This post is a transcript of a video released in March 2020.
Thanks to Heather Lee for the transcription, and to JP Marceau for the edition.
One of the things I have been trying to communicate with you guys is that the world manifests itself through a basic pattern. I have traced out this pattern in different ways: the mountain in Genesis, Heaven and Earth, the ascent in St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses, and various patterns that my brother Matthieu analyzes in his book; The Language of Creation. Different aspects of reality tend to manifest different parts of that pattern, but there are some things which manifest the whole pattern in a very concise way. This is very much the case with many of the things that Christ taught us. In this spirit, what we’re going to do today is to look at the Lord’s Prayer itself, the way Christ taught us to pray. I’ll try to show you that the Lord’s Prayer – just like the mountain of Moses and the Garden of Eden – follows the same pattern.
In Scripture there are two versions of the Lord’s Prayer. We’re going to focus on the version from the Gospel of St. Matthew, which is longer, and the one we mostly know and pray in churches. In a way, it doesn’t really matter, because the version in St. Luke has the same elements as in the Gospel of St. Matthew. It’s just that in the Gospel of Matthew there tends to be a multiplication which can help us see the pattern even more clearly, but it’s still all there in the Gospel of Luke.
Everybody knows the prayer. I hope that you know the prayer. It starts: “Our Father, who is in Heaven”. Of course, when we talk about Heaven, it’s very important not to understand it just as the sky. In Scripture, we speak of “the Heaven of heavens”; the idea is that there is a Heaven above the heavens which contains all the heavens, and it really is the first Heaven in Scripture. In Genesis, when God creates “the Heaven and the Earth”, this is the first Heaven. Later comes the lower heaven; the firmament, which is akin to Heaven but is lower on the ontological hierarchy.
The Heaven in Scripture is really the fully invisible place; the place of principality, you would say. You can see the relationship between the Father and Heaven. It has to do with the idea of the source. The father is the source of the family in the sense that he sends the seed, and the seed is that which creates the family with his wife. And so, too, the Father sends His seed, which, in this case, is the Word, and the Word comes down and is that which creates the entire world. So, this relationship between “Father” and “Heaven” is, of course, completely coherent in the sense that, as a child, it’s very intuitive; your father is above you. You look up you see your father. Hence the notion that you would look up and that the things which are above you – the Heaven itself – would be akin to the Father. Also, like I said, your identity comes down from your father; he names you, he gives you your first structure, he is your first authority. So, in that sense, identifying God as our Father is a completely normal analogy. We all originate from Him.
And then we say “Our Father, who is in Heaven, hallowed be Your name.” The name is related, of course, to the idea of God Himself. The name is that which points to something. We glorify God’s name, we glorify the manner by which He manifests Himself. The name of God is also, in a way, the Logos Himself. That is when God names Himself; when he says, “I am the one who is,” we can understand Yahweh in the Scripture as the Divine Logos; the manifestation of God. God manifests Himself firstly by His name; by showing us who He is. Before He ontologically creates things, the first and highest aspect of God is His name. It is the first thing that can help you look up and understand that there’s something there.
We hallow, we glorify, we lift up, we want to acknowledge how high His name is; how high this encounter we have with God is. We place it above, in the Heavens, and we put it together with God. So, you have the Father, Heaven and the name, all above. You’ll have to keep that special symbolism in mind. It’s key to so much symbolism.
So you have the Father, you have the Heaven, you have the name, and then it says, “Your kingdom come.” What exactly is a kingdom? The way to understand a kingdom is to understand the kingdom as the scope of the reign of a king. All that which is under the rule of the king is his kingdom. You can imagine the king above everything. Whatever it is that the king rules over – his land, his people, the identity of his people, etc. – you can imagine a pyramid or a mountain – all of these things are the Kingdom of God. So, we first lift up God, the Father, Heaven, and then we say: “We want Your kingdom to come. We want the world to be under Your rule. We want the world to manifest, in an orderly manner, the fact that it is connected to You – to the Father, to Heaven and to your name.”
Keep the name in mind because it plays a part in understanding how the Lord’s Prayer is also a cosmic image. While it ultimately applies to God, it also shows us the pattern of reality in general, because you can also understand the kingdom of something as whatever it is that it names. I’m going to use the same example I use all the time. Imagine a cup. That cup has a kingdom. The “cupness” of the cup is up there, and whatever falls under its cupness; whatever specific examples of cups, whatever varieties of cups; all the multiplicity which is contained in the cup is the kingdom of the cup. But in the case of the Lord’s prayer we’re talking about all of reality. We are talking about all of reality as being this kingdom which manifests the name, the identity, the Heaven which is above.
