What is so distinctive about Maximos’ interpretation of this prayer and why was this essay even included in Philokalia?
Protopresbyter Theodoros Zisis believes that its inclusion has significance unto itself.
The inclusion of this little work in the Philokalia stems from its deep neptic and spiritual character, as well as the unique and interesting way in which Saint Maximos interprets the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer which the Lord Himself taught the Apostles in the Sermon on the Mount…” Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, writes that he did this, first, because the interpretation of the “Our Father” of Saint Maximos surpasses other similar interpretive works, and second, because it is of great use to its readers” (in the chapter on St. Maximos’ interpretation of the Lord’s prayer in Zisis’ book “Following the Holy Fathers: Timeless Guides of Authentic Christianity” ).
Zisis believes that the use of this work to its readers is nothing short of a path to theosis:
The power of the Lord’s Prayer, the mastery of its hidden and mystical aim, effectively brings about this end [theosis].
For St. Maximos, the Lord’s prayer not only reveals to us the entire mystery of deification, but it helps us enact divine knowledge in real time.
If the purpose of the divine counsel is the deification of our nature, and the aim of the divine counsel is the deification of our nature, it follows that we should both know and carry into effect the power of the Lord’s prayer
In St. Maximos’ interpretation, the Lord’s prayer is not simply a prayer for a specific request or occasion, but a complete universe, containing all that is needed for a person to undertake and complete the journey to deification.
For hidden within a limited compass this prayer contains the whole purpose and aim of which we have just spoken…
To unlock its larger mystery, St. Maximos breaks it down to 7 significant “sub-mysteries,” contained sequentially in the prayer:
- Adoption as sons by grace
- Equality with the angels
- Participation in eternal life
- The restoration of human nature when it is reconciled dispassionately with itself
- The abolition of the law of sin and
- The destruction of the tyranny that hold us in its power through the deceit of the evil one.
Theology: “Our Father who are in heaven”
Through Christ, our mediator, the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is revealed in the very first words.
By joining the Lord in his prayer to his Father we are permitted to also call Him “Father,” thus becoming His sons and daughters. We enter the mystery of the prayer through direct communication with God and, hence, as participants rather than passive servants.
Participation in eternal life
“No being comprehends the essence of God,” St. Maximos tells us. Yet because of God’s love for us, he allowed us to participate in His essence “through the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
While we cannot “command” the presence of the Holy Spirit on our own, we are not merely vessels for it but active participants since “… the guarding and preservation of this in God depends on the resolve of those thus born…”
Receiving grace is of no value if we are not able to discern it and willing to wage spiritual welfare to guard it and grow it.
Maximos goes even further in defining the nature of our participation, suggesting that, in emptying ourselves of passions, we have the potential of being Christ-like: We can empty ourselves “of the passions they lay hold of the divine to the same degree as that to which, deliberately emptying Himself of His own sublime glory, the Logos of God truly became man.”
Christ, through his love for us, actively wants us to participate in, and be one with, Him.
“The Logos enables us to participate in divide life by making Himself our food…” St. Maximos reminds us.
Equality with the angels: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”
Zisis sees this line as an indication of “man becoming equal in honour to the angels, as asking for equality with the rational beings.” Like the angels, we are in harmony, and not in rebellion, with God’s will.
He restores human nature to itself: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive out debtors.”
We now emulate God on the Cross by loving and forgiving even our enemies. By fighting passions and submitting our entire souls to love, we return to our true, God-given nature.
St. Maximos talks about God’s essence is uniting and ends all contradictions and fragmentation.
…the Logos unites what is separated and that alienation from Logos divides what is united.
…He united heaven and earth in Himself, joined what is sensible with what is intelligible, and revealed creation as a single whole whose extremes are bound together through virtue and through knowledge of their first Cause.”
We are restored to our true nature in which we are whole. We are no longer torn between the dualities of soul and body, passions and God’s will because the two are harmonized and united into one.
“Our will is no longer opposed to the principles of nature”