A Prayer of Not Knowing

Archpriest Michael Gillis | 04 November 2016
A Prayer of Not Knowing
Photo: St. Philaret of Moscow

In the Missionary Letters of Saint Nikolai Velimirovich (Vol. 3) #254, St. Nikolai records a secret prayer of St. Philaret of Moscow (+1867), found among his papers after his repose. Many of us are already familiar with St. Philaret’s morning prayer: “O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace…” This prayer touched me so much that for my last few years of teaching, I printed it and gave it to my students at the beginning of each semester and began every class by reciting it (which I could get away with because I was teaching at a Christian institution: Trinity Western University). Interestingly, my mostly Evangelical or agnostic students became so accustomed to the prayer that when I didn’t say it because I was in a hurry or distracted, they would sometimes ask me why I hadn’t said the prayer. Even Evangelicals and agnostics can appreciate liturgical consistency.

The secret prayer of St. Phiaret goes like this:

O Lord, I do not know what to ask of You.  You only know what I need.  You love me more than I am capable of loving myself.  O Father, give Your servant that which I cannot even request.  I dare ask for neither suffering nor blessing, but I stand before You with my heart open toward You.  You see the needs which I do not know. Look upon me and act according to Your mercy.  Chasten and heal, let me fall and get me up.  I tremble and remain silent before Your holy will and before Your judgment which is beyond reach for me.  I offer myself to You as a sacrifice.  There is no desire in me except for the desire to fulfill Your will.  Teach me to pray.  You, Yourself pray in me!  Amen.

Notice how much this saint does not know. For me, the beginning of open-hearted prayer comes as I begin to know my ignorance in prayer. I don’t know what to pray. I don’t know what I need. And I most certainly don’t know what other people need. The God who knows everything, loves everyone, and can do whatever is necessary, this is the very God to whom I am speaking. God knows. What I can do is say amen. What I can do is open my heart to either suffering or blessing, falling or rising, chastening or healing. God knows. What I can do is offer myself as a sacrifice. Or at least, this is what I can pray to do.

Those of us who are living in a context of relative religious freedom may find sacrifice, perhaps, too strong a word. However, I suggest that every kind of suffering we endure for the sake of love for others or in resisting sinful passion or in enduring sickness without complaining or even in enjoying blessings without forgetting God and those who are suffering is exactly the sacrifice St. Philaret is referring to.

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