Early Christian Prayers

How did Christians in the earliest days of the Christian age pray? We have many examples of early Christian prayers in the New Testament and in early Christian literature which give us an idea of how a Christian during those early centuries of the Christian age would pray. Our first example is from the Didache, also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. From references to it in early Christian literature and from translations into other languages, this document was known to have existed in ancient times, but a Greek copy was not available until one was discovered in 1873. We know nothing about who composed this work. A second century date is most commonly favored. Along with the Lord's Prayer and some communion prayers, the Didache recommends the following as a useful prayer:

          We give you thanks Holy Father, for your holy name which you have caused to dwell in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality which you have made known to us through Jesus your servant; to you be the glory forever.

You, almighty Master, created all things for your name's sake, and gave food and drink to men to enjoy, that they might give you thanks; but to us you have graciously given spiritual food and drink, and eternal life through your servant [Jesus]. Above all we give thanks because you are mighty; to you be the glory forever.

Remember your church, Lord, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in your love; and gather it, the one that has been sanctified, from the four winds into your kingdom, which you have prepared for it; for yours is the glory forever.

May grace come, and may this world pass away. Hosanna to the God of David. If anyone is holy, let him come; if anyone is not, let him repent. Maranatha! Amen.

A second example of an early Christian prayer is a portion of a prayer written by Clement of Rome in a letter to the church in Corinth around 96 A.D. Note its reverent spirit, its pervasive quality of praise, and its theological depth. Also notice how the message of scripture permeates the prayer. Clement does not use scripture to lecture God. Rather he uses it as the source of his thought and the very words of this prayer.

          You, Lord, through your works have revealed the everlasting structure of the world. You, Lord, created the earth. You are faithful throughout all generations, righteous in your judgments, marvelous in strength and majesty, wise in creating and prudent in establishing what exists, good in all that is observed and faithful to those who trust in you, merciful and compassionate; forgive us our sins and our injustices, our transgressions and our shortcomings.

Do not take into account every sin of your servants, but cleanse us with the cleansing of your truth, and "direct our steps to walk in holiness and righteousness and purity of heart," and "to do what is good and pleasing in your sight" and in the sight of our rulers. Yes, Lord, "let your face shine upon us" in peace "for our good," that we may be sheltered "by your mighty hand" and delivered from every sin "by your uplifted arm"; deliver us as well from those who hate us unjustly.

Give harmony and peace to us and to all who dwell on the earth, just as you did to our fathers when they reverently "called upon you in faith and trust," that we may be saved, while we render obedience to your almighty and most excellent name, and give harmony and peace to our rulers and governors on earth.

Our last example is the final portion of the prayer written by Clement of Rome to the church in Corinth. In this section Clement prays for government rulers in the tradition of Peter who wrote: "Show proper respect to everyone; honor the king" (1 Peter 2:17), and also Paul who declared: "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone —for kings and all those in authority" (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

          You, Master, have given them the power of sovereignty through your majestic and inexpressible might, so that we, acknowledging the glory and honor which you have given them, may be subject to them, resisting your will in nothing. Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, harmony, and stability, that they may blamelessly administer the government which you have given them.

For you, heavenly Master, King of the ages, give to the sons of men glory and honor and authority over those upon the earth. Lord, direct their plans according to what is good and pleasing in your sight, so that by devoutly administering in peace and gentleness the authority which you have given them they may experience your mercy. You, who alone are able to do these and even greater good things for us, we praise through the high priest and guardian of our souls, Jesus Christ, through whom be the glory and the majesty to you both now and for all generations and for ever and ever. Amen
(1 Clement 61.1-3).

All of these prayers are wonderful examples of how the early church prayed in a reverent spirit. We are heirs of a great heritage which we are duty bound to carry forward until our Lord returns.

- Joel Stephen Williams

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