The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Prayer of Manasses

O LORD Almighty, the God of our fathers Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and of their righteous seed;
that hast made the heaven and the earth with all their adornment;
that hast bound the sea with the word of thy commandment; that hast closed the abyss and sealed it with thy fearful and glorious name;
whom all things revere and tremble before the face of thy power,
because the magnificence of thy glory is unendurable and irresistible the wrath of thy threatening against sinners:
the mercy of thy promise is both immeasurable and inscrutable;
for thou art the Lord most high, compassionate, longsuffering, and most merciful, repenting of the evils of men. Thou, Lord, according to the abundance of thy goodness, hast proclaimed repentance and forgiveness to those that have sinned against thee, and in the multitude of thy kindnesses thou hast decreed for sinners repentance unto salvation.
Surely thou, O Lord, the God of the just, hast not appointed repentance for the just, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob who have not sinned against thee; but thou hast appointed repentance for me a sinner:
for I have sinned above the number of the sand of the sea. My transgressions are multiplied, O Lord, they are multiplied, and I am not worthy to look at or see the height of heaven, for the multitude of my iniquities,
being bowed down by many iron bonds, so that I cannot uplift my head, and there is no release for me, because I have provoked thy anger, and have done evil before thee, not doing thy will, nor keeping thy commandments, but setting up abominations and multiplying offences.
And now I bend the knee of my heart, beseeching thy goodness:
I have sinned, Lord, I have sinned, and I acknowledge my transgressions:
but I pray and beseech thee, release me, Lord, release me, and destroy me not with my transgressions; keep not evils for me in anger for ever, nor condemn me to the lowest parts of the earth: because thou art God, the God of the repenting; and in me thou wilt shew all thy benevolence, for that me unworthy thou wilt save, according to thy great mercy:
and I will praise thee continually all the days of my life: for all the hosts of the heavens sings to thee, and thine is the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

This is a prayer often unknown by Western Christians, but is probably one of the greatest prayers of repentance in the entire Christian canon. To my knowledge, the only time it is used liturgically is in the Byzantine Orthodox rite when it is recited at Great Compline during Lent and on certain vigils.

What most strikes me about this prayer again is the cosmic and historical significance of sin. As I have pointed out elsewhere in this blog, modern man often tries to make sin exclusively about "ME". This is one of the pitfalls of a juridical approach to transgression.

Notice, however, that the author of this apochryphal prayer invokes God as Creator and Author of history; how he sees his own sin in the face of God's majesty shown in physical creation and in His saints.

While he does accuse himself of all that he has done wrong, he also calls God the "God of the repenting". This line has also touched me deeply. God is indeed God of the just, but he also loves us who are far from being so. God loves the sinner because with God, there is no "plan B". Many more chique theologians like to side with Duns Scotus and Maximos the Confessor and say that God would have become incarnate even if man had not fallen. God, I would argue, does not do "back-up plans". All that is happening now is for His greater glory. It is in being a Savior that God has been most glorified, and how would He be able to save us if we were never in peril? He is indeed a God of those who have fallen and repented. O felix culpa!


At 12:57 PM, Blogger Sean Roberts said...

"It is in being a Savior that God has been most glorified, and how would He be able to save us if we were never in peril?"

Why isn't this Calvinism?

At 10:25 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

I don´t see your point. However, heresy is always a question of balance. In the end, God´s plan includes our free will. It is not that He is manipulating us and thus willing evil. It is more that He sees infinitely more profundly than we do.

At 6:52 PM, Blogger Sean Roberts said...

Well, maybe I missed your point...

At 9:04 AM, Blogger J. Gordon Anderson said...

That prayer was included in the KJV apocrypha. It is indeed quite profound. I wish we used it liturgically somehow. I think it comes up in the lectionary readings for the offices once a year. I was surprised in seminary to learn that it is not in the RC bibles. My OT professor hadn't even heard of it.


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