multitude
and magnitude—the Lord’s Prayer mystically sets forth seven of more
general significance. These seven, which set out the aims of the
prayer, are; 1) Theology, 2) Adoption, 3) Equality in honour with the
Angels, 4) Sharing in Eternal Life, 5) The Restoration of Nature to
its Natural State, 6) The Abolition of the Law of Sin, and 7) The Overthrowing
of the Tyranny of the Evil One.
2. Theology and Adoption.
continuation, he expounds on how these blessings arise from the Incarnation
of the Word of God by way of an interesting analysis. We will
omit this here in order to get to the text of the Lord’s Prayer, in
which Saint Maximos understands us to ask, in order, the seven blessings
from God which we mentioned above. In the prayer’s first phrase,
“Our Father, Who art in the heavens, hallowed be thy name. Thy
kingdom come”, he sees the first two blessings presented; Theology and
Adoption. Here, “theology” means, in a literal sense, Triadology,
in other words, the teaching concerning the Holy Trinity, “that from
this beginning we may be taught to revere, invoke, and worship the Trinity
in unity.” The Holy Trinity is indeed proclaimed
because although the Father alone is mentioned, mystically and anagogically
the other two are implied in the words “name” and “kingdom”, “For
the name of God the Father exists in substantial form in the Only-begotten
Son. Again, the Kingdom of God exists in substantial form as the
the proclamation of the Holy Trinity, the prayer declares the grace
of adoption in that we are found worthy to call God “Father”. God is,
according to nature, “Creator” however according to grace is our Father.
This understanding of paternity, in which it is said that God is properly
called “Creator” on account of His creating us but “Father” by Grace,
is worthy of remark. We are all, then, children of God.
We have the grace of adoption and call him “Father”, not because He
created us, but because he has given us rebirth and regeneration by
the saving work of His Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Through His labour
we possess this adoption by grace. This spiritual adoption demands
that we try to preserve in our life the characteristics of our Divine
birth by grace. In our action, and not only in our words, we are
to “hallow” His name, and thus be proven to be true children of God,
glorifying Him, “who is by nature Son of the Father”, in all that
we think and do. The name of the Father is hallowed
when we mortify the material desires and are purified of the corrupting
passions, as “sanctification is the complete mortification and cessation
of desire in the senses.” In this condition, manifestations
of anger because anger is, by nature, kindled by sinful desire.
When we mortify these desires, then the mania of anger ceases.
mortification of the sinful desires and the cessation of anger—that
is, the sanctification of man—transform man into a temple; they create
the proper conditions that he might be worthy to say “Thy Kingdom come”
or, in other words, thy Holy Spirit come. Saint Maximos’ suggestion
is a very instructive one. Already in the opening phrase of the
“Our Father”, Saint Maximos has made it clear that we are only able
to worthily invoke the coming of the Kingdom of God, of the Holy Spirit,
when we have previously mortified the sinful desires, quelled our anger,
and have become meek and humble, since God is only comforted with these.
“It is fitting that, anger and desire repudiated, we should next invoke
the rule of the kingdom of God the Father with the words “Thy Kingdom
come”, that is “May the Holy Spirit come”; for having put away these
things, we are now made into a temple of God through the Holy Spirit
by the teaching and practice of gentleness.”
calling of the meek and humble, and the assurance that these will inherit
the earth, is realized in the perfection of the spiritual life.
Saint Maximos says the we must spiritually understand “earth” to mean,
“the resolution and strength of the inner stability, immovably rooted
in goodness, that is possessed by gentle people,” which, accompanied
by indelible joy, resembles the state of the angels.
Since the Grace of the Holy Spirit is given to the humble and meek-
and thus the Kingdom of God comes- who is so without love for and insensible
toward divine blessings that he would not desire to attain the furthest
reaches of meekness and humility, achieving transformation into the
image of Christ? In this spiritual transformation “there is neither
male nor female”; anger and sinful desire cease to exist.
One sheds even natural affection toward the body that the nous might
be able to approach the super-substantial reason. When the soul
is reformed into the divine likeness and becomes a dwelling place of
the Holy Spirit, then vices are made to vanish and virtues blossom forth
in their place. In this state we experience a continual
nativity and incarnation of Christ—a mystical Christmas. “Christ
always desires to be born in a mystical way, becoming incarnate in those
who attain salvation.” The first lines of the “Our
Father” are, in Saint Maximos’ interesting interpretation, closely linked
with the sanctification and transformation of man. Thus at the
end of his interpretation of these lines, he exhorts us to purify ourselves
of every corruption of body and spirit, to “hallow” the name of God,
and to receive the Kingdom of God and the Father.
