Gregory of Nyssa, De oratione dominica II: “Our Father who art in heaven”

Lenka Karfíková (Charles University, Praha)

In the second Homily Gregory interprets the introductory words of Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven” (Mt 6:9). His exposition consists of four thematic parts:

  1. The comparison of Jesus and Moses as legislators (20,3 – 21,14),
  2. Euché (vow) and proseuché (prayer) (21,15 – 22,15),
  3. The ascension to God as the Father (22,16 – 26,19),
  4. The homeland in heaven (26,20 – 30,24).

The comparison of Jesus and Moses as legislators comes close to Gregory’s Vita Moysis of Philonic inspiration but the message is quite different. Instead of focusing on the incomprehensibility of God, Gregory introduces Jesus as a new legislator whose teaching dissipates the darkness of Sinai and enables a close communion with God as the Father. The adoption as sons of God, a motive of St. Paul’s theology developed in Origen’s treatise On Prayer, seems to be replaced by ethical assimilation to God in his characteristic features, i.e. divine names as known from the Bible and the Platonic tradition. At the same time, Gregory understands the assimilation to God as a return to the homeland in heaven exemplified by an allegorical interpretation of the prodigal son’s story from Luke 15. The differentiation between euché (vow) and proseuché (prayer) comes close to Origen’s On Prayer, even if Gregory tries to make this distinction more clear and unequivocal than his predecessor.