On Public Prayers that Avoid Specific Reference to Christ
Great quote here. HT Treaders
To require a Christian priest to say little more at a benediction than
“the Sustainer bids you to peacefully love your neighbor” or “May the
Holy One be with you always” is effectively the same as asking a
surgeon to say to a man dying on the operating table, “Don’t worry,
everything is all right.” It is not a truthful word, and the dying man
(and we are all dying men) needs the truthful word.
Read the whole article here.
John Parker on the Dishonesty of Inclusive Prayers
Once I accepted an invitation to give the benediction at the graduation of
the Medical University of South Carolina. I was delighted that a school like
MUSC was still willing to invoke the Name of God and ask his blessings on those
who are to be sent out into the world to practice the work that the school
has trained them to do.
Having driven past the university’s beautiful St. Luke’s Chapel
(named after St. Luke, the evangelist and physician) hundreds of times, I began
to consider what words might be fitting for these medical students. I sat at
my desk, reviewing ancient books of Christian prayers, to write the most appropriate
one for those commencing the next step of their professional medical lives.
Two days later, I received by mail a delightful letter, thanking me for agreeing
to deliver the benediction and inviting me to a number of related festivities.
Included with the letter, though, was a memorandum from the Office of the President
of the Medical University: “Guidelines for Invocation and Benediction
at Public Functions,” guidelines to which I would be required to conform
in order to bless the graduates.
The first was a reasonable request for any public speaker: “Appeal
to the larger spiritual virtues that all faiths have in common: love, faith,
hope . . . peace, goodness.” The second was acceptable, although dripping
with political correctness: “Use inclusive language: forbears rather
than fathers, . . .” etc.
The third was a problem. Here is the text (the boldface appears in the original):
Steer clear of parochial, exclusively defining religious names, concepts,
practices, and metaphors. A good rule of thumb to remember is that you come
representing the entire faith community, not just your own group. The prayer
should therefore not be offensive to anyone, whether Catholic, Baptist, Jewish,
Muslim, etc. For example, when opening or closing, an inclusive choice
would be “Holy God, Holy One, Creator, Sustainer,” rather than “Allah,
Jesus, Holy Trinity,” etc.
In four sentences, the Medical University of South Carolina, in its effort
to “set a tone of reverence at our public assemblies” and “bear
testimony to [our] richly diverse religious and cultural heritage” and
somehow to make generic and inoffensive any public benediction or invocation,
sanctioned officially one religion over all others: American pop-religion—a
tray full of cafeteria-style faith, which takes nice-sounding “religious” words
from this group and that, pleasing to the ear but without real content.
I sent my prepared benediction to the Office of the President, wanting to
embarrass neither myself nor the staff of the Medical University at graduation.
I soon received a polite call from the same office, during which I was un-invited
to bless the graduates.
The truly Christian benediction (the only type of benediction I am authorized
by my archbishop and my ordination to give) is not permitted. Thus, the university,
hoping to display its “religious heritage” and seeking to demonstrate
its “pride in . . . diversity,” actually shows itself to be selectively
inclusive. Inclusion in the Medical University’s public religious expression
is limited to those who will show no conviction at all.
No Good Word
The heritage of the Medical University is, to some degree, Christian. Its
chapel is not “generic” by any stretch—it is named for a
Christian saint, adorned with his stained-glass image, and topped with the
Cross of Christ. These have been the marks of a certain faith. Not
a generic faith.
Only a certain faith offers what people truly want and need, while a generic
faith cannot—which we often see, ironically enough, in the world into
which these graduates are being sent. Someone suffering from a third heart
attack doesn’t want to hear about spirits that sustain us or a “god” who
is with us in our suffering. He wants—even needs and expects—the
blessing and grace of God in that moment.
His heart longs for some assurance that even if his body won’t be okay
(sometimes it won’t), Someone is reminding him, “Lo, I am with
you always, even unto the end of the age.” This is the very same assurance
and grace this Orthodox priest hoped—and was invited—to offer to
the graduates who will care for such a soul.
To require a Christian priest to say little more at a benediction than “the
Sustainer bids you to peacefully love your neighbor” or “May the
Holy One be with you always” is effectively the same as asking a surgeon
to say to a man dying on the operating table, “Don’t worry, everything
is all right.” It is not a truthful word, and the dying man (and we are
all dying men) needs the truthful word.
Doctors, nurses, indeed all hospital personnel and those for whom
they care need, like all the rest of us who are struggling to live in this
dying world, a true, good word—a real benediction in the fullest sense
of the term. Why can we no longer give it to them?
Within the walls of a hospital, a sterile, antiseptic environment is critical
for the care and recovery of patients. But the sterile, antiseptic “benediction” the
guidelines require is a “good word” to no one, blesses no one,
offers no promise of divine aid and comfort to men and women who will need
it desperately. Such selective inclusivity removes every particular faith to
a space well off to the side, where it can do no harm to the secular ideal
of “inclusivity,” but can do no good either.
In the end, to ask a Christian pastor to bless a gathering in this way is
little more than having some person in religious clothing stand in front of
a crowd to say a few generically religious words, hoping to give some religious
legitimacy to a public gathering. Not only is there no power or grace in it,
it is devoid of any essential meaning.
A True Prayer
That May, I did offer my prayer for the graduates of the Medical University
of South Carolina, though not in their presence. I prayed:
“O Lord Jesus Christ our God, Lover of Mankind, Physician of our souls
and bodies, who in pain bore our infirmities, and by whose wounds we are healed:
“Who gave sight to the man born blind, who straightened the woman who
was bent over for eighteen years, who gave speech and sight to the mute demoniac,
who not only forgave the paralytic his sins, but healed him to walk, who restored
the withered hand of a troubled man, who stopped the flow of blood of her who
bled for twelve years, who raised Jairus’s daughter to life, who brought
the four-days-dead Lazarus to life, and who heals every infirmity under the
“Do now, O Lord, give your grace to all those here gathered who have
labored and studied hour upon hour, to go into all the world, and also to heal
by the talent you have given to each of them. Strengthen them, by your strength,
to fear no evil or disease; enlighten them to do no evil by the works of their
hands, and preserve them and those they serve in peace.
“For you are our God, and we know no other. And to you we send up glory
together with your Father who is from everlasting, and your most Holy, Good,
and Life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”
is priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church, a mission parish
of the Orthodox Church in America, in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. He
earned his MDiv (2001) at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in
Ambridge, Pennsylvania, and his MTh (2004) at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox
Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York. He can be reached at