3. Imitation of the Angels.
now move on to the next phrase of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will
be done on earth as it is in heaven”. In this phrase Saint Maximos
sees man becoming equal in honour to the angels, as asking for equality
with the rational beings. In the fulfilment of God’s will on earth
as it occurs in heaven, man imitates the angels. In the angels
there exist no sinful desires, which paralyze the spiritual faculties
with pleasure, nor anger, which is fiercely directed against brothers.
We find only the natural leading of rational beings toward God and nothing
Maximos gives two meanings to the phrase “Give us this day our daily
bread”; one anagogical, the other literal. In the anagogical
interpretation, the spiritual interpretation, our daily bread is divine
food. It is the food of the bread of life and of consciousness
which the first man forfeited as a consequence of sin. If man
had tasted this bread of divine consciousness, the death that comes
through sin would not have appealed to him. Saint Maximos prefers
this interpretation to the literal one because Christ Himself taught
the disciples that they ought not to be occupied with perishable bread,
with concerns for what they will eat, what they will drink and what
they will wear rather they ought, above all else, seek the Kingdom of
God. Obviously, Christ would not teach his disciples
to ask something in the prayer which he had commanded them not to seek.
Obviously, Christ would not teach them in the prayer what he commanded
them not to seek. If, however, Christ taught us to ask for every-day,
transient bread, we must not overstep the temporal boundary which the
prayer puts in place. We must not stock up on many years worth
of goods but rather ask only for our daily bread, free from other concerns,
so as to demonstrate that we do not prepare for life but death, “that
as Christian philosophers we make life a rehearsal for ideal for death.”
The spiritual life alone must be our focus, for the attainment of which
we must use this present life “not just to live but to live for God,”
confining our petition to the provision of bread for just one day, not
extending it to a second. It is clear from this, then, that Saint
Maximos understands the fourth of the seven blessings to be participation
in the bread of life and incorruptibility.
to the anagogical interpretation the petitioner asks God for the bread
of wisdom, which we were deprived of by the transgression of the first-created
man. In relation with this, Saint Maximos uses a familiar pair
- pleasure and pain. He develops these particularly in the chapters,
development which he assumes here. He writes that we ask spiritual
bread from God in our prayer because we know that only one true pleasure
exists. This pleasure is the attainment of divine blessings which
God, by nature, bestows, but man safeguards according to his will and
intention. On the other hand, the sole true pain is the loss of
divine blessings; a loss prompted by the Devil but only made actual
by man on account of his of his laziness through which he renounces
4. The Restoration of Nature:
Abolition of the Law of Sin and the Overthrowing of the Evil One.
next phrase of the Lord’s Prayer is as follows: “Forgive us
our debts as we forgive out debtors.” In this petition, it seems
that man presents himself to God as an example of virtue, exhorting
God to imitate his behaviour. “A person of this kind makes himself
a pattern of virtue for God, if it may be put in this way”.
Forgiveness of the sins of others not only contributes to the remission
of our own sins by God, but principally to the evading of divisions
and schisms, and the restoration of human nature which in this state,
when it does not rebel and divide, accepts the divine condescension.
God taught us to seek forgiveness, not so that He might learn what is
right from us, but to purify us from the passions and to demonstrate
that our disposition is vital to achieving the brotherly relationship
among men under grace. In this petition for absolution, Saint
Maximos sees the attainment of the fifth blessing; the restoration of
nature culminating in the unity and harmony of all men.
final petition phrase, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us
from the Evil One”, contains as its request the attainment of the
final two blessings of the seven: the abolition of the law of
sin and the overthrowing of the tyranny of the Devil. Temptation is
the law of sin, something unknown to creation initially. The Devil,
through whom temptation came to human nature, was not evil. Temptation
is understood as the voluntary predilection of the soul towards the
passions, while evil is the implementation in practice of this impassioned
predilection. Forgiving the sins of other men and the setting
aside every dislike and hatred is of great importance so that God might
immediately hear our prayer and send a double grace and reward.
The forgiveness of sins is not only protection and deliverance from
sin, but also from the future attacks of the Devil. The past and
the future are both dependent on present absolution.
