Leo Tolstoy tells the story of three hermits who lived on an island. Their prayer was as simple as they were simple : ‘We are three, you are three, have mercy on us. Amen’. The bishop heard about these hermits and decided that they needed guidance in proper prayer, so he went to their small island, and instructed them : after his instruction, the bishop set sail for the mainland, please to have enlightened the souls of such simple men. Suddenly off the stern of the ship the bishop saw a huge ball of light skimming across the ocean, it came closer and closer until he could see that it was the three hermits running on top of the water. Once on board the ship they said to the bishop, ‘We are so sorry, but we have forgotten some of your teaching. Would you please instruct us again?’ The bishop shook his head and replied with new-found humility, ‘Forget everything I have taught you and continue to pray in your own way.’
The bishop spoke humbly and truthfully, and yet … this summer at St. Andrew’s we are receiving encouragement from fellow Christians in prayer: prayers by women and men, from 20th century America, Celtic Scotland, eighteenth century England, medieval Germany, and this Sunday we go right back to the first century of the church.
It is a prayer composed around the year 96 A.D., found in a letter sent from the Christian community of Rome to that of Corinth, an epistle known as I Clement (after the bishop of the time). It is a time of great insecurity even persecution for God’s people, and yet they look beyond themselves, in trust to God and in care of others. Intercession was a significant dynamic in the ministry of Jesus (‘I am praying for them’ John 17:9) and remains an integral part of his work (‘Christ Jesus who died and who was raised, who is at the right hand of God … intercedes for us’ Romans 8:34). Intercession is also a integral dimension of the witness of his people. It is the experience of many that through our prayers of intercession, not only does God work in this world but God also works upon us.
Here is a prayer of intercession, here is an opportunity to grow in the way of Christ for the sake of his kingdom of peace and justice for all …
We beg you, Lord, to be our help and our support.
Free us from our troubles; take pity on the lowly; raise up those who have fallen; give help to the poor, health to the sick, and bring home those who have wandered away. Feed the hungry, ransom captives, give strength to the weak and courage to the faint-hearted.
Let all peoples come to know that you alone are God, that Jesus Christ is your child, and that we are your people and the sheep of your flock.
(1 Clement c. 96 A.D.)
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