Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Praying with Repetition

At my Eastern Orthodox Church every Sunday before our main service, called the Divine Liturgy, I sing aloud a collection of prayers and psalms known as the 3rd and 6th hours. I pray “Lord have mercy” numerous times in the course of those hours. In fact, at two points I pray "Lord, have mercy" 40 times in a row. To honor the cultural diversity of our community, I pray them ten in English, ten in old church Slavonic, ten in Romanian, and ten in Greek. 

But, if you weren’t raised in a liturgical tradition, you might wonder why any  prayer should require repetition. I mean, God surely heard us the first time, right? Why repeat anything? 

Keep in mind that repetition is quite biblical! Take a look at Psalm 136:1-2: 

O give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever. 
O give thanks to the God of gods, for His steadfast love endures forever. 

And, if you know your Bible, you know this is not the end of it. The phrase “for His steadfast love endures forever” will be repeated a total of twenty-six times in this Psalm! 

Jesus taught us to pray with persistence. And Praying with persistence implies that we will pray with repetition! Here’s an example. 

Once, when Jesus was approaching Jericho, a blind man heard the crowd and asked what was going on. When he learned that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he cried out: 

Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! (Luke 18:38) 

But people rebuked him and told him to be quiet. And he cried out again, repeating his original prayer: 

Son of David, have mercy on me! (Luke 18:39) 

Only then did Jesus stop, ask him what he wanted, and heal him of his blindness. He would not have been healed if he had not simply repeated his prayer! 

And He didn’t avoid repetition by using different words, as if repetition were necessarily wrong in prayer. 

The liturgical repetition of a simple prayer such as “Lord have mercy” is a fully biblical concept. 

Sometimes, while praying, I repeat my petitions for that day. And I add the 40 fold praying of Lord of mercy every day to my prayers as well. I need God’s mercy. And so I ask for it. And I ask for it again. Repeatedly...

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