Lord Have Mercy

Fr. Gabriel Bilas | 04 February 2021

Having arisen from sleep, I run to You O Master, for You love mankind…and I rush to accomplish your work.  Help me at all times and in all things.  Deliver me from every evil thing of this world and from the works of the devil.  Save me and lead me into Your eternal Kingdom!  You are my Maker, the Provider, and the Giver of every good.  All my hope is in You, and I glorify You, now and ever and unto ages of ages amen.  

-St. Macarius the Great

This is a prayer that some of you might recognize because it is one of the morning prayers that are offered to God daily by so many faithful Orthodox Christians throughout the world.  I selected it for this article, because it describes quite beautifully what we should be thinking when we wake up in the morning!  Not “is the coffee on?”  Not “…Ugh, another day of going to school or work…” Not “What kind of stuff am I going to have to deal with today?”

“Having just awaken from sleep…I now run to You O Master, for Your Love…and because of that Love, I will now rush to accomplish Your Work.”  

The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 serves as an important reminder of the special responsibility we each have as stewards of these great gifts of Love that we have received from God.  Our Lord tells us about three distinct cases of servants receiving an incredible sum of money from the master.  He gave each of these men a certain number of talents (one talent was the equivalent to 6,000 days of labor, or 16 years.). To the first person, he gave almost 80 years-worth of a yearly salary! The second person was entrusted with almost 32 years-worth of a salary!  The third person he gave a remarkable 16 years-worth of a salary!   Any way you slice it, this is an incredible amount of trust that the master was showing to the servants!

 As the parable goes, when the master returned, the first two servants not only returned what they were given…but managed to double it.  They did this despite the master not explicitly telling them what he expected from the talents!  The servants realized that they were stewards of something that wasn’t theirs to begin with…something they didn’t deserve in the first place.  Despite that, they still desired to please the master whom they loved and trusted.  They worked to add to what had been given them.

Contrary to the good stewards, the third servant called the master a “Hard Man”. He obviously wasn’t happy that he didn’t get any instructions on what to do with the money after he had received it.  There was no desire to return anything more than what the master had given him, so he buried what he was given and returned the same amount.  It was for that wickedness and lack of Love that the master took the talent away, admonishing and sending him to the outer darkness “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. ”

Our worship services in the Orthodox Church are full of petitions to our Lord, asking for various things.  But do you know what is probably the most used and repeated petition in our services?   It is something that we say over and over and over… Lord, Have Mercy.”

The true meaning behind this short prayer often gets lost in English, because the word “mercy” takes on a connotation of “justice or acquittal.”  This is not the tenor of the prayer that we say in the Divine Liturgy.  We aren’t saying:  “Lord…don’t convict me and send me to the outer darkness!” 

 The Greek word that is used for “mercy” comes from “eleos”, which is the same root word as the word for “oil” which is used to sooth or to heal.  The Hebrew word for “mercy” comes from “hesed” which means “steadfast love.”  In the Church, when we say “Lord have mercy”, we are literally saying over and over and over:  “Lord…soothe me…and show me your steadfast love!

Every Divine Liturgy, the deacon comes out after the Gospel and exhorts all of us, “with all of our soul and with all of our mind” to ask God to continue to send down His Love to us….our country….our clergy… and to those who have gone before us.  We then repeat those words over and over and over:  “Lord have mercy…Lord have mercy…Lord have mercy…”.  “Show us your healing love O Lord”!  

What we ask for and receive more than any other petition in our worship is for the one gift that we truly can return to Him:  Love.  St. Paul in his epistle to the Colossians really puts it best when he said:  Above all things…all of the virtues that I just mentioned like kindness, humility, meekness…above all of them, put on love…which is the bond of perfection.

You want to become perfect in this life?  Learn to love God more than anything else in this world.  Returning the gift of Love to God (and to one another) is the reason we were created.  It is truly the most important thing that we can do with our life.  This is why St. Macarius in his morning prayer reminds us to get out of bed, and literally RUN to the Master who Loves Mankind, so that we can accomplish His Holy Work here in the paradise that we have been given.

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