Prayer in the Church Fathers - A request for help from Catholic/Orthodox brothers and sisters.

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Posts 425
Liam & Abi Maguire | Forum Activity | Posted: Fri, Mar 1 2019 1:01 PM

To my dear Orthodox and Catholic brothers and sisters (and any others who want to weigh in!), 

It generally received wisdom in my particular brand of Protestantism that, as a rule, one should pray to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. And that whilst praying to the Son or Spirit is not sinful, it should not be normative or should be particularly focused on their works. Eg. "thank you, Jesus, for dying for me", "Holy Spirit please help me understand your word". 

However, I recently heard a podcast that challenged this view by claiming that the Church Fathers (presumably centuries two through five) did not hold this theological position and that creeds/writers of the time thought that all persons could be prayed for equally. Their point was that this is an overemphasis of Biblical theology that failed to take into account church history and creedal tradition, hence the appeal to the church fathers. 

Suffice it to say that I do not know the Fathers well enough to check this for myself but would love some suggestions on what/where to read to find out more or some searches to run. 

If it helps, I own the "Early Church Fathers" Collection plus a number of other resources dealing with the time period (eg. Apostolic Fathers in English; Worship in the Early Church vol 1&2; A New Eusebius, etc.).  

Thanks in advance! Blessings, Liam

Check out my blog 'For Fathers'

Posts 10116
Denise | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 1 2019 1:42 PM

Hmm ... even before you get into the Church Fathers, you run into 'who was kurios'. In the early apostolic fathers, it's clearly God. But as you shift into the mid-2nd century, it's quite arguable (kurios being the common standin for Jesus). Hermas appears to weave in and out.

I'd assume our Verbum folks might speak to subsequent church usage.

Search-wise, it's not straight-forward ... several greek words, several translations for the same greek, and often the 'to' is a paragraph away from the search-word a la pray.


Posts 939
Deacon Steve | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 1 2019 3:31 PM

Liam Maguire:

However, I recently heard a podcast that challenged this view ...

What was the podcast?

EDIT:  I ask this because I would like to understand what you heard and the context in which the person made the remarks.  I can recommend that you consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the Catholic understanding of prayer.  Part Four (paragraph 2558 ff.) would be a starting point.  It is a short read and contains many references, mostly scriptural but others.  It’s a resource worth having when questions of Catholic dogma and doctrine come up.

https://verbum.com/products/17215/catechism-of-the-catholic-church

I’ll try to find some other resources that may help, but if you could identify the podcast that will help.

Posts 322
Vincent Chia | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 1 2019 3:47 PM

Yes. Podcast  podcast  please 

Director

Elyon Family Clinic & Surgery Pte Ltd

Singapore

Posts 425
Liam & Abi Maguire | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 1 2019 4:04 PM

To those requesting the podcast, it was a couple of passing comments in a recent edition of the Mortification of Spin (http://www.alliancenet.org/mos/podcast/45227). I wouldn't hold your breath. ;-)

---

Interestingly, for those wishing to do there own reading, none of the historic [reformed] protestant creeds addresses the question about prayer to particular persons of the Trinity as far as I can see. Closest Westminster comes to is saying that we pray in Jesus name, by the Spirit's help, but nothing on whether one should only pray to the father (see. WCF 21.3). Whereas Heidelberg says that we pray to God as our father in the Lord's prayer because we have become God's children through Christ (See HC Q121).

---

Thanks for the heads up about Hermas and the difficulties in searching. I check it out whilst I wait for other responses. 

Check out my blog 'For Fathers'

Posts 3023
SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 1 2019 4:06 PM

Liam, thank you for asking!

Off the top of my head, I'm not quite sure how to direct you on finding what you're looking for, but I'll think about it.

Liam Maguire:
However, I recently heard a podcast that challenged this view by claiming that the Church Fathers (presumably centuries two through five) did not hold this theological position and that creeds/writers of the time thought that all persons could be prayed for equally.

From a contemporary Catholic perspective, at least, the age of the ECFs ended with the death of the St. Bede the Venerable in the West (d.735) and in the East with the death of St. John Damascene ('of Damascus') in 750. Late Medieval and Renaissance Catholic documents included even St. Bernard of Clairvaux (d.1135) and Pope Innocent III (d.1216) among the Fathers, but that doesn't really seem to work these days. (See the Patrology of the late Fr. Johannes Quasten.) In all cases, the Apostolic Fathers are considered Early Church Fathers.

