These are examples of my favourite prayers handed down to us from the first centuries of the Christian Church.
There's a lot to be said from studying early prayers such as these as they provide a continuous link of worship between the early Christians of the first few centuries after the Crucifixion to ourselves. Their content and pattern provide a useful template for the writing of modern prayers:
Look upon us, O Lord,
and let all the darkness of our souls
vanish before the beams of thy brightness.
Fill us with holy love,
and open to us the treasures of thy wisdom.
All our desire is known unto thee,
therefore perfect what thou hast begun,
and what thy Spirit has awakened us to ask in prayer.
We seek thy face,
turn thy face unto us and show us thy glory.
Then shall our longing be satisfied,
and our peace shall be perfect.
(Augustine, 354 - 430)
We beseech thee, Master, to be our helper and protector.
Save the afflicted among us; have mercy on the lowly;
raise up the fallen; appear to the needy; heal the ungodly;
restore the wanderers of thy people;
feed the hungry; ransom our prisoners;
raise up the sick; comfort the faint-hearted.
(Clement of Rome, 1st Century)
O Lord, who hast mercy upon all, take away from me my sins,
and mercifully kindle in me the fire of thy Holy Spirit.
Take away from me the heart of stone,
and give me a heart of flesh,
a heart to love and adore thee,
a heart to delight in thee,
to follow and to enjoy thee,
for Christ's sake.
(Ambrose of Milan, c 339-397)
Deep peace of the running wave to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,
Deep peace of the shining stars to you,
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you, for ever.
(Source unknown - early Scottish)
O good shepherd, seek me out, and bring me home to thy fold again.
Deal favourably with me according to thy good pleasure,
till I may dwell in thy house all the days of my life,
and praise thee for ever and ever with them that are there.
(Jerome, c 342 - 420)
Alone with none but thee, my God,
I journey on my way.
What need I fear, when thou art near O king of night and day?
More safe am I within thy hand
Than if a host did round me stand.
(Columba, c.521 - 597)
Lord, thou hast given us thy Word for a light to shine upon our path;
grant us so to meditate on that Word, and to follow its teaching,
that we may find in it the light that shines more and more until the perfect day;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(Jerome, c 342 - 420)
May God the Father bless us;
may Christ take care of us;
the Holy Ghost enlighten us all the days of our life.
The Lord be our defender and keeper of body and soul,
both now and for ever, to the ages of ages.
(Æthelwold c 908-984)
Our God, God of all men
God of heaven and earth, seas and rivers,
God of sun and moon, of all the stars,
God of high mountain and lowly valley,
God over heaven, and in heaven, and under heaven.
He has a dwelling in heaven and earth and sea
and in all things that are in them.
He inspires all things, he quickens all things.
He is over all things, he supports all things.
He makes the light of the sun to shine,
He surrounds the moon and the stars,
He has made wells in the arid earth,
Placed dry islands in the sea.
He has a Son co-eternal with himself...
And the Holy Spirit breathes in them;
Not separate are the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Lord, becsue you have made me, I owe you the whole of my love; because
you have redeemed me, I owe you the whole of myself; because you have
promised so much, I owe you my whole being. Moreover, I owe you as much
more love than myself as you are greater than I, for whom you gave yourself
and to whom you promised yourself. I pray you, Lord, make me taste by
love what I taste by knowledge; let me know by love what I know by understanding.
I owe you more than my whole self, but I have no more, and by myself I
cannot render the whole of it to you. Draw me to you, Lord, in the fullness
of your love. I am wholly yours by creation; make me all yours, too, in
O Soverign and almighty Lord, bless all thy people, and all thy flock.
Give thy peace, thy help, thy love unto us thy servants, the sheep of
thy fold, that we may be united in the bond of peace and love, one body
and one spirit, in one hope of our calling, in thy divine and boundless
(Liturgy of St Mark, 2nd century
Lord, be with us this day,
Within us to purify us;
Above us to draw us up;
Beneath us to sustain us;
Before us to lead us;
Behind us to restrain us;
Around us to protect us.
I rise today
Through the strength of heaven -
Light of sun,
Radience of moon,
Splendour of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.
(source unknown, early Scottish)
Jesus, my feet are dirty. Come even as a slave to me, pour water into your bowl, come and wash my feet. In asking such a thing I know I am overbold, but I dread what was threatened when you said to me, “If I do not wash your feet I have no fellowship with you.” Wash my feet then, because I long for your companionship.
(Origen, c. 185–254)
O Educator, be gracious to thy children, O Educator, Father, Guide of Israel, Son and Father, both one, Lord. Give to us, who follow thy command, to fulfill the likeness of thy image, and to see, according to our strength, the God who is both a good God and a Judge who is not harsh. Do thou thyself bestow all things on us who dwell in thy peace, who have been placed in thy city, who sail the sea of sin unruffled, that we may be made tranquil and supported by the Holy Spirit, the unutterable Wisdom, by night and day, unto the perfect day, to sing eternal thanksgiving to the one only Father and Son, Son and Father, Educator and Teacher with the Holy Spirit.
(Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215)
The radiance of the Father’s splendor, the Father’s visible image, Jesus Christ our God, peerless among counselors, Prince of Peace, Father of the world to come, the model after which Adam was formed, for our sakes became like a slave: in the womb of Mary the virgin, without assistance from any man, he took flesh.…
Enable us, Lord, to reach the end of this luminous feast in peace, forsaking all idle words, acting virtuously, shunning our passions, and raising ourselves above the things of this world.
Bless your church, which you brought into being long ago and attached to yourself through your own life-giving blood. Help all orthodox pastors, heads of churches, and doctors [theologians].
