• 24 October, 2021 14:48

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Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism and the Eucharist – Chapter I

Bykarozota.com

Dec 26, 2020

Translation. By Alphonse Mingana

Because by the grace of God we spoke to you yesterday of the subject of faith, which our blessed Fathers wrote for our instruction according to the words of the Divine Books, in order to initiate us, in accordance with the doctrine of our Lord, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit— it is fitting that we should speak to-day of the necessary things concerning the prayer which was taught by our Lord, and which they made to follow the words of the Creed, so that it should be learnt and kept in memory by those who come near to the faith of baptism. Our Lord also, after having said: “Go you, therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” added: And teach them to observe all things I have commanded you.” He showed in this that, alongside the doctrine of religion and the right knowledge, we should endeavour to harmonise our lives with the Divine commandments. They added to the words of the Creed the prayer which our Lord taught in short terms to His disciples, because it contains the teaching for good works, in a sufficient manner. Every prayer contains teaching of good works to any one who cares to think attentively of duty, because we wish our works to be that which we ask in our prayer that they should be. He who cares, therefore, for perfection and is anxious to do the things that are pleasing to God, will pay |2 more attention to prayer than any other thing, and he who does not care for any virtue and is not anxious to do the things that are pleasing to God, it is clear that he will show also no interest in prayer.

As we are pleased at all times to meet, and to deal and converse with, a person whom we love most, and as we do not care to meet or to speak to people whom we do not love, so those who possess God in their mind and are very anxious to do the things that please Him are wont to make use of frequent prayers, because they believe that they work and converse with Him when they pray. He, therefore, who despises Divine things and cares for other things is not anxious to pray. This is the reason why the blessed Paul orders us to pray always so that by the frequency of prayer we should implant in us the love of God and the zeal for the things that please Him.

This is the reason why our Lord also, who was man by sight and by nature, and who put in practice this mode of life and good works, showed great zeal for prayer; and because He was busy in day-time with teaching the things that were necessary, He devoted the hours of His night to the work of prayer. He used to go to lonely places in order to teach that it is necessary for the one who prays to be free from every care, so that he might extend the sight of his soul towards God and contemplate Him, and not be drawn to any other thing. He chose His times and places so that He might attract us and save us from all the disquietude by which the soul is disturbed and agitated, and sometimes involuntarily distracted from the subject it has in mind.

Because He used to do these things in this way, as the blessed Luke said, His disciples came and asked Him how it was fitting to pray, since John had also taught his disciples; and He taught perfection conveniently in the short words of prayer, which He uttered, saying: “After this manner, therefore, pray you:

“Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done as in heaven so in earth. |3 Give us to-day our necessary bread, and forgive us our debts and our sins as we have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for Yours is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory now, always, and for ever and ever. Amen.”

He made use of these short words as if to say that prayer does not consist so much in words as in good works, love and zeal for duty. Indeed, any one who is inclined to good works, all his life must needs be in prayer, which is seen in his choice of these good works. Prayer is by necessity connected with good works, because a thing that is not good to be looked for is not good to be prayed for. More wicked than death by stoning is death, which would come to us if we asked God to grant us things which contradict His commandments. He who offers such prayers incites God to wrath rather than to reconciliation and mercy. A true prayer consists in good works, in love of God, and diligence in the things that please Him. He who is intent on these things and whose mind contemplates them, prays without hindrance always, and at all times, whenever he does the things that please (God). To such a one invocations of prayers are always needful, because it is fitting for him who strives after good things to ask God to help him in these same things after which he is striving, in order that all his life might be in accordance with God’s will. And it is known that such a one will have his prayers answered, because it is impossible that he who is diligent in the Divine commandments and acts according to them and does not break them, should not assuredly receive help from Him who enacted them; it is likewise clear beforehand that he who leads a life that is not in harmony with them, will not receive any help from prayer, since he is caring for things which do not please God and asking for such things as he himself chose to do all his life.