Then it goes on to say: “Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” We have the coming about of the first lower term and, in a way, this stretches the entire world out. We start with Heaven. We have Heaven above, we have the Father, the name, and then we have the Kingdom of the Father, which manifests itself. We have the will of the Father, because the will and the kingdom are the same thing. The capacity for your will to manifest itself in the world is the rule that you have over the things around you. In general, whatever influence you’re capable of having on the world, that is your rule. You are a little king; let’s say the king of your house, and you want your will to be done in your house so that it doesn’t fall into chaos, it doesn’t fall into disorder, it doesn’t fall into transgression. So you don’t have everything upside down and all the clothes on the ground, and so on. As you want your will to be done in your house, we ultimately want God’s will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
This idea of “on Earth as it is in Heaven,” this is the point. I often talk about the world as a mountain. You can imagine the point as the top of the mountain. You have Heaven above the mountain and its summit is the place where Heaven and Earth meet. That is what the verse is about: “on Earth as it is in Heaven”. That which is below becomes an image of that which is above. We see that in many places in Scripture which describe God as hidden in all of creation. And in the tradition of the Church, there is the idea of the logoï developed by St. Maximus the Confessor. I often mention it on this channel. Everything in the world necessarily has a logos, an essence, something which is above its phenomena. Take the example of the cup. The “cupness” of the cup is not contained in the physical cup; you can’t get to the essence of a cup just by way of the physical cup. The essence, the logos, jumps up above all of the physical multiplicity. You can’t completely define it, it’s kind of behind the definition; it’s that which gives birth to the definition. All of these hidden logoï are how God reflects Himself in the world. They are His energies and His will. When we talk about “energies” in the Orthodox Church, we are talking about God’s will. Hence we pray “Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” so that he world becomes the body of God in a way, so that it becomes His Kingdom.
Next comes: “Give us this day our daily bread.” What’s interesting about this phrase is that there are many ways in which it has been translated, because the original Greek word used for “daily” is something like “super-essential bread.” Some people call it trans-substantial bread. It’s a word that’s almost a neologism, but no matter how you translate it, you can understand it as the bread which comes down from Heaven. You have to understand it as the manna in the Old Testament, which God sends down from Heaven to feeds us. Bread is very important as well, because bread is exactly this connection between Heaven and Earth. You take seed, you mix it with water and then you have bread. Just like the entire cosmos is the Word of God which comes down on the primordial ocean of creation and pulls reality out of it, bread becomes an image of this actual meeting. Therefore, this call for bread is a call, again, for the rule, for the kingdom, but in a manner that shows us that we are dependent on it; that we live through it; that we need it to exist. Without this bread which comes from Heaven, we cannot exist, we will die. And thus, it becomes our daily bread, our super-essential bread. It is something which brings us higher.
Notice how this all fits into the pattern of the entire world. Coming down from Heaven, once again, you have the name, you have the will, you have the kingdom, and you also have this bread, which is the seed that comes down and connects with the water of the world. After you mix it together and cook it, you’ve got that which sustains us. The meeting of Heaven and Earth, that’s what bread is.
And then comes “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Another translation: “Forgive us our debtors, as we forgive those who are indebted to us.” Both express the same idea. The word “trespass” is a good term, because it ties in with the mountain. I have elsewhere explained how the mountain can often be represented as a path. Imagine this path which leads you up to the summit, the point where Heaven and Earth meet. But in your life you also have trespasses. You have the things you do, the aspects of yourself which step off the path; which go down the path or which don’t hit the mark, don’t hit the center, don’t totally manifest the will of God in the world. On the path are the seeds, the will, the kingdom – and aside from that path are ways in which we fail to host the seed, in which we don’t allow God’s will and kingdom to grow through us.
So, you have Heaven, you have Earth, you have the mountain in the middle of the kingdom. Now, imagine the bottom of the mountain. We’re stepping off into the wilderness. We are stepping on thorns. There’s all this imagery in Scripture about the trespass where we miss out, right? Hence why we ask God to forgive us our trespasses so that we can go back up; so that we can participate in the kingdom, so that we can eat the bread, so that we can do His will.
We also say, “as we forgive those who trespass against us”. That’s really important because, until now, we only seen the vertical move; everything coming down from Heaven. We’ve seen our response, which is to ask God to bring us up by forgiving us for all the ways in which we wander and look away from the path. But now we see an horizontal move: this moving up is a coming together as well. I talk about this all the time – this idea that there’s a vertical move and a horizontal move. That is, the communion of the saints – the existence in love; the well-fittedness in love – is that which manifests the Kingdom of God. For the mountain to hold together, there has to be this thing coming down from above which manifests the essence of the wills, but there also has to be a coming together at the base in order to stay connected at the top.
