Friday, April 17, 2009

The High Priestly Prayer

The first of the twelve Passion Gospels (John 13: 31-18:1) read at Holy Friday Matins (normally served Thursday evening) is by far the longest. It is also, to my mind, the loftiest and most beautiful of all twelve readings. I have long felt that chapter 17, often referred to as the High Priestly Prayer, contains within it all of theology. Below I have reproduced John 17 in full, after which you will find the commentary of Archbishop Averky of Syracuse and Holy Trinity Monastery (+1976) from his widely used textbook on the Gospels. What I am posting here is my thorough revision of a provisional English translation found online.

These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was (17: 1-5).

I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth (17: 6-19).

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them (17: 20-26).

Archbishop Averky's commentary:

After the end of the farewell discourse, immediately following it, when, according to the suggestion of some interpreters, the Lord and His disciples, on their to Gethsemane, had already reached the Kidron Valley, but not yet crossed it, the Lord spoke out loud before His disciples His triumphant prayer to God the Father. This prayer is normally called the High Priestly Prayer, inasmuch as in it the Lord prays to God the Father as the Great High Priest, offering Himself as a sacrifice that has a great and inexplicable significance for the entire world.

Father, the hour has come. Glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee” — it is with this solemn exclamation that the Lord begins His prayer. The hour of My sufferings has arrived: allow Me to demonstrate in this hour all My love for Thee and for the world created by Thee, so that through My forthcoming deed [podvig] of redeeming mankind Thy glory may be revealed. “As Thou hast given Him authority over all flesh...” The Father entrusted the whole human race to His Son, so that He might undertake its salvation and grant eternal life to humanity. The Lord defines eternal life as the knowledge of God and the Redeemer of the world sent by Him. In the Lord’s spiritual vision, all His work appears already accomplished, and therefore He says: “I have glorified Thee on earth…” Now it remains for Him to enter the Divine glory in His humanity, for which He prays: “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Thyself, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.” This first part of the Lord’s prayer concerns Himself (verses 1-5).

Having finished the prayer about Himself, the Lord prays further for His disciples (verses 6-19), for those to whom He is now entrusting the mission of spreading and affirming on earth His Kingdom. The Lord, as it were, gives an account to God the Father of what He had achieved: He has revealed to His disciples the full and correct understanding of God, and they have become God’s elected, having received the Divine teaching, brought from the Father by His Son, and they have also comprehended the mystery of the Divine dispensation. The Lord further prays for His disciples, that the Heavenly Father would take them under His special protection in this hostile world, where they will remain alone after the Lord’s departure, that He would preserve them pure and holy in spiritual unity of faith and love among themselves, in the unity that is akin to the unity of God the Father and God the Son. The Lord states further that He, being in the world, protected them from downfall, and “none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (Judas the betrayer), that is, according to the prophesy of Psalm 40:10. Praying to His Father for the preservation of His disciples from all the evil in this world that hates them, the Lord asks that they be enlightened with the Word of Divine truth, that is, to grant them unique gifts of grace for their successful service of spreading the true teaching throughout the entire world. The Lord states further that He consecrates Himself for their sake – offering Himself as a sacrifice, that they might follow in His footsteps and become His witnesses and sacrifices for the truth.

The third part of the Lord’s Prayer — concerning the faithful — begins from verse 20. The Lord prays for them: “That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, are in Me, and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me” — the union of the faithful in Christ must be similar to the unity of God the Father with God the Son. This means, of course, a moral union [нравственное единение]. Such a union of all Christians in faith and love would assist to bring the whole world to belief in Christ as the Messiah. We can see this in the first centuries of Christianity when – apart from those who were completely spiritually blind and hard-hearted – the elevated beauty of Christ’s teaching captured both Jews and pagans, who became Christians themselves. The Lord further defines this union of all the faithful as unity in the glory of God and Christ. In the following verses (22-24), the Lord, as it were, contemplates His Church in heavenly glory and in the union with God in the Messianic Kingdom, saying that this glory will bring even the world hostile to Christ, against its will, to the acknowledgment that the Lord Jesus is the true Messiah. The words: "Father, I desire that they also whom Thou has given Me may be with Me where I am" are akin to the last will of the Dying One, which should undoubtedly be carried out, especially since the will of the Son of God is inseparable from the will of God the Father: here giving His life for the world’s salvation, the Son of God is appealing to God the Father, asking for all the faithful those Heavenly mansions about which He spoke to His Apostles at the beginning of His farewell discourse (John 14:2).

Verses 25 and 26 represent the conclusion of the High Priestly Prayer, where the Lord addresses God the Father as the All-righteous Rewarder. The Lord points out the superiority of the faithful over the rest of the world, in that they "have known God" and consequently are capable of receiving the gifts of Divine love. The Lord asks that God the Father make them known to the world by His generosity and make them communicants of the love that He has for His Son: "That the love with which Thou hast loved Me may be in them." For this, the Lord Jesus Himself promises to "be in them," so that the love of the Father that continuously dwells in the Son might extend, from the Son and for the sake of the Son, onto those in whom the Son abides. Thus this all-uniting and all-enveloping love will be all-perfecting in the eternal glory of the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

1 comment:

aaronandbrighid said...

Thank you for posting this, Father.