This is the reason why our Lord also taught us, as the blessed Luke said, not to faint in praying, and by means of a parable instructed us about it. He said: “There was in a city a judge which feared not God, neither regarded man. And a widow |4 who was being injured by a man who was stronger than she was, came to him incessantly and asked him for the cessation of the injustice that was done to her. He postponed her (case) for a long time, but at the end he was overcome by the persistence of the woman, who was urging on him to take up her case and deliver her from the tyrant, who was doing injustice to her and who was stronger than she was.” And He added this: “Hear what the unjust judge said: Because this widow troubles me I will avenge her lest by her continual coming she weary me. And shall not God avenge His own elect which cry day and night to Him, though He bear long with them “?

Because those who strive after perfection have unceasing molestation from the urges of nature, from the promptings of the demons, and from daily happenings which often cause many to stumble and deviate from the path of duty, they have a constant struggle in this world; and in order that they might not think that God had forsaken them, from the fact that they have not a moment of rest from their daily struggle, He did well to allude to an unjust judge, so that by a comparison with him, He might confirm the fact that it is not possible that God should forsake those who chose to do good things. Indeed, if that tyrant who had not the smallest care for justice, and did not fear God and regard man, was overcome by the troublesome persistence of the woman and did his duty and avenged her, without hope of reward, against the man who was acting unjustly towards her, now do you think that God, who is so merciful and compassionate, who did everything for our salvation and deliverance, and who does not bear to forsake even those who sin, will forsake those who strive after good things and are diligent in things that please Him? Indeed, it is not because He forsakes them that He permits them to be beset by tribulations and daily temptations, which they are forced to endure against their will, either from the promptings of natural passions or from the weakness which is inherent in them and because of which they are often drawn against their will towards things that are not laudable, and have to endure a great fight against the demons, as they are constantly |5 compelled to struggle against the passions which arise from natural happenings.

The benefits that are promised to them because of these tribulations are no ordinary ones, and He fulfils their desires and makes them worthy of His great Providence. He permits them to endure tribulations and afflictions in this world in order that, because of them, they may receive eternal and ineffable gifts.

This is the reason why here also He uttered the above words to the disciples who had asked Him how to pray, as if He had said to them: If you care for prayer know that it is not performed by words but by the choice of a virtuous life and by the love of God and diligence in one’s duty. If you are zealous in these things you will be praying all your life, and from your good will towards them and your choice of them you will acquire a great desire for prayer, and will undoubtedly also know what to ask (in it). If you chose (the path of) duty, you will not be induced to ask for things that lie outside it, as you will not be willing to ask for things in which you have no interest. Your interest being in virtues after which you are striving, it is evident that you will offer to God prayers that are consonant with them. If you live thus and ask also of Him in this wise with all fervour, you know that you will receive.

Hear now in short words which are the things in which you have to show diligence, the works and the mode of life which are required of you, the things in which you have to persevere, and those for which you have to offer prayers and in which your demands will undoubtedly be answered:

The evangelist said that “as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And He said to them, when you pray, say, Our Father which are in heaven hallowed be Your name.” The sentence “as He was praying in a certain place” is similar to that which the same evangelist uses in another passage: “It came to pass in those days that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” The sentence “in a certain place” means, |6 therefore, that He was offering prayer in a place which was quiet and free from the noise of men. When the disciples saw Him that He was praying with eagerness, they understood that this was not an ordinary thing but that it was a matter of more importance than any other, and they, therefore, asked Him that they should learn how to pray as John had also taught his disciples. He then pronounced to them the above words of prayer, as if meaning to say: if you are eager to pray, you should clearly know the things which you have to say to God and be careful about the things that are to be asked of Him.

What are you then to say when you pray, and what are the things in which you have to show care?:

Our Father who is in heaven.

