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When Two or Three are Gathered

"Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication unto thee, and hast promised through thy well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name thou wilt be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen."
BCP, p. 59

In some branches of the Church, including the Episcopal Church, today is the feast day of St. John Chrysostom, the Byzantine bishop and preacher par excellence known as “the golden-mouthed.” Most of us know St. John Chrysostom from this prayer, which comes at the end of the Daily Offices in The Book of Common Prayer. The prayer was incorporated into the 1662 prayer book from the 4th century Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, an ancient liturgy believed to be shaped by Chrysostom himself. It was appended to Cranmer’s morning and evening offices because it succinctly summarizes an important aspect of the theology of prayer: God is made present among the people through prayer.[1]

Those of us who remember the 1928 BCP will recall the wording of this prayer used to be “…when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests,” rather than as it is written above. Without knowing the reason for this revision, I find it curious at the very least.

What is the purpose of prayer? Is it to get “stuff” we want? Is it to throw a lifeline to heaven for help? Why are some prayers answered and some prayers not? These are all heavy questions that need more time and space than I have today, but on the topic of prayer, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams writes this:

“We pray, we act in ways that have some chance of shaping a situation so that God can come more directly in. It isn’t a process we can manipulate; miracles aren’t magic, and we could never have a comprehensive manual of techniques for securing what we pray for… All we know is that we are called to pray, to trust and to live with integrity before God (to live ‘holy’ lives) in such a way as to leave the door open, to let things come together so that love can come through."[2]

In this season of Epiphany, we are reminded that we make God manifest as we pray with one another, trusting that if our lives make God present as do our prayers, we provide “openings” for God to bring about His purposes in our world.

[1] Charles P. Price and Louis Weil, Liturgy for Living (New York: The Seabury Press, 1979), 167. Leonel L. Mitchell, Praying Shapes Believing: A Theological Commentary on The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 1985), 51.
[2] Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 45.
The Rev. Sharron L. Cox
Associate for Outreach, Pastoral Care and Women's Ministries
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