Sunday, June 09, 2002

A Babel of Prayers and our great High Priest

Think of it. Every moment petitions, thanksgivings, confessions and prayers of many kinds are being offered to the Father in a variety of languages, dialects and idioms, using all kinds of good and bad syntax, grammar and vocabulary. And each and every prayer must take one route and one route only, it must go through the One Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, in order to reach the Father.

For Jesus, the great High Priest, receives, understands, purifies and perfects each and every prayer (for he knows by the Spirit the intention of those who pray) before he joins it to his own constant Prayer to the Father in the eternal Spirit.

It is only because He is Man (perfected and glorified Man) as well being God (of one substance with the Father and the Spirit) and is One Person, made known in two natures, that Jesus is able to be the heavenly High Priest to receive, interpret, purify and perfect the continuing prayers of His people from all around the globe and from many diverse cultures and language groups.

For wherever we are and whatever we are, we pray as Christians only in one basic way - to the Father through the Incarnate Son and with the Holy Spirit.

This agreed and stated, a case can be made for saying that therefore any kind of praying and any kind of public worship is fine as long as it is sincere and rightly intended. Surely, it can be argued, such prayer will be perfected and purified by Jesus our Mediator and High Priest, and so why bother with seeking for perfection here below? Let us be user-friendly and easy going and just have a good time with the Lord!

Yet, the great merits of our exalted Prophet, Priest and King, the Lord Jesus Christ, should be no excuse for our offering the very best to the Father in His Name.

This means that from our hearts, as purified by the Spirit, should arise godly motions and determinations; and from our lips should come forth the very best form of words that we are capable of uttering to the One who is our Creator, Redeemer and Judge.

The language we use should be dignified and appropriate (obviously from within our culture and language) for the address of a sinner to his eternal Judge, a scholar to his heavenly Master, an adorer to the Adorable Infinite & Eternal One, a creature to his eternal Creator, a human being before the LORD God, the Holy Trinity.

And, further, we need to distinguish between what is acceptable and appropriate as common prayer (in the congregational assembly) and private prayer. In the former the language has to be such as to become the prayer of all present and thus has to be of the very best quality to serve as such.

The reason why millions use in common prayer in the assembly either ancient languages for the Divine Liturgy or classical older forms of living languages for public worship is that they judge these to serve best in terms of an excellent liturgy offered to the Trinity that seeks to do true honor to the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, one God.

Private prayer, as inspired and energized by the indwelling Spirit of Christ, is not governed by the same principles as public prayer for it is a movement of the soul directly to the Lord Jesus and so can be without form and grammatical structure. Obviously, private prayer should never be used as a model for public prayer or vice versa. Yet in praying with others - in the family, in the Bible study group - there is a very good case to be made for using a public form of prayer - e.g. the Litany or the Daily Office or Compline.

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
Minister of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
England & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large
of The Prayer Book Society of America

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