Before everything else you should learn what you were and what is the nature and the measure of the gift that you received from God. The things that have happened to you are greater than those that happened to the children of men that were before you. Such a thing will happen through Me to those who believe in Me and choose My discipleship, as they will be much higher than those who were working under the law of Moses, because that first law, which was given from Mount Sinai, gave birth to servitude, and both itself and its children worked in servitude. Indeed, all those who were under the law of the commandments were slaves. They received orders how they were to conduct themselves, and through the punishment of death that none of them could escape they were bound 1 to the transgression of the law. As to you, you have received through Me the grace of the Holy Spirit whereby you have obtained adoption of sons and confidence to call God, Father. You have not received the Spirit in order to be again in servitude and fear but to be worthy of the Spirit of adoption of sons through which you call God, Father, with confidence. From this you have obtained conversation in Jerusalem which is above and have been worthy of that life of freedom which will be the lot of those who, in the |7 resurrection, will become immortal and immutable, and will live in heaven in such a nature.

If, therefore, there is this difference between you and those who were under the law—in the sense that the “letter, which is the law, kills,” and thus brought punishment of death from which there was no escape on those who transgressed it, and in the sense that it is “the Spirit that gives life” and will make you immortal and immutable through the resurrection—it is fitting that you should know before anything else the nature of the works, worthy of this freedom, which you should possess. Those who live in the Spirit of God are the children of God, while those who are under the law have only received a mere name of children: “I have said, You are gods, and all of you children of the Most High, but you shall die like men.”

Those who have received the Holy Spirit by whom they necessarily expect immortality, while still in this world, it is fitting that they should live in the Spirit, resign themselves to the Spirit and possess a mind worthy of the freedom of men led by the Holy Spirit, and that they should also flee from all the works of sin and acquire a conduct that is in harmony with the citizenship of the heavenly abode.

This is the reason why I do not teach you to say our Lord and our God, although it is evident that you ought to know that He is God, Lord and Maker of everything and of you also, and that it is He who will transfer you to the delight of these benefits. I order you to call Him our Father, so that when you have been made aware of your freedom and of the honour in which you have participated and the greatness which you have acquired— things by which you are called the sons of the Lord of all and your own Lord—you will act accordingly till the end. I do not wish you to say my Father but our Father, because He is a Father common to all in the same way as His grace, from which we received adoption of sons, is common to all. In this way you should not only offer congruous things to God, but you should also possess and keep fellowship with one another, because you are brothers and under the hand of one Father. |8 

I added who is in heaven, so that the figure of the life in heaven, to which it has been granted to you to be transferred, might be drawn before your eyes. When you have received the adoption of sons, you will dwell in heaven, and this abode is fit for the sons of God.

What ought those who think in this way to do?:

Hallowed be Your name.

Before everything else you should do the things that redound to the glory of God your Father. The very one who said in another passage: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven,” said also here: “Hallowed be Your name,” as if He were saying: you should strive to do the things by which the name of God will be glorified by all men, while contemplating in amazement His mercy and His grace which have been poured upon you, and thinking that He did not make you His children to no purpose, but that in His mercy He granted you the Spirit, so that you might increase in virtue and do the work of those who were found worthy to call God their Father. As when we do ungodly works we give rise to blasphemy (by others), because all the outsiders who see us doing these ungodly works will say about us that we are unworthy to be children of God—so also when we do good works we corroborate the fact that we are children of God, worthy of the freedom of our Father, and show that we have been well educated and that we are living a life worthy of our Father. In order to impede such a blasphemy from being uttered, and in order that there might be praise from the mouth of all men to God who brought you up to such a greatness, strive to do the things that effect this:

Your kingdom come.

He did well to add this (sentence) to the preceding one. It is right for those who have been called to the Kingdom of Heaven in the adoption of sons, and who expect to dwell in heaven with Christ when, as the blessed Paul said: “we shall be caught up |9 in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord”—to think of things which are worthy of that Kingdom, to do the things that are congruous to the heavenly citizenship, to consider the earthly things small and believe them to be below their dignity to speak and think of them. No one who is so placed as to live in the court of a king, and is considered worthy to see him always and converse with him, will go and wander in the bazaars and inns and such like, but will have intercourse only with those who always frequent the places where he is. In this same way, we who are called to the Kingdom of Heaven, are not allowed to relinquish our fellowship with it or with the things that suit the citizenship therein, and busy ourselves with the commerce of this world in which there is much evil trading and unholy work.

