Free those who are held captive by unclean spirits; sail with those who sail; travel with those who travel; defend the widows; protect the orphans; liberate the captives; heal the sick. Remember, Lord, those who are in mines, in exile, in harsh labor, and those in every kind of affliction, necessity, or distress;
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 33-34)
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
Psalm 34:17-19
We are having problems in our office with our internet connection. Because of drop boxes not syncing, today’s prayer is out of sequence. Today’s was supposed to be “remember our enemies,” which appeared yesterday. This one was supposed to be yesterday. Sorry for any confusion.
In the last reflection, we discussed prayers for people at various stages of life, such as infancy, childhood and old age. Each of these stages has its own joys and challenges. The prayer continues by remembering those who are afflicted and struggling.
Centuries ago, it was common for people to think that people who had a mental affliction were “held captive by unclean spirits.” We now know that mental illness is just that, an illness, but an illness of the mind rather than that of the body. As we pray this prayer in contemporary times, I think of those struggling with mental illness as I offer this line of the prayer. Mental illness does hold people captive—whether its anxiety or depression or a learning disability or something else, a mental illness can make someone feel less than free, it can make them feel like a prisoner in their own mind or body.
When we think of sailing today, we think of a leisure activity. Centuries ago, sailing was the primary means of transportation for people and supplies over bodies of water. Today we fly over them. Small ships against huge waves made sailing very dangerous. Most kinds of traveling were fraught with danger—traveling through deserts, unfamiliar territory, the risk of attack by animals or robbers, they didn’t travel back then with the conveniences we travel with now. Thus special prayers were included in this prayer for the world for those who are traveling.
There are many challenging states to live in. Being a widow (or widower) is difficult at any time. The loss of a spouse is paralyzing. However, it was probably more difficult in past centuries, when women weren’t working and there was no life insurance, and where people commonly didn’t remarry. Centuries ago, men were not home every night—they would be out hunting and gathering, or working on the sea. It’s hard to imagine a woman with children being able to do a job that required her not being home for days at a time, as many men would be doing. This is on top of the grief that any spouse feels when they lose their spouse. Widows definitely needed defending from financial ruin, inability to provide for a family, and being attacked because they were vulnerable and living without a man, or anyone, in the house (or a modern alarm system).
Being an orphan is challenging in any century. Centuries ago, orphans were most likely to end up on the streets as beggars. There was no foster care, or adoption agencies to place them with families. Orphans definitely needed protection.
Human trafficking is becoming more rampant, people held captive against their will, forced into sex slavery. These are the modern captives. There has been slavery or captivity in every century. Again, as we hear these prayers, though they were written in the fourth century, they still speak to us in modern times.
Most of us don’t think about people who work in mines. There are mines all over the world, and people who work in them to get the minerals that we need to produce the things we need. We only seem to hear about mines when there are accidents in them. And these accidents occur despite the modern equipment miners have at their disposal. While mining will never be safe, it is certainly a lot safer than it was centuries ago.
“Exile” is something we probably don’t think about at all. Exile was a form of punishment many centuries ago, that a person would be removed from their country and society and become a wanderer. In some cases, a mark would even be put on a person to brand them as someone in exile, who had no home. One beautiful thing about God is that He doesn’t exile people. He will never throw us out from His presence, or tell us to find another god. He will not mark us for our sins. The ideal of exile does not agree with the idea of repentance, the idea that someone can make their way back. The church therefore prayed, and still prays, for those who have no home, either because they have been exiled, or because of whatever circumstance forces them to struggle as if they were in exile. In this part of the prayer, I think of those of the homeless, those who have no place to be.
“Harsh labor” centuries ago could have meant those in prison, who were often forced into harsh labor as they finished their sentences. Today, I think of harsh labor as work that is done under harsh conditions. Working outside in the heat of the summer might mean a construction worker falls into this category. An underwater welder gets paid well, but works in treacherous conditions. Again, one of the beautiful things about these prayers is that a phrase like “exile” or “harsh labor” is going to bring a different image to the mind of each worshipper. Thus, we will lift up many different thoughts as we hear the words of this prayer.
The next phrase of the prayer is a summary phrase, one of several in this prayer. We ask God to remember “those in every kind of affliction, necessity or distress.” (Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 33-34) This prayer listed some specific afflictions, but it was not an exhaustive list. We ask God to remember specific instances of hardship as well as all hardships and people who suffer from them.