Being Human: Fully Alive (II)

A continuation of a summary of John Bazlinton’s talk on “Being Human: Fully Alive” found in the last post:

The challenge that we face as is of regaining our true humanity, of recovering our God-intended destiny which means in effect to become Christ who is the express Image of God. John Bazlinton continued his talk by pointing us to the “Our Father,” the prayer which Jesus Christ Himself gave us.

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10). To become fully human again, we need to rediscover where we come from and who we truly are. In the words of the Divine Liturgy, we dare to call God our Father.

Next we pray that God’s name may be “hallowed” and worshipped. God is to be worshipped and loved not for what He gives us, but simply for who He is as the Source of all that is. The purpose of our life is to worship God. Indeed human beings inevitably worship something, and hold something as infinitely valuable. Human beings have an innate need to worship something and if we do not worship God we will worship something else.

Those who visit an Orthodox church for the first time are often impressed by what seems a total focus on God. The incense, the candles, the embroidered robes, the holy images or icons: all these things are meant to direct our thoughts and feelings towards God. They tell us that God is holy – worship Him. But to worship Him is to love Him and to be loved by Him. It is striking how often we hear these words in Orthodox services: for You are a good God and You love mankind.”

It is this that gives us the courage to pray “Thy kingdom come.” This kingdom is not a place, but a desire that God may rule as king over the whole world.

When we redirect our focus back to God, we pray quite naturally that “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are not submitting blindly to God’s will: that would be the act of a machine, not a full human being. We are remembering that God’s will and ours were made to go together. We were created that way. By praying that God’s will be done, I rediscover not what I want but who I really am.

“Give us this day our daily bread” – we ask not only for the food and material goods to sustain us, but also for the Bread of Heaven, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ that we receive in the Divine Liturgy. But this cannot sustain us if we are too sick to receive it and so we pray “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

This can be very challenging.

Does forgiving mean no longer feeling anger and resentment? That should be our final state, at which, by God’s grace, we may eventually arrive. But if everything depended on our feelings, few or none of us would start to forgive. Initially, it means refusing to take revenge, even in our minds. It means refusing to strike back. Even this can be very difficult but it is essential, if war inside us or around us is ever to cease.

Then, in the name of real human freedom, we pray: ‘And lead us not into temptation’.

St John Chrysostom, that great preacher of the fourth century who gave his name to the Divine Liturgy we celebrate on most Sundays, tells us that this is our most natural cry to God when we face danger. Temptation does not always mean being tempted to do something wrong. It is a time of trial that we pray to be spared from or to pass through unscathed.

Lastly, we pray ‘Deliver us from evil’ – or more precisely, ‘from the evil one’. Yes, we mean the devil, not an abstract notion of evil. Since the Fall, ‘the Father of Lies’ (as Jesus calls him) has tried to deceive us. He holds up a distorting mirror and tells us that the harsh, brutal, frightened image in it is who we really are.

But when we know who we really are, we no longer believe the lies. We are renewed. St Gregory Palamas, a great teacher on prayer from the fourteenth century, writes: ‘Salvation is more than forgiveness. It is a genuine renewal of man’. When you are sick, being renewed means becoming well again. Simply put, it means becoming once again who you are.