PRAYER OF THE FIRST ANTIPHON
“Lord, our God, Whose dominion is incomparable and glory incomprehensible; Whose mercy is immeasurable, and love for mankind ineffable: Look upon us and upon this holy house in Your loving-kindness, and grant to us and to those who pray with us Your abundant mercy and compassion.“ (Prayer of the First Antiphon, usually read silently by the priest at Byzantine Divine Liturgy)
There are many things about God that are expressed, in traditional theological terms, in the negative: He is “in-comparable,“ “in-comprehensible,“ “im-measurable,“ and so on. Because there are many things in Him and in our relationship with Him that we do not know or understand. Just like there are many things in my human relationships that remain a mystery. But the whole “mystery“ part does not stop me from loving and even trusting the human beings in my life. I do the same when it comes to the God in my life. Thus the Prayer of the First Antiphon establishes my loving acceptance of the “not knowing“ part of my relationship with Him, with Whom I am to enter into communion at this Liturgy.
In this prayer we are also made aware of our church-space, “this holy house,“ in which we are now physically (not only spiritually) worshipping God. We ask Him to “look upon us“ and this physical space, in which we intend to commune with Him also physically, in partaking of His Body and Blood.
Let me take note today, not only of the spiritual aspects of our liturgical prayer, but also of the physical ones, made “real“ and grace-filled through God coming to us in the flesh. His walking, talking, dying and rising in our midst 2,000 years ago, and the ensuing sending down of His Spirit into our midst make possible the grace-filled symbols of our church-buildings and celebrations. Because the physical and the spiritual, the human and the divine, are brought together in Him, the God-Man, and by His Spirit, Who fills all things. “Come and abide in us,“ we invite Him today, as You already have, and continue to do, when we give You the space to do that.