Lord, Have Mercy

The most common prayer in Orthodoxy is “Lord, have mercy.” In some services we say it 40 times in a row! I’ve been known to comment that, most of us being white for now, we sure say Lord Have Mercy alot! But this isn’t because we have hangups, or we imagine God as a punishing judge, or we have low self-esteem. (Any of these may be true, but not the reason!) Comparing ourselves to God in any quality or attribute has been likened to the mathematical principle that, compared to infinity, any number is as zero.

On the other hand, anything God does for us is Mercy, not just juridical pardoning of legalistic infractions. Mercy may be another name for God’s Favor, Grace, Graciousness, Assistance, Energy, Pity, Healing, etc.

It’s not uncommon to say it in Biblical Greek, Kyrie eleison,* or Old Church Slavonic (a parent tongue of Russian), Gospodi pomilui.**

(*-“KEER-ee-ay uh-LAY-zawn.” **-“GOSS-poh-dee paw-MEEL-oy.”)

This is also why the Jesus Prayer is a prayer for Mercy, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.” And why Psalm 51 (50 LXX), the Miserere, is the Number One psalm in Orthodox Church usage.

As we proceed in Orthodox spirituality, we become more conscious of our sinfulness, our huge difference from God’s Perfection, our involvement in “the sin of the world,” and indeed our hopelessness and utter dependence on God’s Mercy. Some of the greatest Orthodox Saints, on their deathbeds, have begged God for more time to turn their lives around! This would be depressing if we didn’t have God to turn to, if we didn’t know we could look for Mercy from Him, if we didn’t know that, as someone once said, as we take one step toward Him, He takes a million towards us…like the forgiving Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

But on the third hand(!), Orthodoxy doesn’t use sin or “guilt” to beat up on us or enslave us like some religious groups do. In fact, some Orthodox priests insist on just one sacramental Confession per year, unless something really serious comes up.

So, Lord have mercy!

  1. Господи Помилѹй!

    When I was a catechumen, my Russian priest would let me cheat off of his wife’s phonetic spelling of Church Slavonic when we chanted together in the choir, but he told me I should learn Church Slavonic because “it’s not so hard to do”…ha! Sure!

    It’s worth mentioning that in the first two centuries of The Church, the liturgy in Rome was celebrated in Greek (or so I’ve read).

    Then, when the mass was translated to Latin, the familiar “Kyrie Eleison” was retained. Otherwise, in Latin the prayer would be “Miserie Dominai!” (not sure I have that correct in spelling).

    Also, “Lord have mercy!” is the “Prayer of the Publican”.

    Interesting in scripture how Christ Jesus was addressed through the pleas of others:

    Jesus of Nazareth, have mercy!

    Jesus, son of David, have mercy!

    Only through the revelation of the resurrection do we arrive at “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy (on me a sinner)” which we use in a non-liturgical sense.

    I’m a big believer in communal prayer, and I try to pray for others more often than I pray for myself.

    Thus I’ve developed the personal/communal prayer:

    “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on WE who sin against Thee!”

    That’s in harmony with The Symbol of Faith which was originally composed “We believe…”

    I’m glad I found your blog.

    In Christ,



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