Generous Orthodoxy  




Sunday, June 19, 2005

Prayer for our enemies at Trinity, Boston

Note to readers: Once again I am bringing this February blog to the fore because of its theological importance. In my recent travels I have finally found one congregation that includes a prayer for our enemies in the liturgy (Trinity Episcopal, Copley Square, Boston). The prayer that they use is only a short phrase, but it is better than nothing. In view of our Lord's express command that we should love and pray for our enemies, it seems disturbing that this not being done in more churches. As I have traveled from place to place visiting scores of congregations during the past two years, I have continued to note the pervasive absence of such prayers.

There is a very good prayer for enemies in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (page 816), yet I have never heard it used except when I have done so myself. It has the virtue of being short, simple and inclusive of both enemies and ourselves. It avoids the we-they dynamic that poisons so much discourse these days. Here it is:

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Here is one for St. Stephen's Day, December 26, from Prayers for Every Occasion (Morehouse-Barlow, 1974) :

Merciful God, you gave your son to reconcile us, your enemies, to you: Grant, we beseech you, that we too may learn to pray for our enemies, as your servant Stephen prayed for his persecutors, and, like him, be permitted to see your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And here is another, from the same source. This prayer was written in England to be used at the height of World War II. In other words, the Church of England was praying for the repentance of the Nazis even as they were being bombarded. Sixty years later, we can acknowledge a miracle; this prayer has been at least partly answered. I read recently of a Jewish writer who had established his residence in Berlin. He said that he believed the Germans had accepted their guilt. Here is the prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, before whose judgment seat we all shall stand, we pray, as thou hast taught us, for our enemies; so turn their hearts to you that they may truly repent; and grant that they and we and all the peoples of the earth, being cleansed from sin, may know and do thy will, as you were lifted up upon the cross to draw all men to yourself, our Savior, our Lord and our God. Amen.

It has been pointed out to me that we pray for our enemies every time we say the Lord's Prayer, and that is an excellent point that I had overlooked. Preachers could certainly make something out of that. {Reflect on the fact that Todd Beamer prayed the Lord's Prayer over the phone before he and the others took down Flight 93 over Pennsylvania.}

And here is a testimony from one of the clergy at Trinity, Boston (Maribeth Conroy):
At Trinity we have included the prayer for "our enemies and those who wish us harm" in our worship since September 11th, 2001. Nothing seems to speak more profoundly to the call to prayer for all people, and Jesus' admonition that we pray for our enemies, than this simple line. It has shaped my own prayer life and that of our community in truly wonderful ways. Thank you for noting it and here is hoping that more congregations will offer such prayer.