Posts 425
Liam & Abi Maguire | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 1 2019 4:11 PM

SineNomine:

Liam, thank you for asking!

Off the top of my head, I'm not quite sure how to direct you on finding what you're looking for, but I'll think about it.

From a contemporary Catholic perspective, at least, the age of the ECFs ended with the death of the St. Bede the Venerable in the West (d.735) and in the East with the death of St. John Damascene ('of Damascus') in 750. Late Medieval and Renaissance Catholic documents included even St. Bernard of Clairvaux (d.1135) and Pope Innocent III (d.1216) among the Fathers, but that doesn't really seem to work these days. (See the Patrology of the late Fr. Johannes Quasten.) In all cases, the Apostolic Fathers are considered Early Church Fathers.

Thank you, I'd appreciate any thoughts/wisdom you might have. 

Thanks so much for the dates too, that is really helpful. I wasn't necessarily suggesting 2 thru 5 as gospel. More likely its my own ignorance! haha Zip it!

As to collection/bundle I mentioned as "Early Church Fathers" in the OP, I was referring to this: https://www.logos.com/product/5771/early-church-fathers-protestant-edition 

Check out my blog 'For Fathers'

Posts 1599
Ken McGuire | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 1 2019 4:25 PM

I am Lutheran, but have spent a fair amount of time with some of the Fathers...

I would start off with what the Ecumenical Councils said. The first two are largely about the doctrine of God, and Constantinople 1 has given us the "Nicene" creed we still use today, granted in various translations and debate about the filioque added in the West... The Creed hammers in "God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father" to clearly express the full deity of the Son - at least in regards to his divinity.

Interestingly, it does not make these types of Metaphysical statements about the Spirit. But it does say "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father (and the Son). With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified." This, to me suggests that according to the text of the creed is is legitimate to worship all three "persons" and I can't understand separating worship and prayer. As RPC Hanson observed in The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, the theology here seems to intentionally be that of St. Basil, (who had just passed away) whose work On the Holy Spirit famously spoke of the Holy Spirit having the attributes used to describe God, but refrains from directly saying that the Holy Spirit IS God.

At the beginning of the 2nd century we have Pliny the younger incredulously stating that Christians "meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god." (10.96.7) (The Latin is in Logos in the free Perseus Library) and many would suggest that this singing to Christ as to a god would suggest prayer to him as well...

That said, I see roots of the distinction of to the Father through the Son in the Spirit when I read Origen's work on Prayer, available for Logos at https://www.logos.com/product/31324/on-the-lords-prayer or https://www.logos.com/product/125671/origen-an-exhortation-to-martyrdom-prayer-and-selected-works or https://www.logos.com/product/157150/origen-prayer-exhortation-to-martyrdom . I would particularly recommend the first collection since it has a variety of early works on prayer from a bit of a variety of perspectives, namely Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen.

I would also recommend reading Basil's On the Holy Spirit, especially since he develops his theology in response to formulas of prayer much like those you started with - and argues that they should not be taken too narrowly... "Lately when I pray with the people, some of those present observed that I render the glory due to God in both ways, namely, to the Father, with the Son together with the Holy Spirit, and to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit."  St Basil the Great. (2011). On the Holy Spirit 1.3. (J. Behr, Ed., S. Hildebrand, Trans.) (Vol. 42, p. 29). Yonkers, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

For better or worse, most of this theology was first hammered out in the Greek East. We in the West have received it from figures like Ambrose and Augustine. Among other things, Augustine taught that the works of the Trinity "ad extra" are one. As I summarized this to an Adult class, this means that when we in the world see the works of God, all three persons are there somehow.... He has been accused of expanding the Greek teaching of perichoresis to speak of complete mutuality between all three persons - into something with no clear starting point, while the Eastern fathers generally kept things clear that it all starts with the Father and leads back to the Father. I need to read Augustine De Trinitate in detail to see if this is really an accurate accusation...

While I hope that someone else chips who knows the territory better, I also hope that my limited comments above are enough to at least give you a start.

SDG

Ken McGuire

The Gospel is not ... a "new law," on the contrary, ... a "new life." - William Julius Mann

Posts 939
Deacon Steve | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 1 2019 4:41 PM

In addition to my reply and edit above, you may find this resource helpful.  Part Three starting at question 35 speaks to you original comment, I believe.

https://verbum.com/products/163941/101-questions-and-answers-on-prayer

I’ll do some more research as time permits.

