Inspiration via Orthodox Prayer

When I was asked to contribute a reflection on an ancient prayer, all I had to do was look up from my desk, and there was the answer – an Orthodox Prayer based upon the Prayer of St. Ioannikios, as well as the traditional and ancient Troparia to the Holy Trinity. I had printed out the prayer many years ago, and pasted it to a bookshelf where I could easily see and read it from my office chair. I often start my day with it, or turn to it when stressed or overwhelmed. The Orthodox prayer cycle is one in which I take considerable comfort. So much of it is directed to God, in the ageless declarations of the praise of God’s attributes and being.

My introduction to Orthodox spirituality came from a prof at Queen’s Theological College, Father Basil Zion, a priest within the Orthodox Church of America, who was one of the advisors on my master’s thesis, which had to do with the Greek Fathers in Calvin’s Institutes. Father Basil helped me discover and appreciate the ancient texts and worship formats, many of which, such as the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, are still in regular use today.

My studies in the Patristics have both grounded me and nourished me. I also came to appreciate and enjoy Orthodox Worship Music, both in ancient form and in the more recent compositions by Rachmaninov and Grechaninov (“recent” in Orthodox terms). Rachmaninov’s “Vespers” (also known as the All Night Vigil) and Grechaninov’s “Passion Week” are deeply beautiful and a refuge for me in the midst of life’s storms and struggles. Beauty of architecture, music and word are highly prized in Orthodox worship, and these compositions reflect that priority. Among many wonderful recordings, I can recommend Charles Bruffy’s on the Chandos label for sheer beauty, as well as the Patram Choir recordings for deep spirituality.

The Prayer of St. Ioannikios which opens the prayer I have chosen, is attributed to Ioannikios, a shepherd turned warrior turned monk, based on Mount Olympus, but travelling and bringing blessing wider afield. His massive frame was offset by his humility and meekness, and his gifts were widely cherished. He was said to intone, “The Father is my hope; the Son is my refuge; the Holy Spirit is my protector; O All-holy Trinity, glory to You,” as a refrain between his recitation of the Psalms.

The Troparia is most often chanted or sung in a public service of worship, or prayed aloud when in private. The “metanias” are indications to bow down in worship, most often while crossing yourself. We Presbyterians aren’t much for crossing or for bowing – and certainly not for prostrating ourselves during worship! – but in the Orthodox mindset, worship involves the whole body, not just the mind and mouth. A “metania” is a “low earth bow,” which is a “lighter” version of the full-floor kneel or prostration. I confess that I tend to use this prayer while seated, but when attending Orthodox worship, as I do when in Jerusalem at Armenian Cathedral of St. James, I try to blend in, despite my tender knees and rigid Presbyterian spine.

I encourage you to find inspiration in Orthodox spiritual practice, particularly the prayers and the music. A nice introduction to Orthodox theology and practice can be found in Burgess, John P., “Encounters with Orthodoxy: How Protestant Churches Can Reform Themselves Again.” I haven’t time to get into the use of icons in personal devotion; perhaps in a future article I’ll detail how a group of PEI Presbyterians found their initial distaste of icons to flower into a deep appreciation during a pilgrimage I led to Meteora! Until then,

“The Father is my hope; the Son is my refuge; the Holy Spirit is my protector; O All-holy Trinity, glory to You.” Amen.

Prayer of St. Ioannikios and Morning Troparia

The Father is my hope; the Son is my refuge; the Holy Spirit is my protector. O All-holy Trinity, glory to You.

Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee.

O heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who art in all places and fillest all things: Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord.

All-holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our iniquities. Holy God, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy Name’s sake.

Having arisen from sleep, we fall down before Thee, O Blessed One, and sing to Thee, O Mighty One, the Angelic Hymn: Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God.

From my bed and sleep Thou hast raised me: O Lord, enlighten my mind and my heart, and open my lips that I may praise Thee, O Holy Trinity: Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God.

Arising from sleep I thank Thee, O holy Trinity, because of the abundance of Thy goodness and long-suffering Thou wast not wroth with me, slothful and sinful as I am; neither hast Thou destroyed me in my transgressions: but in Thy compassion raised me up as I lay in despair; that at dawn I might sing the glories of Thy Majesty. Do Thou now enlighten the eyes of my understanding, open my mouth to receive Thy words, teach me Thy commandments, help me to do Thy will, and confessing Thee from my heart, singing and praising Thine All-holy Name: of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

O come, let us worship and fall down before God our King. (metania)

O come; let us worship and fall down before Christ, our King and our God. (metania)

O come, let us worship and fall down before the very Christ, our King and our God. (metania)

Amen, amen, amen!

I believe that the time has come for North American Protestants who care about the Christian faith and the future of the Christian church to take our own journey into an expression of the Christian faith that is foreign to us. Such a journey has to be more than a kind of religious tourism that briefly dabbles in other people’s traditions; rather, we have to immerse ourselves in ideas and practices that are so foreign that they jar us and push us to more honest self-evaluation about where our Reformation traditions got things right or wrong.” Burgess, John P., Encounters with Orthodoxy: How Protestant Churches Can Reform Themselves Again. Westminster John Knox Press.

— Douglas Rollwage is minister at Zion Presbyterian Church in Charlottetown. He was the Moderator of the 142nd General Assembly in 2016.

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