Analyzing the Great Litany and The Meaning of Each Petition

Article by Protodeacon Pavel Bubnov

The Great Litany begins all divine services of the daily cycle. It contains the most essential petitions — the things that we need first of all.

In peace let us pray to the Lord.

Peace is a very important characteristic of a person who is faithful to God’s providence. “Peace” is an ancient biblical greeting that was seamlessly integrated into the life of the Christian Church since the very first days of its existence. The Savior told his disciples, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you (John 14:27). It is this peace of Christ that a bishop or a priest invokes upon his flock when he exclaims “Peace be with you.” The Western Latin tradition had this exclamation rendered as The Lord be with you, which emphasizes the biblical understanding of peace as one of God’s qualities.

Peace and a peaceful spirit and mood is one of the foundational elements of Christian life and, of course, a key condition for prayer. In peace, let us pray to the Lord, the deacon calls.

If we try to define this term a contrario, non-peace is anger, rage, grudge, peevishness, judgment, passionate desire, unhealthy enthusiasm, and other destructive states of the soul. All these things prevent us from having communication with God in prayer, not because we are not allowed to communicate with God under such conditions but because it is impossible. Our souls in this case are already busy with something else, so they are not ready for God, for talking with him. If we have something serious to talk about with a certain person, we try to talk with them one-on-one. If we have several issues like this, we resolve them one after the other — you cannot deal with serious issues all at once. A conversation with God is an undertaking that calls for exceptional attention. This is why the main result of our preparation for prayer is a peaceful state of mind, disengagement from everything, attention and finally peace.

For the peace from above, and the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.

You cannot do anything without Me — this is what the Lord replies when we are desperate because of our hopelessness. It is hard nowadays to not only go to church and pray but also gain a peaceful state of mind, ready to talk with God. May the Lord send us his peace from above and save our souls: this is what this petition means.

For the peace of the whole world, the good estate of the holy churches of God, and the union of all, let us pray to the Lord.

Only when we are peaceful inside, we can pray for the peace of the whole world – the Cosmos, the Universe – so that all people would be filled with the peace of Christ. Our prayer for the world yields much more fruit than “struggle for peace”.

What does “stability” mean? This is when, as people say nowadays, everything is okay. When we pray for the stability of the Holy Churches of God, we ask the Lord to prevent schisms, rifts, and dissidence in the life of the Church. We have seen recently that all these problems are not matters of the past history of the Church. They are the reality that people have to face every day. There are various people in the Church. Not all of them consider peace and creative atmosphere to be their goal. Arrogance, misconceptions, and sinful rather than holy simplicity, make people who call themselves believers destroy the stability of the Church, delude others, and in so doing commit a grave sin. We want the Church to be “okay” so that it could fulfill its mission of telling the entire world about God.

For the unity of all. Since the time of the Fall and until the present day our human society is a divided society. All people break into groups for various reasons. States that used to be united now break into parts. Families break up. Friends, colleagues, relatives, and neighbors part ways with each other.

The primary aim of the Satan is to sow division among people. Division is a sin, a manifestation of godlessness that leads to death. The Lord commands his disciples to stay united. Before he goes on to suffer on the Cross, he prays for them to be united. The apostles urge the first Christian communities to maintain unity like a treasure. Finally, it is with its unity that the Church shows to the world that the Lord grants recovery from the sin of division.  That it is only through Jesus Christ that people can accept the recovery from this sin and learn to lead a life of unity instead of separation, learn to build not destroy one’s own life and the lives of one’s neighbors. When we pray for the unity of all, we first of all pray for the healing of the splits within the Church, within our own community, and of course, like in the case of the petition for the peace of the whole world, we ask God for the unity of all people in the world who suffer from divisions and hostility.

For this holy temple, and for them that with faith, reverence, and fear of God enter herein, let us pray to the Lord.