How could this be effected, and how should we do the things that are commensurate with the freedom of our Father, and how should we pursue heavenly citizenship, and how should we do the things which engender great praise to the name of God?:

Your will be done as in heaven so in earth.

(This will happen) if in this world we strive as much as possible to imitate the life which we shall live in heaven, because heaven contains nothing that is contrary to God, as sin will be abolished and the power of the demons will cease, and, in short, all things that fight against us will be destroyed. When all earthly things have ceased to exist, we shall rise from the dead and dwell in heaven in an immortal and immutable nature. We will do the will of God better than in anything else by wishing and acting as God wishes, and by thinking of things belonging to heaven, where there will be no power and no passion which will incite us against the will of God.

In this world we ought to persevere as much as possible in the will of God and not to will or do things that are against |10 Him. As we believe that the will of God reigns in heaven, so it should also hold sway in earth; and in the same way as it shall be in heaven, it is right for us not to do now the smallest act which by our will or our thought would contradict that will. This, however, is not possible as long as we are in our mortal and changeable nature, but we must turn our will away from the passions that are contrary (to the will of God) and not listen to them in any way, and do that which the blessed Paul commanded in saying: “Be not conformed to this world, but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” He does not command that passions should not beset us, but that we should not be conformed to things that will surely vanish with this world, and that the will of our soul should not be conformed to the ways of acting of this world.

Let us strive against all happenings whether painful or joyful, sublime or abject, in one word in any capacity high or low, which are capable more than others to lead us astray towards harmful thoughts and to divert our mind from good will, and let us be careful not to let our love fall on them, but let us strengthen our thoughts with daily improvements and cast away from us the injurious insinuations that come to us from the passions of this world, and bend our will day by day towards virtues, in our search for the things which are pleasing to God. We should only consider as unqualified good that which is pleasing to God, and endeavour in everything to spurn the pleasures of this world. We should also bear the tribulations that befall us, place the will of God before everything, and consider ourselves happy when we act thus, even if all the afflictions of this world should surround us. If we do not act in this way we shall be more wretched than all men, even if we are prosperous in all earthly things.

In the above short words, our Lord taught us, therefore, perfection of works, and ordered those who follow Him to strive after good works, think of the heavenly life, despise all that is found in this world and endeavour to imitate as much as possible the things of the next world; and He wished them to ask these |11 things of God till the end. And because we ought to possess a healthy mind and a true love for all these things, and because we know that we are not able to do anything without the help of God, He rightly ordered us to do these things by way of prayer, so that we might approach them with perfect love and persevere ardently and zealously in asking them of God as good and useful things, which will not come to us even if we chose them and wished to have them myriads of times, if God does not help us in them. They will surely come to us, however, if first we choose them and ask them of God.

The blessed Luke added many things to the prayer said by Christ our Lord, in order to confirm the fact that things asked by those who pray will surely be granted. And because He wished to invite us to imitate the world to come, in which when we dwell, we shall always be high above the earthly things and shall never be in need of anything, and in order that He might not be believed that He was ordering a thing that was impossible for men who are mortal by nature and are in need of many things in this world, in that He was asking them to imitate an immortal life—He added:

Give us to-day our necessary bread.

It is as if He had said: I wish you to look at things belonging to the next world, and while you are in this world to arrange your life as much as possible as if you had been for a long time in the next world, not that you should not eat or drink or make use of the necessities of life, but in the sense that your choice (of the next world) is good, that you love it and constantly think of it. As to the things belonging to this world, I allow you to make use of such of them as are necessary; and you should not ask nor strive to have more than this use. That which the blessed Paul implies: “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content,” our Lord called here “bread,” and by it He alludes to a thing which is indispensable. Indeed, bread is considered to be more necessary for the maintenance and sustenance of this earthly life than anything else. He means by “to-day” now, |12 as we are in “to-day” and not in “to-morrow.” We are in “to-day” as long as we are in it, although we might see to-morrow.