Posts 3023
SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 1 2019 5:32 PM

I don't know that you have any of the following, but I include them anyway so that they might somehow be helpful to someone.

In Step 28, On Prayer, of the Ladder of Divine Ascent, St. John Climacus (579-649) clearly speaks about prayers addressed to the Son.

The Rule of St. Benedict (480-547) in chapter 10 speaks of the Gloria Patri, which is addressed to each of the Three Persons.

Chapter XVII of The Wisdom of the Desert, which collects ancient anecdotes and prayers from the Desert Fathers, contains a story of a monk praying to Christ.

Posts 1599
Ken McGuire | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 1 2019 7:21 PM

I just listened to the podcast you mentioned.

First thing I must say is that it the whole podcast shows how vastly differently different communities express their faith in Christ, and the different challenges they are facing. These differences make me hesitate to speak - and yet I already have. There is a lack of shared language and history that makes misunderstandings way too easy. In some ways I am reminded of a discussion I had with a Charismatic at work who said that Catholics never talk about the Holy Spirit. I immediately gave an example of an Epiclisis said at every Mass. He just had never even thought to think of things that way - although he had to admit that there certainly was talk about the Holy Spirit there.

The second thing I must say is that it is utterly foreign to my understanding of the faith delivered to us by the saints who have gone before us and are at rest to question the legitimacy of praying like the faithful man crucified with Jesus, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." It is instead my understanding - like those delivering the podcast - that these things to many respects were settled by the Great Ecumenical councils, especially if you look at the theologians and arguments BEHIND the council statements. That said, as the podcast alluded, those very theologians were clear that the mystery which the were called to confess was beyond the words they were using to do so, even while insisting that the words that they used were also needed confessions of what needed to be said. I can be quite sympathetic with attempts to try to confess this faith in today's words - but those words should not contradict some of the clear things they did say.

With regards to the submission/equality discussions, I am reminded of the way these things are lovingly expressed (prayed?) in the Athanasian Creed:

And in this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another;
But the whole three persons are coeternal with each other and coequal, so that in all things, as has been stated above, the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshiped....

Therefore, it is the right faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man.
He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages;
And He is man, born from the substance of His mother in this age:
Perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh;
equal to the Father with respect to His divinity, less than the Father with respect to His humanity.
Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ:
One, however, not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God;
one altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.
For as the rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ,

Athanasian Creed - Lutheran Service Book. (2006)

I think you would find it enlightening to read some of the Fathers involved in the Trinitarian debates to see the horrors they see for the faith if the Logos is clearly stated to be a Creature instead of God. We are living in an age when many have picked up the fourth century fathers to hear what Nicene Christianity is - and also when there are fascinating studies of how this came to be - eg. RPC Hanson, John Behr, Lewis Ayres, Khaled Anatolios, etc. I do encourage you to follow up on some of these.

The Gospel is not ... a "new law," on the contrary, ... a "new life." - William Julius Mann

Posts 782
Lew Worthington | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 1 2019 7:33 PM

I'm glad the OP brought up the question. This has been a helpful discussion about a topic I hadn't really explored before. Thanks to all!

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 1 2019 9:11 PM

I'd actually start by a review of the early liturgies paying special attention to the conclusions of the prayers ... I'll look for some specifics in a minute. But this article on Prayer and the Trinity starts with Biblical examples and has some useful references to early fathers.

Searchs (Prayer NEAR "to the Father") etc, against the collection of Church Fathers finds:

  • S. Gregory. The Divine ΕΥΧΟΛΟΓΙΟΝ, and the Divine Liturgy of S. Gregory the Theologian. Translated by S. C. Malan. Vol. VI. Original Documents of the Coptic Church. London: D. Nutt, 1875. which finds 3 prayers to the Father and 3 prayers to the Son
  • Schaff, Philip, and Henry Wace, eds. St. Ambrose: Select Works and Letters. Vol. 10. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1896. In De fide there is mention of prayer to the Son
  • Origen. Origen: An Exhortation to Martyrdom, Prayer; First Principles: Book IV; Prologue to the Commentary on the Song of Songs; Homily XXVII on Numbers. Edited by Richard J. Payne. Translated by Rowan A. Greer. The Classics of Western Spirituality. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1979. Origen in Prayer rejects prayer to the Son

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

Posts 425
Liam & Abi Maguire | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 2 2019 12:00 AM

Dear MJ and SineNomine, Thank you so much for pointing me in the direction of some works/authors to read. That is exactly what I was hoping would happen. 

