Rewriting prayers

A few years ago I picked up a blue half-sheet of paper after an Inquirers’ Class at St. Philip’s Antiochian Church in Souderton, Pennsylvania (the one with the great choir!), on which were printed the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”), the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian used during the Great Fast/Lent, and one called the “Morning Prayer of the Last Elders of Optina.” (Optina is a famous monastery in Russia about 120 miles southwest of Moscow. “Elder” in Russian is starets, plural startsy, referring to a monastic spiritual father, like Elder Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov. The Greek equivalent is geronta [masculine in gender despite ending in A] – the source of the English word “gerontology”… and the brand name Geritol! Optina is once again an active monastery and center for pilgrimages and retreats, since the decline of Communist rule.)

As you can see here, I’m not the only one who has been disturbed by the line in the Optina prayer, “all is sent down from Thee.” But ISTM the two priests toward the end of the current Comments at the link have some helpful things to say about it, especially Fr. Matthew. Reminds me of a line from an old Philadelphia Quaker* traveling minister, Hannah Whitall Smith, in her famous 1875 book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, that however something bad started, by the time it reaches you, God means it for your good. We say God is always trying to bring good out of the bad people do or have done. But often that’s hard for us to perceive because of our limited perspective. “Your Arms Too Short to Box with God“! But eyes of faith might learn to see. Actually I’d forgotten that the line from the patriarch Joseph (he of the technicolor dreamcoat!) was his: “You meant this to me for evil, but the Lord meant it to me for good.” It was paraphrased by St. Raphael of Brooklyn in reference to a persecution that temporarily drove his parents from their hometown of Damascus to Beirut while they were expecting his birth in 1860, and the incident is alluded to with that paraphrase in Oikos 1 of his Akathist, where I’ve re-encountered it.

But since I wasn’t sure how well Mrs. Smith agreed with Orthodoxy, I’ve unfailingly read the prayer repeating the line from the previous paragraph, “subject to Thy holy Will,” instead of “sent down from Thee”! (I *am* the worst of sinners, to second-guess Holy Elder-Martyrs of the Bolshevik Yoke!!!) It’ll take some adjustment, and swallowing of pride….

(*–Ironically, Smith was an “Orthodox Friend”… no, not like some of these folks! In the 1820s-’30s U.S. Quakers split into two branches, each believing it was truer to the spirit of the first English Quakers of the 1600s, and thus to true Christianity: one branch sought to retain a theological ‘peculiarity,’ but soon tended in a Liberal Protestant direction, while the other sought a more ‘evangelical’ Protestant theology, and came to be called “Orthodox” in a sense not unlike the later “Neo-Orthodox” movement in Protestantism. Hence, perhaps, the Smiths’ later involvement with Holiness movements in the U.S. and Britain. In fact, a majority of the world’s Friends today are Evangelical of one tendency or another, and not very much like the Britain/Philadelphia stereotype – liberal, quiet, inclusive, non-evangelistic, pacifist – anymore. In fact, around the turn of the last century the Inupiat “Eskimos” of northwest Alaska – north of the Orthodox Yup’ik “Eskimos” – were converted from their Native faith to Pentecostal Quakerism!)

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