I would like to continue to explore the Lord’s Prayer using different commentaries; the following is from the chapter on the Our Father in the French Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément’s Three Prayers.
Clément notes that “God the Father” has been seen as an enemy of freedom – a sadistic, abusive father. But Clément says, “This Father transcends sexual duality. St John speaks of the ‘bosom of the Father,’ where the entire Bible evokes the ‘bosom of mercy,’ rahamim, in the sense of a womb: this Father is motherly. He ‘senses’ his children as a mother ‘senses’ her own, with her whole being, with all her flesh and within her bosom.” God is still called “Father,” though, because “the ultimate end is not assimilation but communion, a liberating communion that enables us to make our way toward others.” The address to “this Father” finally means that we are “never, ever, lost orphans,” and that we can always look with confidence for a graced beauty at the root of it all – “an infinitely merciful fatherhood giving life to all things.”
We pray “Abba, Father” with Jesus, the Son of God, which shows that our “liberating communion” with the Father exists as a fundamental trait of the Absolute. “Within God is the unoriginate Cause, the filial Other, and the Breath of life and of love that rests on the Other and leads Him, and us in Him, back to the Origin of all.” We must try to see everything as caught up in this divine rhythm, but primarily the face of our neighbor – the Father is after all “Our” Father. “There is not one person who does not have a mysterious relationship with the Father who created him, with the Son, the ‘ultimate man.’ And with the Breath that moves all living things. There is not one person who does not aspire to goodness, who does not tremble before beauty, nor is there one who is devoid of a sense of mystery when faced with love and with death.”
Even if we all have a relationship with the Father, he remains a mystery – the Father “art is heaven,” and must be approached with silence, with “the awareness that takes hold of us when, from the edge of a cliff, we see the whirling sea stretch out in front of us.” We must seek him in the deep mystery that is our heart, our “innermost center,” our “inner heaven,” as Evagrius of Pontus called it. We must also seek him in the mystery of beauty, what St John Climacus called “those profane melodies that bear us up to inner joy, divine love and blessed tears.” And we can also remember that “hallowed be thy name,” and invoke the Name in the midst of a life that very often tempts us to sleepwalk in a state of forgetfulness.
Our relationship with the Father is directed to the coming of the Kingdom, when both heaven and earth will be renewed in Christ. The intimations of the parousia (Christ’s return) are among us – in the Eucharist, in the moments of prayer beyond prayer when we feel our hearts burning within us, “the smell of the earth after a storm, a cosmic incense, the perpetual, hesychastic furling and unfurling of waves and the nebulae, the ‘Song of Songs’ from a great and noble love, where bodies are the intimations of souls …”. There will be no more death and no more division. This will be not so much a human achievement as the growing realization that God loves us and we can “breathe in the Holy Spirit.”
It is when we realize this that we truly do God’s will. Our utter dependence upon God is most manifest as we pray for our “daily bread.” “What we are asking from God is that we might receive, on this day, every kind of bread, every form of sustenance, as if it were the Eucharist; that is, communion in his Body and in his Presence.” We truly must, St Paul says, “give thanks (eucharisteite) in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:18), as impossible as this often sounds. The mention of bread reminds us that our relationship with the earth from which bread comes must be a “transfiguring responsibility” – not an excuse for plunder – and that we must see even foreigners and immigrants in a Eucharistic manner marked by sharing.
Doing God’s will also means that we must stop distorting our relationships with our unconscious desire for self-gratification – the expectation that others must always be settling their debts with us. St Symeon the New Theologian said, “A saint is a poor man who loves his brother.” A saint realizes that he is poor before the God who has nevertheless freed him from “debts”; the saint then does not expect any sort of payment from others, and is able to be a neighbor to all. This refusal to take from others, which lets us really enter into the mystery of their otherness, in Evagrius’ words, is a state of being “separated from all and united to all.”
We must finally overcome “temptation,” which is borne out of what St Maximus the Confessor refers to as “the secret fear of death.” This fear forces us to withdraw from the mystery of God and the perceived risk of anguish and bewilderment. We then entertain the safer parodies of magic, drugs, eroticism, totalitarianism, and so on. Clément writes, “I had the privilege of meeting and hearing Andrei Tarkovsky, the director of Andrei Rublev, among other works. As he said, the danger in our day is that we drop the whole question. He expressed his commitment to awakening people and to making them understand that man is a question.”
We cannot face this question without coming to understand that the world needs to be delivered from evil. But we must not despair: “It is now Holy Saturday, when the descent into hell becomes the victory over hell; when Christ’s return is being prepared, or rather the return of the cosmos and of mankind, through Christ, to the Father, so that He might finally ‘wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.’” Then we will see “an infinitely merciful fatherhood giving life to all things,” as everything is swept us into the divine rhythm: “Within God is the unoriginate Cause, the filial Other, and the Breath of life and of love that rests on the Other and leads Him, and us in Him, back to the Origin of all.”