Dear Ken, I really enjoyed reading your comments and advice to start off with the Ecumenical councils to help guide my thinking and reflecting. It was also astonishing that I had not considered the 'Theif on the Cross' in Luke 23:42 to be a prayer of sorts, or by extension other request made of Jesus during his incarnation. 

On that, for those interested, here are some other Bible passages that have been helpful to my thinking since my OP... Acts 1:24; 7:59–60; 2 Cor. 12:8; 1 Cor 1:2, 16:22; Rom 10:12;  2 Cor 12:8; 1 Thess 3:11–13; 2 Thess 2:16.

Thanks so much, everyone, this is why I love this forum! :-D

Check out my blog 'For Fathers'

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 2 2019 1:27 AM

To expand on why I'd look at liturgical documents, although this reference is contemporary:

In concluding these introductory Notes this remains yet to be said:—If the Collect is addressed to the Father, the conclusion is: “Through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, etc.,” if addressed to the Son: “Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, etc.,” if the Son is named in the body of the Collect: “Through the same, Thy Son, etc.,” but if the Son is not named until at the end: “O Thou Who livest, etc.” If the Collect is addressed to the Holy Ghost, or if His name is mentioned in the body of the Collect, the proper conclusion is: “Through Jesus Christ, Who liveth and reigneth in unity with Thee and the Father, ever one God, world without end.” But this is scarcely ever the case.

William Loehe, Liturgy for Christian Congregations of the Lutheran Faith, ed. J. Deinzer, trans. F. C. Longaker, Third Edition (Newport, KY: n.p., 1902), 64.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

Posts 425
Liam & Abi Maguire | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 2 2019 4:00 PM

Hi MJ. Thank you that is a really helpful clarification. I'll have a nose around some liturgy and see what I can unearth. 

Check out my blog 'For Fathers'

Posts 185
Roy | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 2 2019 6:40 PM

I'm no expert on LOGOS searches but I would think that doing a Passage Guide Search/Study on John 16:23 just might return hits on some of the resources you do have by the church fathers (assuming that they had anything to say on the matter/topic.

for example...

4. Hitherto in this section of the Gospel, whereon we are discoursing to-day, the tenor of everything has been, I may say, of easy understanding: a much closer attention is needful in connection with the words that follow. For what does He mean by the words, “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing”? The verb to ask, used here, means not only to beg of, but also to question; and the Greek Gospel, of which this is a translation, has a word that may also be understood in both senses, so that by it the ambiguity is not removed; and even though it were so, every difficulty would not thereby disappear.

For we read that the Lord Christ, after He rose again, was both questioned and petitioned. He was asked by the disciples, on the eve of His ascension into heaven, when He would be manifested, and when the kingdom of Israel would come; and even when already in heaven, He was petitioned [asked] by St. Stephen to receive his spirit. And who dare either think or say that Christ ought not to be asked, sitting as He does in heaven, and yet was asked while He abode on earth? or that He ought not to be asked in His state of immortality, although it was men’s duty to ask Him while still in His state of subjection to death? Nay, beloved, let us ask Him to untie with His own hands the knot of our present inquiry, by so shining into our hearts that we may perceive what He saith.

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.7: St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies

and again...

Ver. 22, 23. “And ye now therefore have sorrow—[but I will see you again, and your sorrow shall be turned into joy].” Then, to show that He shall die no more, He saith, “And no man taketh it from you. And in that day ye shall ask Me nothing.”

Again He proveth nothing else by these words, but that He is from God. “For then ye shall for the time to come know all things.” But what is, “Ye shall not ask Me”? “Ye shall need no intercessor, but it is sufficient that ye call on My Name, and so gain all things.”

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask My Father in My Name.”

He showeth the power of His Name, if at least being neither seen nor called upon, but only named, He even maketh us approved by the Father. But where hath this taken place? Where they say, “Lord, behold their threatenings, and grant unto Thy servants that with boldness they may speak Thy word” (Acts 4:29, 31), “and work miracles in Thy Name.” “And the place was shaken where they were.”

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.14: Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of St. John and Epistle to the Hebrews

I used this verse because it was the first thing that popped into my mind for not asking Jesus himself but asking God in Jesus' name.

