I write to you today—at the beginning of the Dormition Fast, when we pray the Paraklesis service almost every night—to teach about the commemoration of names within the services of the Church.
Communal prayer (prayer in church) is a sacramental and ecclesial act that belongs to the Church. It manifests the united Body of Christ, that is the Church. And the Church’s united mind and heart of prayer then extends to the ends of the world and “holds the universe.” Communal prayer confirms the unity of the Body of Christ, by praying for one another, and as the Church, it reaches out in love to the whole world: “Your own of Your own, on behalf of all and for all.”
Thus when the Church assembles together as the Body of Christ, two kinds of intercessory prayers are offered:
1) General petitions are prayed for the whole world, seeking “the unity of all,” desiring that every person can be united to the Body of Christ and inscribed in the Book of Life.
2) Specific names are commemorated of those who are within the Church, seeking the healing of the Body of Christ through prayer for its members.
General petitions are offered in many of the Church’s services, such as these petitions from the Divine Liturgy:
- “For the peace of the whole world …”
- “For the unity of all …”
- “For our country, for the president, for all in public service, and for the armed forces …”
- “For this city, and for every city and land …”
- “For those who travel by land, sea, and air, for the sick, the suffering, the captives …”
- “Remember, Lord, this country and all those in public service whom you have allowed to govern on earth. Grant them profound and lasting peace. Speak to their hearts good things concerning your Church and all your people” (from the Liturgy of St. Basil).
In addition to these general petitions, the Church commemorates by specific name those who are within the Church, the Body of Christ. These commemorations of names occur in the preparation of the Gifts for the Divine Liturgy, as well as in the Paraklesis, Memorial, and Trisagion services.
“Again we pray for mercy, life, peace, health, salvation, visitation, forgiveness and remission of the sins of the servants of God (Names) and all pious and Orthodox Christians.”
Those who are named are specifically those who have been given a name by God at their Baptism/Chrismation, who are initiated to the Body of Christ and “inscribed in Your Book of Life and united to the flock of Your inheritance” (from the Baptism service).
Thus the names which we commemorate in services should always be baptismal names (if known) and should not include those who are outside the Church, who have not been given a name through Orthodox Baptism.
In addition to the communal prayers offered in church, we also are enjoined to pray for all people during our personal time of prayer each day. Following the example of our Lord, Who prayed that the Apostles would all be one, we likewise must pray for the unification of all people into the Body of Christ. We cannot imagine that our participation in the worship services is sufficient for our prayer life. Individual prayer is just as necessary as communal prayer.
Through prayer the world is sanctified, humanity is deified, Paradise is restored. Prayer is the most foundational aspect of being human. St. Maximos the Confessor describes man as “the priest of creation,” because we offer up to God everything that is His—all of His glorious creation. Our prayers have a transformative effect upon our own lives and on the lives of those for whom we pray. Thus when we neglect personal prayer, we are abdicating our most essential role, ignoring the very thing that defines our human nature: the desire for union with God.
This world needs our prayer—desperately so in these present days. Furthermore we live in a nation where Orthodoxy is such a small minority. The harvest is ripe, but the laborers are few! As Orthodox Christians, it is crucial that we pray both for those who are within the Body of Christ and also those who are outside the Church, who may be our loved ones, neighbors, friends, and civil leaders. Through prayer we become vessels of grace, and that grace emanates from our soul, mystically warming the wounded or hardened hearts of others.
If we desire “the unity of all,” then we must make this our constant personal prayer, mystically “speaking” to the hearts of others, so that God will draw them to Him.
Savior, we entreat You for every person who has died in whichever way and passed on from this life in hopes of everlasting life, O Master: people of every race and station,
of every age and stature, both men and women, youths and children, and even newborn infants. In Your love for
humanity, place them in the bosom of Abraham, in
a place of rest, because of Your great mercy.
(Hymn from the Orthros of the Saturday of the Souls)