That we may be delivered from all tribulation, wrath, and necessity…
Thoughts on a petition in the Great Ectenia, the Litany of Peace
Oct 21/Nov 3 2009 22nd Tuesday after Pentecost. Monk Hilarion the Great.
That we may be delivered from all tribulation, wrath, and necessity, let us pray to the Lord.
10th petition of the Great Ectenia.
A passion which we allow to grow active within us through our own choice afterwards forces itself upon us against our will. Saint Kosmas Aitolos +1779
We pray this petition many times, since it is in the Great Ectenia or “Litany of Peace” (which is said at the beginning of Vespers, Matins and Divine Liturgy). More than any other petition, it sums up the totality of the Christian life, and describes the effect of the incarnation upon the human soul. We should tremble with joy, fear and great expectation every time we hear it.
This is a prayer that is hearkening to two times. One time is right now, our present life, and the other time is the next life.
Regarding the next life, we are asking to be delivered from tribulation and wrath – these things will occur in the dread judgment. We are not asking to be delivered from difficulties in this life, or to be relived from the troubles of daily life.
Asking to be delivered from necessity is completely about our current life.
Why did Christ become “a little lower than the angels” (become incarnate) for our sakes? The answer to this question is not to be found in theological books or preaching. It must be found within the soul which thirsts for light, and yet still is aware that it contains darkness.
The true Christian knows that the purpose of His life is to become all light, to be perfect, with no sin or darkness in him at all. The only way to know God, Who is all light, and all perfection, with no sin or darkness, is to emulate Him, and become perfect. We are commanded to do this very thing, and God does not give any command that is impossible (just difficult).
It is possible to be perfect, because of the incarnation. Our Lord taught us how to live by word and example, took great care that His teaching was understood and would be passed on, and then accomplished in His human flesh everything He requires of our flesh, and in so doing, changed our flesh so that it would be capable of becoming perfected.
Only the soul which understands this, and also looks within himself the darkness of the “law of sin”, working in his members, can cry out with compunction “deliver me from necessity”.
When something is necessary, it must be done. If you are a slave and your master tells you to do something that is arduous or difficult, you must do it, whether you want to or not,. or you will be punished. If we are slaves of sin, then there are things that we are going to do even though we don’t want to do them. That is necessity.
St Paul talks about it quite eloquently in Romans.
14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. 17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Rom 7:14-24)
If you are sold, your life is not your own. He is speaking of necessity! We desire to be good, and yet we are not always good. We desire to not be angry, and yet we get angry! We desire to say our prayers, and yet we end up not saying them. We desire to be pure in our thoughts, and yet there are lustful thoughts in our heart, or angry thoughts against someone who has wronged us, and remembrance of wrongs, despite our best efforts.
Necessity is active in us because our weak will. Christ came to strengthen our will. In this petition, we are begging the Lord to help us with our weakness. It is similar in spirit to the prayer of the man whose child had a demon:
"Lord I believe; help my Thou my unbelief": we cry "Lord my will is to follow Thee, help Thou my weak will!"
Every Christian should feel this prayer acutely, painfully, fervently, with great longing in their heart. Is there anyone who does not feel that there are things that they do not have the strength to accomplish? Is there anyone who realistically believes that they will never get angry again, never remember wrongs, always be at peace? We want to, but we cannot, because of our weakness.
We pray to be delivered from necessity, our own carnality, our own sinfulness, which sometimes forces us to sin.
What is the solution?
1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Rom 8:1-4)
Delivery from necessity is to walk in the way of Christ, with God helping us, and enabling us. Christ has shown us this way, and we are to walk this way, and this is the only way to free ourselves from compulsion and to be able to be "free indeed" as Christ promised us that we should be and would be.
11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. `
This petition is discussed at length in a Catechetical Discussion about the Great Ectenia, Part Two (http://www.orthodox.net/catechism/prayers-of-the-church_2007-12-04+the-great-ectenia+part-two.mp3). The discussion begins at 19:10, and continues almost to the end. Some of this article is a modified transcription of this talk.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2009. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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