The Prayer of Manassas: Bowing the Knee of the Heart
Those who attended the Great Canon of St Andrew last week heard the Prayer of Manassas chanted as part of the service. It is one of the Church’s most beautiful penitential prayers and is read during Great Lent (and other lenten seasons) at the service of Great Compline. The prayer itself has an interesting history, not being found in the biblical accounts of King Manassas, only alluded to there (2 Kings 21 and 2 Chronicles 33). The biblical story of Manassas tells how he took the throne in Jerusalem at the age of 12 on the death of his father Hezekiah and went on to rule for 55 years. Unlike his father, who tore down the shrines to the pagan idols and sought to return the nation to the worship of the Lord, Manassas reversed course and wholeheartedly embraced the paganism of the surrounding lands and peoples (interestingly, his religious “pro-pagan policy” was likely connected to his successful economic trade policy). He tried to stamp out all opposition to paganism by killing the prophets and their followers, and some even attribute the death of the Prophet Isaiah to Manassas. His commitment to idol worship was so great that he engaged in the horrid practice of child sacrifice, making his children “pass through the fire.” With that kind of background you might be wondering why in the world we would say a prayer attributed to Manassas. He doesn’t sound like the praying sort, or, at least, the sort whose prayers we would want to pray. A pagan king, the prodigal son of a praying father, a slayer of prophets, and an offerer of perverse offerings - what can he teach us about prayer? With a past like that, only one thing: repentance. For you see, Manassas repented. According to the account in 2 Chronicles, God got Manassas’ attention via the king of Assyria, who led Manassas away to Babylon by a chain hooked to his nose. And there, in Babylon, brought to his knees, Manassas cried out to God. Not the pagan gods he had been dallying with in order to secure his economic trade policy. No, he cried out to the God of his fathers, not only Hezekiah, but also Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And he cried out for mercy. And if that is not amazing enough, there is this: God heard him!The pagan, prodigal, prophet-killer and offerer of child sacrifice! God heard him and forgave him and restored him to his throne in Jerusalem where his repentance took the form of orthodoxy - right worship: “[Manassas] restored the Lord's altar and sacrificed on it a sacrifice of deliverance and of praise, and he said that Ioudas should be subject to the Lord, God of Israel.” Elder Sophrony of Essex always said that the great miracle is repentance. That is the miracle we are struggling and praying and fasting for this holy season. It is the great miracle because, whereas bodily healing lasts for a time, repentance is truly a resurrection from the dead, a resurrection before the resurrection. Let Manassas be our example this season, and let the prayer that bears his name be ours.
With love in Christ, Fr John
The Prayer of Manassas
O Lord Almighty, the God of our fathers, of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and of their righteous seed; Who hast made heaven and the earth with all their majesty; Who hast bound the sea by the word of Thy commandment; Who hast closed the abyss, and sealed it by Thy terrible and glorious name; of Whom all things are afraid, and tremble from the presence of Thy might; for no one can endure the majesty of Thy glory, and unbearable is the wrath of Thy threatening toward sinners, but immeasurable and unsearchable is the mercifulness of Thy promise; for Thou art the Lord most High, compassionate, long-suffering, and plenteous in mercy, and repentest of the evils of men: Thou, O Lord, according to the multitude of Thy goodness, hast promised penitence and forgiveness to them that have sinned against Thee, and in the multitude of Thy compassions hast decreed repentance for the salvation of sinners. Thou, therefore, O Lord God of hosts, hast not appointed repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who have not sinned against Thee, but hast laid repentance upon me a sinner, for I have sinned more than the number of the sands of the sea. Mine iniquities are multiplied, and I am not worthy to look upon and to see the height of heaven for the multitude of mine iniquities. For I am bowed down with many iron bands so that I cannot lift up my head, and there is no release for me, because I have provoked Thine anger, and done evil before Thee, neither having done Thy will, nor having kept Thy commandments; and now I bow the knees of my heart, beseeching of Thee clemency. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I know mine iniquities; but imploring I pray Thee: Loose me, O Lord, loose me, and destroy me not with mine iniquities. Neither in enmity forever keep mine evils, neither condemn me to the nethermost parts of the earth. For Thou, O God, art the God of them that repent, and upon me Thou wilt show all Thy goodness; for Thou shalt save me who am unworthy, according to the plenitude of Thy mercy, and I will praise Thee continually throughout the days of my life: for all the heavenly hosts hymn Thee, and Thine is the glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.