I would hazard a guess that if I were to create a collection of writings by Early Church Fathers found in my library and searched those resources, I would find many more relevant hits. I understand that there are most likely MANY writing covering the topic of prayer and whom to pray to that are not connected to that verse. As I said, this was just off the top of my head. Confused

Roy 

Posts 425
Liam & Abi Maguire | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 8 2019 12:26 PM

I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone for their wonderful and helpful replies. I've found it very helpful and profitable to read through the responses and do some digging of my own. 

Whilst I still have much to wade through, bigger topic than I first thought (story of my theological life!!), I have become freer in my prayer life. And have of late found myself either praying more trinitarian prayers (praise and petitions address to each person), even simply starting of by address "Lord God" or "Almighty God" and seeing where I go from there. 

So thank you to all who replied and I hope others will profit too. 

Blessings, Liam

Check out my blog 'For Fathers'

Posts 569
Hamilton Ramos | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 16 2019 12:39 PM

Hi Liam:

Since you invited anyone to the conversation, I will share a very different angle for your consideration.

At some point in time quasi theologians noticed that is wrong to refer to God in an anthropomorphism way.  They needed to find a term that expressed our perceived independent Beings that were related to God.

Hypostasis was the greek work used to express the fact that although some perceived Beings related to God seemed human like to us, they are actually not.

Who is Jesus the logos made flesh? the Bible says that is a hypostasis (Divine substantive reality) that was allowed to have life in Himself, and that is the image of the invisible God. John 5:26

To put it in perspective: When you look at yourself in a mirror, there is a substantive reality image of you in that mirror that has effect on your senses (you can see it, but is not alive, as a matter of fact has no life).

Well, God is so awesome, that He allowed a Substantive reality of Himself have life intrinsically, so that image of Him could come and die for us (i.e. a Hypostasis of God allowed to have life in Himself can die for us, God Himself cannot die for us, because He does not die).

Once Jesus was perfected by death in the cross, His glorification included that the fullness of Deity dwells bodily in that resurrected Body (Jesus is the New Temple of God, where God as Spirit (His natural essence) dwells).

So basically when God shows up near us (in natural Spirit essence), all begins to melt, organic and inorganic, so God decides to veil Himself with a glorified Tabernacle (resurrected Jesus), to be able to relate to us without melting us.

Isaiah knew it: 

Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Zechariah saw it: 

 And Yahweh will be king over all the earth; on that day Yahweh will be one and his name one.

 Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible (Zec 14:8–9). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Note that Yahweh is not a name, so the name above all name must be Jesus Christ.

And that insight was confirmed first hand to John the beloved disciple:

In Revelation 1: 12 - 18, John saw one Being that seems to be a combination of Jesus and the Ancient of Days.

So the conjecture that seems to me appropriate given the evidence is that in accordance with one of the old trinity definitions, there may be 3 hypostasis operating at the historical order, that will culminate as One at the end as Isaiah knew, Zechariah knew, and John saw.

Ireneaus said it brilliantly: "Jesus and the Holy Spirit are like the Hands of God that He uses to bring believers close to His heart"[very rough paraphrase]. Note that arms, hands, etc. are intrinsic parts of One Being, not different persons.

So my allegiance is to one old trinity definition: Love relation between Divine Substantive Realities (Hypostasis).

When the term Hypostasis needed to be translated to Latin, someone proposed Personae (that in Latin means the mask an actor wears in a play). 

Tertullian was not convinced, but since the Bible says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, went with it.

So what puzzles me is how the Latin word Personae (meaning mask worn by an actor), turned into the modern term person (a whole different concept)?

I reject the use of the modern term person in the trinity definition.

Some persons studying the subject, even have said that the use of the term "person" with respect to the definition of God is disrespectful because God is way beyond our human concept of person (the reason why He was better termed hypostasis, since we have no true clue of His true Spiritual Nature).

So from a practical point of view, we are ok praying to any of the Divine substantive realities (Hypostasis) part of the trinity while we are in the historical order ministering the reconciliation given freely by God.

Eventually, as Zechariah says, there will only be One, and His name will be Jesus Christ, so praying direct to Jesus Christ even from now, is ok also.

Liam: note that this write up is for you, not to polemicize, not to start a discussion, etc. I am giving you a view from the fringe of the orthodox envelope, for you to explore, reflect and comment if you want.

You seem to genuinely want to explore more, so voila.

Kind regards.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 16 2019 1:52 PM

Hamilton, you, like all of us, are bound by the forum rules. Please use PM for this sort of theological post.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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