A prayer for the temple is even more natural than a prayer for a house, an industrial or other building, all of which are consecrated by the Church using a special rite. People who spent several years or decades of their lives building a church know all too well what prayer for the temple means. How zealous is the prayer of those who do not have a church yet: those who live in a residential neighborhood in a big city or who have to pray in the ruins of an ancient church, which was desecrated during the godless times. How happy we are on the long-awaited day of the consecration of a church! We recall King Solomon from the Old Testament who said an inspired prayer after he finished the construction of the Temple of Jerusalem, “That thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day… that thou mayest hearken unto the prayer which thy servant shall make toward this place.” (1 Kings 8:29). A New Testament temple is the place for celebration of the Sacrament of Eucharist. If there is a church, there is the Eucharist. Our prayer for this holy house is how we ask the Lord to let us continue to partake of the life-giving Sacrament of Eucharist and to be able to talk with our Heavenly Father.

For those who enter it with faith, reverence, and the fear of God.
A church is a place where Christians — people whose lives are devoted to God, his commandments, and are filled with communion with him — come together. You cannot just enter a church like any other building. The church is a special place of communication with God. One should enter this place with a special attitude.

The faith in God is the prerequisite and the essence of Christian life.
Reverence means caution and attention to oneself, one’s actions and their relation to God’s commandments, looking for God’s plan about one’s life and actions.

The fear of God. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). To excel in the spiritual life is to achieve perfect and ardent love of God, which, according to Apostle John the Theologian, casteth out fear (1 John 4:18). Of course, you should enter the church with the fear of God.
Only those who come to church with this kind of mood are the real members of a Christian congregation. Those who enter a church and keep talking (including on the phone) and show disrespect towards other people and the worship — the Church does not pray for them, they are, figuratively speaking, elsewhere. Only their bodies are standing in the church, and this is a sin, of course.

For our Great Lord and Father Holy Patriarch (Name), our Bishop (Name), for the venerable priesthood, the Diaconate in Christ, for all the clergy and people, let us pray to the Lord.

A bishop is the leader of a Christian congregation, a hierarch, and an heir to the apostles. The prayer for a bishop confirms that this congregation in general and each of us in particular belongs to the Church. There used to be a bishop in every congregation in the early Church. The bishop celebrated the Sacrament of Eucharist. When the Church grew, bishops become administrators of vast dioceses. They lay hands on priests and appoint them to parishes, delegating the right to celebrate the Eucharist to them. There is no Church and no Eucharist without bishops. When we pray for our bishop during the service, we indicate that our congregation lives with the blessing of that bishop, and that the Eucharist in our church is celebrated with his blessing.

Presbyters are priests who help the bishop. There are also deacons and other members of clergy (there were many ranks of clergy in ancient times), and there are all other members of the congregation, too. Therefore, we pray for all of us who are the members of the Christian Church in this petition, and we list the ranks of the Church.

For this land, its authorities, and Armed Forces, let us pray to the Lord.

The fact that we were born and live in our country is — no doubt — God’s will for each one of us. “You are the salt of the earth,” the Savior tells us Christians. It can be said that Christians are “the salt of the nation.” The goal of each local Church, each Christian congregation is to be like salt for other people. Each Christian is called to declare the truth with word and deed and, of course, to pray for his nation.

Even Apostle Paul told Christians to pray “for kings (i.e., the pagan Emperors of the Roman Empire), and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (1 Tim. 2:2).

The Russian Orthodox Church began to pray “for the authorities” in the 1920s, when new political circumstances led to changes in liturgical prayer for those in power. Before February 1917, deacons prayed “for the most pious Tsar…” Praying for those who wield civil authority does not mean that we consider those people to be Christians who care for the well-being of the Church. Regardless of what kind of people they are, we still pray and will be praying for them so that their actions would benefit the Church, even if now they bring only damage.