Holy Writ calls to-day a thing that exists now and is near, as the blessed Paul puts it: “To-day if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts as in the provocation, but exhort yourselves daily while you call it to-day.” As if one had said: as long as we are in this world let us always suppose that we hear this word which every day impresses our mind with an identical sound, and let us awaken our soul and raise it for the amelioration of our conduct, the rejection of vices and exhortation to virtues; and let us progress day by day as long as we are in this world in which there is time for amelioration and repentance, because when we have left it the time for repentance and amelioration will have passed away from us, and the time of judgment will have arrived. Our Lord said here: “Give us to-day our necessary bread,” in the sense of the necessary food of which we are in need as long as we are in this world, and He did not prohibit nor did He forbid the food, drink and raiment which are necessary to the sustenance of the body. It is not blameworthy to ask of God that which is necessary to us, and that of which we are allowed to make use when we have it, and that which is not considered blameworthy to receive from others. Indeed, how can one consider blameworthy the use of a thing which we are permitted to ask of God, as necessary for keeping and sustaining (human) nature?

He calls “bread,” therefore, that which is necessary for the sustenance of (human) nature. He used the expression “which is necessary to us in the sense of “according to our nature,” that is to say that which is useful and necessary to nature and its sustenance, and which has been ordained by the Creator as a thing that we must necessarily have for food. It is not advisable for those who wish to strive after perfection to possess and hoard things which are beyond the domain of the necessities of life. He rightly alluded, therefore, in prayer to the necessities of life |13 by the words “which is necessary,” that is to say, a thing that is useful and necessary to our nature. As to “to-day,” it means that since those necessities of life are established by the Creator for the sustenance of (human) nature, it is lawful to ask them and make use of them, but that no one is allowed to ask of God and zealously endeavour to possess more than these necessary things. Indeed, all things that are not necessary for our sustenance and for our food in this world, if amassed by us, will go to others, and will be of no use to the one who had managed them or to the one who had striven to collect and possess them. They even go to others after his death, not by his will. And because our Lord completely disregarded the care for superfluous things, and because He did not forbid the use of the things which are necessary for our sustenance but, on the contrary, ordered us to ask them of God, He added:

And forgive us our debts.

In the first sentences He laid down the principles of perfection and of blameless conduct, and by the addition “give us this day our necessary bread” He limited our cares to that which is necessary; and because however much we strive after perfection it is impossible for us to be always without sins—as we are compelled to fall involuntarily into many, owing to the weakness of our nature —He found a quick remedy for them in the request for forgiveness. It is as if He had said: If you are eager to do good and strive after it, and if you are unwilling to pray for superfluous things but only (wish to possess) those which are necessary for sustenance, you should have confidence that you will receive forgiveness of the sins which you may have involuntarily committed. It is evident that the one who had striven after good things and had been eager to avoid ungodly things has only fallen involuntarily. Indeed, how could a man who hates bad things and desires good things have stumbled voluntarily? It is clear that such a one will undoubtedly receive forgiveness of those sins that were involuntarily committed by him.  |14 

And He added:

As we have forgiven our debtors.

He shows that we must have confidence that we shall receive forgiveness of our (sins) if we do the same, according to our power, to those who trespass against us. In case we have chosen good and are pleased with it, but by accident we trespass in many things against God and man, He found a convenient remedy for both sins in the fact that if we forgive those who trespass against us we have confidence that we will undoubtedly receive, in the same way, forgiveness of our trespasses from God. As when we ourselves trespass we rightly prostrate ourselves, beseech God and ask forgiveness of Him, so also we have to forgive those who trespass against us and apologise to us; and we should also receive affectionately those who have sinned against us or injured us in any way. It is evident that if we do not consider that those who have been sinned against or injured have to forgive those who have sinned against them—if they repent and ask forgiveness of them for the wrong they have done —the same thing would happen to them from those who have been sinned against, when they wish to pray to God. Our Lord clearly ordered us to ask forgiveness as we also forgave those who had trespassed against us.

