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4 Ancient prayers from the earliest Christians

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The faith of these Christians was nurtured by the apostles and their immediate successors.

During the past century there has been a general movement within Christianity to study the many beliefs and spiritual practices of early Christians. The thought is that these Christians were closest in time to Jesus and the apostles, so their teachings and devotions may more authentically and accurately express Christian truths.

One area of intense study has been the personal prayers of the early Christians. Besides praying the Psalms in a similar fashion to the Jews at the time (a practice maintained, still, in our Liturgy of the Hours), Christians developed their own prayers that they clung on to in their times of need.

Here are four prayers from various Christians who lived within the first few centuries of the Church. They reveal a beautiful depth of faith nurtured by the apostles and their immediate successors.

From St. Clement of Rome, (c. 35-101)

We beseech You, Master, to be our helper and protector.
Save the afflicted among us; have mercy on the lowly;
Raise up the fallen; appear to the needy; heal the ungodly;
Restore the wanderers of Your people;
Feed the hungry; ransom our prisoners;
Raise up the sick; comfort the faint-hearted.

From St. Clement of Alexandria, (c. 150–215)

Be kind to Your little children, Lord; that is what we ask of You as their Tutor, You the Father, Israel’s guide; Son, yes, but Father as well. Grant that by doing what You told us to do, we may achieve a faithful likeness to the Image and, as far as is possible for us, may find in You a good God and a lenient Judge.

May we all live in the peace that comes from You. May we journey towards Your city, sailing through the waters of sin untouched by the waves, borne tranquilly along by the Holy Spirit, Your Wisdom beyond all telling. Night and day until the last day of all, may our praises give You thanks, our thanksgiving praise You: You who alone are both Father and Son, Son and Father, the Son who is our Tutor and our Teacher, together with the Holy Spirit.

From St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c.130-202)

I appeal to you, Lord, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob and Israel, You the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Infinitely merciful as You are, it is Your will that we should learn to know You. You made heaven and earth, You rule supreme over all that is. You are the true, the only God; there is no other god above You.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ…and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, grant that all who read what I have written here may know You, because You alone are God; let them draw strength from You; keep them from all teaching that is heretical, irreligious or godless.

Finally, this inscription dating from the beginning of the 3rd century

Ichthus-born, divine children of heavenly Father, drink with heartfelt reverence of God‘s waters, the source of immortality to mortals. Fortify your soul, friend, with the ever-flowing waters of wisdom, the enriching. Take the honey-sweet food He offers who saves the saints; eat as a hungry man eats of the Ichthus you hold in your hands. Feed us then Lord; Savior, feed us, I pray, with the Ichthus. May my mother sleep well, I beg you, Light of the dead. Ascadius, father, dear to my heart, and you, sweet mother, you, my brothers, having the peace of the Ichthus, remember Pectorius.

Ichthus is the Greek word for “fish” and was a common symbol of the Eucharist in the early Church, because the Greek letters of the word can be read as acronym for the phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”

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