The Church has always prayed for the armed forces: even today we do not want foreigners to rule over us. Metropolitan Sergius (who later became the Patriarch) blessed the soldiers of the Red Army to fight Nazi Germany during the Great Patriotic War because he knew that the Army defended not only the Soviets but also the Church and its temples, which Nazi ideologists planned to destroy by 1960.

For this city (or town, or holy monastery), every city and country and the faithful that dwell therein, let us pray to the Lord.

A city or a town is not just a human settlement: it is the aggregate of people who live there, both righteous and sinful ones. Recalling the events of the Sacred History, we see that the fates of cities depend entirely on their inhabitants. God could have spared Sodom for ten righteous men (Gen. 18:32). The Lord rebukes the towns of Judah, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. … And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.” (Matthew 11:21,23). The people who live in the city determine its fate. Residents of Moscow, Kyiv, or Minsk, who are connected in a seemingly random way, are interdependent by their moral actions. A righteous person brings benefit to his city. This is why when we pray for the city, we do not ask God to improve housing conditions or develop infrastructure. We ask God to multiply the righteous in our city by his mercy, so that our city would continue to exist on the face of the Earth and so that divine worship would go on in the city churches. The same can be said of praying for the country. We pray for all cities, countries, and the faithful who live there.

For seasonable weather, abundance of the fruits of the earth, and peaceful times, let us pray to the Lord.

Nowadays, in this era of environmental crisis, we begin to understand this petition better and better. Human activity has a deleterious impact on the “favorable weather” and causes typhoons, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and other “rebellions” of nature. When we pray for “an abundance of the fruits of the earth”, we pray for the workers of the agricultural sector and all agricultural producers. Everything that the earth produces is our food. Bread is used for the Sacrament of Eucharist, among other things. Human beings cannot live without it. “The peaceful times” are the opposite of “war times.” Here we pray against war.

For travelers by sea, land, and air; for the sick, the suffering; the imprisoned and for their salvation, let us pray to the Lord.

Sea travel was even riskier in the ancient times than today. People chose sailing only because they had no other option. The dangers of sea storms, pirates, sicknesses, etc. — all this led the Church to single out travelers by sea and dedicate a special petition in the Great Litany to them.
Travelers by land faced fewer dangers but there were dangers nevertheless: armed robberies were a usual thing. Apart from that, journeys usually took a long time: the poor traveled on foot, and the rich rode horses. Today we would probably add a special mention of those who travel by air: this modern way of conquering long distances is a source of anxiety both for the travelers and for those who wait for them at home.
The sick are those who suffer from an illness.
“The suffering” in Greek literally meant 1). tired of living; 2). terminally ill.
Due to constant wars, there were captives in almost every family in antiquity. Unfortunately, some Russian families have experienced the same again recently.

For our deliverance from all affliction, wrath, danger, and distress, let us pray to the Lord.

What impedes us from accomplishing the goal of our salvation?
Afflictions are external circumstances, which are unpleasant for us. In spite of the fact that afflictions often help an individual to turn his face to God, we ask God to deliver us from them in order to lead a normal life.
Wrath is any kind of evil that emanates from us because of our weak human nature infected by sin. We learn to manage ourselves but more often than not, our soul breaks loose and we spew our wrath on people around us.
Distress is a lack of material resources for existence. Distress makes people commit crimes and tell lies. It breaks up families and enterprises. Deliver us from distress, O Lord!

Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace.

“Protect us” means “defend us during hard times and support our spiritual growth.”
“Save us” means “deliver us from sin, damnation, and death.”
“Have mercy on us” means “heal the wounds of our souls.”
“Help us” to stay in Church and in prayer to you “by Your grace”. We can see people even now, who used to go to church often and then left the Church without persecutions. O Lord, help us to remain in Your Church!

Calling to remembrance our most holy, most pure, most blessed, glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, with all the Saints, let us commit ourselves and one another, and all our life unto Christ our God.

Translated from: http://minda.by/?p=3311