And because we are in this world assailed by many afflictions dealing with sickness of the body, evil deeds of men and many other things which irritate us and annoy us to the extent that sometimes our soul is so perturbed by thoughts that it is tempted to throw away from it the love of virtues, He rightly added:

And lead us not into temptation,

so that we may be saved from temptations in the measure of our power, but if these should assail us let us do our utmost to bear with fortitude the afflictions which we had not expected. Before everything we must pray to God that no temptation should come near us, but if we should be led into it let us bear it with courage and pray that it should come speedily to an end. It is |15 well known that in this world many tribulations disturb our mind in different ways; even a long and severe illness of the body has thrown into great confusion those who were affected by it, and the inordinate impulses of the body have involuntarily made us stumble and stray away from the path of duty, and beautiful faces suddenly seen have kindled the passion found in our nature. There are other things which assail us on unexpected occasions and involuntarily and strongly divert our choice and our mind from good things to ungodly things. This is especially the case with the opinions of unholy and contumelious men who are eager to do evil, because those (opinions) are very apt to divert us in one way or another from a thing with which we were pleased. They can even do that to a person who has a great zeal for perfection. It would be all the more painful if those who acted against us in this way belonged to the household of the faith. Against them our Lord said: “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” He said this about the obstinate people amongst us, and He threatened them with severe punishment if by their contumely and wickedness they endeavour to divert from the path of duty those who are humble and pure. He calls “to offend” the act of injuring by wickedness and obstinacy those who for the sake of perfection strive to lead a humble and pure life. Because of all this, after He had said, “And lead us not into temptation,” He added:

But deliver us from evil,

because the wicked Satan injures us much in all the above things, as he endeavours in different ways to do things through which he thinks that he is able to divert us from our love and choice of duty.

Our Lord embodied perfection of works in the above words of prayer and taught us clearly how we are to be, in what we are to be diligent, from what we have to flee, and what to ask of God. And our blessed Fathers who thought that, together with the |16 right teaching and the true faith, we ought also to strive after a good life and good works, ordered this prayer for those who draw near to the gift of baptism so that side by side with an accurate doctrine concerning the creed of the faith they might through prayer so order our life as to possess that perfection which is required of those who receive the gift of baptism, and through which they are counted in the number of the citizens of the heavenly life, while still on this earth.

Endeavour now to keep clearly in your mind the things which you have learnt in short words from the Lord’s prayer, and meditate upon them with diligence in order that, while still in this world and far from the next, you may imitate and follow the teaching of our Lord, and thus be worthy of the heavenly benefits in which we are all enabled to participate by the grace of the Only Begotten Son of God, to whom, in conjunction with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory, now, always, and for ever and ever. Amen.

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  1. Or: circumcised.
  2. I.e., the registrar of baptisms.
  3. The rite of conducting a person and answering the questions of the registrar.
  4. The words between brackets represent a blank of one or two words which were illegible in the MS. from which the copyist was transcribing.
  5. I.e., the registrar of baptisms. 
  6. The godfather.
  7. The registrar.
  8. Evidently this orarium spread on the crown of the head was somewhat different from the modern stole.  
  9. All this refers to superstitious acts. 
  10. John iii. 9 and 8. I use “Spirit” instead of “wind” in the sense in which the author understands the word πνεῦμα of the sacred text, which in Greek and in Syriac means both “Spirit” and “wind.”
  11. This passage is quoted in the Acts of the Fifth Council (see Prefatory Note).
  12. The word Kurbana may be translated throughout by “offering,” as is often done in the English Bible, or by “sacrifice.”
  13. Allusion to the Diptychs.
  14. Or: “oblation” in both cases. The expression is a translation of the Greek word Anaphora.
  15. In Syriac literature the word paghra, “body,” is used for the consecrated Eucharistic bread. See Barsalibi’s treatise against the Armenians in my Woodbrooke Studies, vol. iv., pp. 28 and 57, etc.
  16. I.e., apparently you eat and swallow the Eucharistic bread, so that it may mix with the blood, which, according to the ancients, was the seat of the soul. See Woodbrooke Studies, vol. v., p. 5, and the references given there.

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