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Ancient Prayers

Doug Floyd

A prayer book seems like a restrictive ritual for a person whose faith has always
been identified with spontaneity. Growing up Baptist and serving in Pentecostal
churches did not prepare me for the rhythms of structured prayer. Written prayers
inhibited the free flowing prayer of my soul, and seemed only suitable for those
people with a dead faith who practiced a merely formal religion.

And yet, prayer books have come to play an integral role in my devotional life.
The rhythms that once seemed so lifeless now echo foundations of faith from
centuries past. In some strange way, these old prayers have become resting places
for my soul. In an age when new and useless information assaults me continually
throughout the day, I find refuge in the simplicity of ancient faith.

Lately, I’ve been reading through an Orthodox prayer book. I often find myself
fixated by one particular prayer, and it returns to mind throughout the day. In
fact, it has become something of a breath prayer for me. These words move back and
forth across my mind as I breathe in and out.

“Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.”

This simple prayer somehow expresses the awesome majesty of our God. The stocks
may be sliding, the car may be stalling, and the light may refuse to turn green.
Yet He Is. Above the mindless chatter, above the clacker of keyboards, above the
terror deep in our souls, over and above all else dwells the “Holy God.”

He is so great, even greatness cannot contain Him. Every attempt to understand, to

explain and to even defend falls short of the eternal greatness of God. He is
overwhelming. And He doesn’t owe me anything.

In some strange twist, we sometimes develop the notion that God is in debt to man.
He owes me a good marriage. He owes me good health. He owes me a better income –
not to mention a better car, the latest stereo system, and an all expense paid
vacation. He owes me “spiritual chill bumps.” He owes me a “heavenly high.” He
owes me a bigger ministry, better friends, and miracles on demand.

He owes me nothing.

If I could ever learn that the “Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal” God owes me
nothing, I might actually learn to appreciate and receive His unlimited gifts. He
freely gives me sunlight, cool breezes, laughter, friends, butterflies, music, and

He created the world of waterfalls and windstorms, stars and seagulls, fireflies
and fruit trees as a gift to His most prized creation: humans. The world and
virtually everything on the planet was a gift. As Adam and Eve received of God’s
unlimited gifts, they enjoyed loving fellowship with their Creator. All things
became infused with the eternal depth of God’s love.

Then in a tragic act of deception, they ate from the one tree God had forbidden.
They took the one thing that God did not give.* In so doing, they cursed
themselves. No longer able to receive gifts from their loving Father, Adam and Eve
toiled and strived to satisfy their appetite for the eternal. Unfortunately,
outside of God’s communion nothing could satisfy. Ever since then, we continue to
toil and strive to satisfy an urge that cannot be met by anything short of the
“Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal.”
So, we think that God owes us. We learn methods to manipulate other people and
even God to satisfy our urges. And we lose sight of the gifts that continually
surround us.

“Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.”
We need His mercy to restore a gracious heart that learns to receive from His
loving hand. He is the giver of all good gifts. “In Him we live and move and have
our being.” I breathe because He gives me breath. I see because He gives me sight.
I am satisfied because He fills my soul with good things.

* Note: Alexander Schmemmann presents a moving essay about Adam and Eve taking
what God did not give in his book “For the Life of the World: Sacraments and
Orthodoxy” published by St. Vladmir’s Seminary Press.