A few weeks back I showed my grandma some of liturgy (prayer) books that I use for Divine Liturgy in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church. Pacifically the prayer books for the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, a Divine Liturgy used in both the Eastern Rite Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. What is unique about the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is the extensive ritual used through out the liturgy and the extensive litanies of intercessory prayers that usual end with “Lord, have mercy” or “Grant this O Lord.”
So, my grandma was looking through my liturgy books for both the Ukrainian Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches. All the sudden she looked up at me and asked, “There are all these prayers for mercy. Are people really that bad?” I was taken aback by this question. I thought all Christians had a similar attitude to mercy, the nature of sin and how sin effects a Christian’s relationship with God. Maybe not. Or it’s a lack of Christian education in the faith. I don’t know. So, I continued to explain to grandma that, yes, some people really are horrible and need all sorts of preventative measures. As for other people, we all sin and hurt our relationships with each other and God. That’s why we need mercy. It’s over simplified but it served my purpose.
So, yes, people are not necessarily good. Some are worse than others (some might think of a popular male politician and others a famous female politician). While some secular thinkers will say that all humans are naturally good, Christian teaching says that humans naturally sinful and that’s why we need God’s mercy. The teaching that humans are naturally sinful (according to the Catholic Church) comes from the teaching of original sin. Original sin is the inherited sin that passed down from Adam and Eve’s fall (eating the forbidden fruit, falling from God’s grace and being banished from the Garden of Eden) to their decedents (that is us). The inherited sin resulting from the fall of man is also called ancestral sin.
What does original sin do to us, humans? Well, put simply, it causes us to sin because we are naturally inclined to sin. What does sin to do our relationship with God and other humans? Sin hurts both God and fellow humans. But more importantly it wounds, pulls us further apart and damages our relationship with both God and friends. When it comes to thinking how sin effects others, I often thinking of the Buddhist teaching on negative actions and the snowball effect. Buddhism teaches that negative actions hurt our relationships with other people and influence their actions, possibly cause negative actions, towards others. And so the cycle goes.
This is why we need God’s mercy. To heal our relationship with God and humans. We can ask for God’s mercy through prayer and confession of sins. Each Christian tradition has a different way of confessing and asking for absolution. This done by a priest or pastor on God’s behalf. In the Catholic and Orthodox churches a Christian will go to a priest during time set aside for the purpose of confession. During confession one tells the priest their sins, talk about ways to avoid those sins, say prayers, blessings and absolution of sin. When confession is over, one’s relationship with God is restored by way of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
I should also note that asking God to have mercy during the litany of prayers during the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is the same as asking God to hear our prayers. While asking God to hear our prayers the congregation is also asking God to have mercy on those who we are praying for.