An Ancient Prayer to Help Us Pray into Our Cultural Moment

Sometimes we need to spiritually step outside of our historical and cultural setting to adequately engage the demands of our own cultural moment. To this end, I offer you the earliest Christian prayer after the time of the New Testament, 1 Clement 59.3-61.3.

1 Clement is a lengthy letter written by the church in Rome to the church in Corinth, probably by the hand of either a secretary or a church leader named “Clement” at the end of the first century A.D. Included at the tail end of this letter is a deep, passionate, and sometimes insightful prayer. If you have ever benefited from praying the prayers of devout Christians of earlier centuries (and you won’t encounter any Christian document earlier than 1 Clement outside of the Bible), you may find some spiritual benefit praying this prayer (aloud would be best) as you struggle to know how to pray into our own cultural moment. I have included the entire prayer.

1 Clement 59.3-61.3

Grant us, Lord, to hope on your name,

which is the primal source of all creation,

and open the eyes of our hearts

that we may know you,

who alone are highest among the high;

you are holy, abiding among the holy. 

You humble the pride of the proud;

you destroy the plans of nations;

you exalt the humble and humble the exalted;

you make rich and make poor;

you kill and make alive. 

 

You alone are the benefactor of spirits and the God of all flesh,

looking into the depths,

scanning the works of humans;

the helper of those who are in peril,

the savior of those in despair;

the creator and guardian of every spirit. 

You multiply the nations upon the earth,

and from among all of them you have chosen those

who love you through Jesus Christ,

your beloved servant,

through whom you instructed us,

sanctified us, honored us. 

 

We ask you, Master, to be our helper and protector. 

Save those among us who are in distress;

have mercy on the humble;

raise up the fallen;

show yourself to those in need;

heal the sick;

turn back those of your people who wander;

feed the hungry;

ransom our prisoners;

raise up the weak;

comfort the discouraged. 

Let all the nations know that you are the only God,

that Jesus Christ is your servant,

and that we are your people and the sheep of your pasture.

 

For you through your works have revealed

the everlasting structure of the world. 

You, Lord, created the earth. 

You are faithful throughout all generations,

righteous in your judgments,

marvelous in strength and majesty,

wise in creating

and prudent in establishing what exists,

good in all that is observed

and faithful to those who trust in you,

merciful and compassionate:

forgive us our sins and our injustices,

our transgressions and our shortcomings. 

Do not take into account every sin of your servants and slaves,

but cleanse us with the cleansing of your truth,

and direct our steps to walk in holiness and righteousness and purity of heart,

and to do what is good and pleasing in your sight and in the sight of our rulers. 

 

Yes, Lord, let your face shine upon us in peace for our good,

so that we may be sheltered by your mighty hand

and delivered from every sin by your uplifted arm;

deliver us as well from those who hate us unjustly. 

Give harmony and peace to us and to all who dwell on the earth,

just as you did to our ancestors

when they reverently called upon you in faith and  truth,

that we may be saved,

while we render obedience to your almighty and most excellent name,

and to our rulers and governors on earth.

 

You, Master, have given them the power of sovereignty

through your majestic and inexpressible might,

so that we, acknowledging the glory and honor that you have given them,

may be subject to them,

resisting your will in nothing. 

Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, harmony, and stability,

so that they may blamelessly administer

the government that you have given them. 

 

For you, heavenly Master, King of the ages,

give to human beings glory and honor and authority

over the creatures upon the earth. 

Lord, direct their plans

according to what is good and pleasing in your sight,

so that by devoutly administering

in peace and gentleness the authority that you have given them

they may experience your mercy. 

You, who alone are able to do these

and even greater good things for us,

we praise through the high priest and benefactor of our souls, Jesus Christ,

through whom be the glory and the majesty

to you both now and for all generations

and for ever and ever. Amen.

———–

Translation from Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers:  Greek Texts and English Translations. The layout is mine.

For an easy-to-read introduction to the Apostolic Fathers, of which Clement is one, see my recent book, The Apostolic Fathers: A Narrative Introduction.

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