Thus, we ask God to forgive us, and then we forgive those around us so that we all stay in communion. We love those around us just as God loves us. Without that – without us loving our neighbors, without us forgiving the trespasses of others – we cannot participate in this upward movement. The upward movement is the coming together of the lower parts. For a cup to exist, it has to hold together. If you throw it on the ground and it smashes into pieces, it can no longer manifest the essence of the cup; it can no longer manifest the kingdom of the cup. It has to come together for the essence of the cup to appear. Christ often mentions this. He says, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of them.” If we gather in the will of God, in the name of God, then Christ is at our center; Christ becomes our head.
Now we come to the lowest part: “lead us not into temptation”. “Lead us not into trial” or “let us not fall into trial” are also different ways of translating it. In a way, it doesn’t matter, because it’s all one step lower. It has to do with the idea of the trespass. Besides the path, imagine those dark things that are calling us; all these dark principalities on the outside. All these things that are pulling us apart from each other, that are tempting us, that are like a stumbling stone, that are a trial. All these things that are going to bring us away from the name, from the kingdom, from the will of God, and also going to separate us from each other. And so, we want God to not let us fall into this outside darkness. We want God to keep us in the light where His will is being done and where we are loving our neighbors.
Finally: “and deliver us from the evil one”. That is, of course, the final step – you could call it the upside-down at the edge – the Devil himself, who is the separator, the divider, the accuser. All of these images of evil are on the very fringe of the world and accuse you so that you fall away, so that you get pulled away from the Kingdom of Heaven, from the Kingdom of God. Thus, you can see how the prayer itself repeats the pattern of creation and fall in Genesis. It is a repetition of almost all the stories in Scripture: starting from above, showing us the world in between and how the world falls apart on the edge, and what we need to do in order to stay connect to each other and to God.
Thus, while this prayer is ultimately about our relationship with God and our coexistence as the Church, which is the Body of Christ, it also depicts the pattern of reality. Every smaller identity also participates in this pattern. I keep using the example of the cup; it’s a good and simple one. You have the identity of the cup, which is up in Heaven. It is invisible. It is an essence. It is beyond the multiplicity. And it has a name. Its name is the place where it comes together in itself, and in order to participate in cups, you need the kingdom of the cup to come down on pieces such as ceramic, or paint, or whatever your cup is made of. You need the kingdom of the cup to come down and manifest its will “on Earth as it is in Heaven”. If the identity of the cup, the name of the cup and the will of the cup is not manifesting itself properly in the world, you’re going to have a cup with holes or you’re going to have a weirdly shaped cup that is hard to drink from; whatever it is. You want the kingdom of the cup to manifest itself fully in the world. You need to have some flexibility towards the exceptions; you can’t be completely rigorous in terms of the essence of the cup, because the essence of the cup is too high anyways. There is no pure cup in the world; each cup will have something that will not be perfect. So you have to be forgiving as well; to be understanding. You have to be able to recognize the essence of the cup in the multiplicity. In a way, you forgive the little trespasses of the cup. You don’t want to be too severe, or else you won’t drink anything, because nothing actually manifests the full essence of it. And finally, you don’t want the cup to be destroyed. You don’t want it to be knocked off the table and to break on the ground. You don’t want a person to come in and steal the cups from your house. You don’t want that to happen. You want the kingdom of the cup to participate appropriately in its essense.
I’m afraid that some people might think that I’m being somewhat blasphemous when I’m using a cup as an example, but I think it’s very important to understand that reality functions as a fractal pattern. When we talk about how the glory of God is hidden in creation; that everything in the world manifests God, it’s not arbitrary. It’s not an emotional thing. It’s not “I feel like God is manifesting Himself in the world.” It is an actual, objective reality. It’s a true thing that you can participate in; that you can see and that manifests itself at lower levels everywhere in the world, pointing up towards the absolute version of it, which Christ reveals to us in this prayer He gives us.
In conclusion, as we are hopefully trying to spend more time in prayer, in fasting as well as trying to refocus on what is essential, we can remember as we pray the Lord’s Prayer – it’s good to pray at least every day – how beautiful it is; how much it not only brings us into the presence of God, that it not only is the prayer that Christ gave us, it is the ultimate prayer, in a way, because it also shows us the very structure of creation and the very manner in which God interacts with the world.