5. Pleasurable and Painful Temptation.
what he has previously said in reverse order, Saint Maximos writes that,
in order to be free from the Devil and to flee temptation, we must forgive
the sins of others. In this struggle to expel the passions we
have Christ as our ally, who with love unites and restores nature and
moves us to love the bread of life. In living according to the
Divine Will we are made like unto the angels, and then with the participation
by the grace of the Holy Spirit He makes us “commune with the Divine
nature”, He makes us children of God who are clothed by the worker
of Grace, Christ, “From Him, through Him and in Him we have and always
will have our being, our movement and our life.” The
mystery of theosis is the aim of the Lord’s Prayer, which presents to
us, from the lowest semblance of faith in the Incarnate Lord, the path
to the grace of adoption. We ought to show by our works that that
the prayer is realized in us; not to preach that God is “Father” and
yet allow it to appear by our passions and vices that the father of
our life is the Devil. God, on the one hand, is the giver of life,
while the Devil, on the other hand, is the purveyor of death through
the various temptations that he prompts.
Saint Maximos clarifies that there exists two types of temptations;
the pleasurable and the painful. The pleasurable temptations are
voluntary and freely chosen and are the root of sin. From this
form of temptation, we ask God to deliver us saying, “Lead us not
into temptation”. Conversely, the painful temptations—pain
in other words—are chastisement for sin. By the difficulty caused
involuntary suffering, God chastens and corrects the sin-loving disposition.
If one endures these painful, involuntary, temptations he is lauded
by the Apostle James, who advises us to be glad when tempted by various
temptations. The Devil uses both forms of temptations
with much villainy. He uses pleasurable temptations to pry the
soul away from the love of God by pleasure, but the painful temptations
he uses to devastate man through pain and suffering, pushing him to
blasphemy and accusation of God. We, however, who know the methods
of the Devil and his evil thoughts; we must retreat from the pleasurable
temptations so as not to be separated from the love of God, but the
painful temptations, the manifold trials which come to us by God’s permission,
we must endure with courage showing that we prefer the Creator to creation.
conclude our presentation of this luminous little work of interpretation,
On the Lord’s Prayer, with the final prayer of Saint Maximos: “May
all of us who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ be delivered
from the present delights and the 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.”
T.N. means Translator Note.
1. [T.N.] The Philokalia is a collection of texts on the spiritual life, ranging from the 4th to the 14th centuries, edited and partially compiled by Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite. For its history, see Louth, Andrew. ‘The Theology of the Philokalia’ in Abba: The Tradition of Orthodoxy in the West. Ed. John Behr (Crestwood: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003).
2. [T.N.] Though the work consists of five volumes, only the first four have been translated into English.
3. [T.N.] The writings of Saints Kallistos and Ignatios will, presumably, be found in the fifth volume of the English translation, having not appeared in any of the previous volumes.
4. [T.N.] See Matthew 5-7.
5. [T.N.] A common genre of writing within the Patristic tradition, a ‘Century’ is a collection of 100 short chapters or reflections on a given subject. Saint Maximos’ longer works in the Philokalia follow this pattern.
6. [T.N.] Sadly, the translators of the English Philokalia chose not to include Saint Nikodemos’ introduction or notes in their edition. For a description of other editorial changes made to the text see, Palmer, G.H.E., Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware. ‘Introduction’ in The Philokalia: The Complete Text. 4 vols. trans. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware. (London: Faber and Faber, 1979.) 11-18.
7. On the Lord’s Prayer. 285.
8. On the Lord’s Prayer. 286.
9. On the Lord’s Prayer. 286.
10. On the Lord’s Prayer. 290.
11. On the Lord’s Prayer. 290.
12. On the Lord’s Prayer. 291.
13. On the Lord’s Prayer. 291.
14. On the Lord’s Prayer. 291 – 292.
15. [T.N.] See Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
16. On the Lord’s Prayer. 292.
17. On the Lord’s Prayer. 293.
18. On the Lord’s Prayer. 294.
19. [T.N.] See Luke 12:29-31.
20. On the Lord’s Prayer. 300.
21. On the Lord’s Prayer. 300.
22. On the Lord’s Prayer. 301
23. On the Lord’s Prayer. 304.
24. [T.N.] See James 1:2 -3 ‘My brethren, deem it all joy whenever ye fall into diverse temptations, knowing that the testing of your faith worketh out patience.’
25. On the Lord’s Prayer. 305.
From a forthcoming book of articles by Fr. Theodore Zisis, who has kindly granted the OCIC permission to post this pre-publication text. The final version will likely contain minor changes. Translated by John Palmer. Originally from Ζήσης, Θεόδορος. <<Η Κυριακή Προσευχή ερμηνευόμενη από τον Αγίο Μάξιμο τον Ομολογητή>> Ηθικά Κεφάλαια. (Θεσσαλονίκη: Εκδόσεις Βρυέννιος, 2002). 283-292. Posted March 24, 2009.