Bless your servants, whose trust is all in you; bless all Christian souls, the sick, those tormented by evil spirits, and those who have asked us to pray for them.
Show yourself as merciful as you are rich in grace; save and preserve us; enable us to obtain those good things to come which will never know an end.
May we celebrate your glorious birth, and the Father who sent you to redeem us, and your Spirit, the Giver of life, now and forever, age after age. Amen.
(A Syriac Christmas liturgy - late third or early fourth century)
We ask you, Master, be our helper and defender. Rescue those of our number in distress; raise up the fallen; assist the needy; heal the sick; turn back those of your people who stray; feed the hungry; release our captives; revive the weak; encourage those who lose heart. Let all the nations realize that you are the only God, that Jesus Christ is your Child, and that we are your people and the sheep of your pasture.
(1 Clement c. 96)
You, Lord, through your works have revealed the
everlasting structure of the world. You, Lord, created the earth. You
are faithful throughout all generations, righteous in your judgments,
marvelous in strength and majesty, wise in creating and prudent in
establishing what exists, good in all that is observed and faithful to
those who trust in you, merciful and compassionate; forgive us our sins
and our injustices, our transgressions and our shortcomings.
Do not take into account every sin of your servants, but cleanse us with the cleansing of your truth, and "direct our steps to walk in holiness and righteousness and purity of heart," and "to do what is good and pleasing in your sight" and in the sight of our rulers. Yes, Lord, "let your face shine upon us" in peace "for our good," that we may be sheltered "by your mighty hand" and delivered from every sin "by your uplifted arm"; deliver us as well from those who hate us unjustly.
Give harmony and peace to us and to all who dwell on the earth, just as you did to our fathers when they reverently "called upon you in faith and trust," that we may be saved, while we render obedience to your almighty and most excellent name, and give harmony and peace to our rulers and governors on earth.
(Clement of Rome)
As I rise from sleep I thank Thee, O Holy Trinity, for through Thy great goodness and patience Thou wast not angered with me, an idler and sinner, nor hast Thou destroyed me in my sins, but hast shown Thy usual love for men, and when I was prostrate in despair, Thou hast raised me to keep the morning watch and glorify Thy power. And now enlighten my mind's eye and open my mouth to study Thy words and understand Thy commandments and do Thy will and sing to Thee in heartfelt adoration and praise Thy Most Holy Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
(Prayer of St. Basil the Great to the Most Holy Trinity)
Almighty Lord, God of the Powers and of all flesh, Who livest in the highest and carest for the humble, Who searchest our hearts and affections, and clearly foreknowest the secrets of men; eternal and everliving Light, in Whom is no change nor shadow of variation; O Immortal King, receive our prayers which at the present time we offer to Thee from unclean lips, trusting in the multitude of Thy mercies. Forgive all sins committed by us in thought, word or deed, consciously or unconsciously, and cleanse us from all defilement of flesh and spirit. Grant us to pass the night of the whole present life with wakeful heart and sober thought, ever expecting the coming of the radiant day of the appearing of Thy only-begotten Son, our Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, when the Judge of all will come with glory to render to each according to their deeds. May we not be found fallen and idle, but awake and alert for action, ready to accompany Him into the joy and divine palace of His glory, where there is the ceaseless sound of those keeping festival and the unspeakable delight of those who behold the ineffable beauty of Thy Face. For Thou art the true Light that enlightens and sanctifies all, and all creation sings to Thee throughout the ages. Amen.
(First Prayer of St. Basil the Great)
We bless Thee, O most high God and Lord of mercy, Who art ever doing numberless great and inscrutable things with us, glorious and wonderful; Who grantest to us sleep for rest from our infirmities, and repose from the burdens of our much toiling flesh.We thank Thee that Thou hast not destroyed us with our sins, but hast loved us as ever, and though we are sunk in despair, Thou hast raised us up to glorify Thy power. Therefore we implore Thy incomparable goodness, enlighten the eyes of our understanding and raise up our mind from the heavy sleep of indolence; open our mouth and fill it with Thy praise, that we may be able undistracted to sing and confess Thee, Who art God glorified in all and by all, the eternal Father, with Thy only-begotten Son, and Thy all-holy and good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
(Second Prayer of St. Basil ihe Great)
Prayer of St. Macarius the Great to God the Father
O Eternal God and King of all creation, Who hast granted me to arrive at this hour, forgive me the sins that I have committed today in thought, word and deed, and cleanse, O Lord, my humble soul from all defilement of flesh and spirit. And grant me, O Lord, to pass the sleep of this night in peace, that when I rise from my bed I may please Thy most holy Name all the days of my life and conquer my flesh and the fleshless foes that war with me. And deliver me, O Lord, from vain and frivolous thoughts, and from evil desires which defile me. For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Prayer of St. Antioch to our Lord Jesus Christ
O All-Ruler, Word of the Father, Jesus Christ, Thou Who art perfect, never in Thy great mercy leave me, but ever abide in me, Thy servant. O Jesus, Good Shepherd of Thy sheep, deliver me not to the revolt of the serpent and leave me not to the will of satan, for the seed of corruption is in me. Lord, adorable God, Holy King, Jesus Christ, guard me asleep by the unwaning light, Thy Holy Spirit, by Whom Thou didst sanctify Thy disciples. O Lord, grant me, Thy unworthy servant, Thy salvation on my bed. Enlighten my mind with the light of understanding of Thy Holy Gospel. Enlighten my soul with the love of Thy Cross. Enlighten my heart with the purity of Thy Word. Enlighten my body with Thy passionless Passion. Keep my thoughts in Thy humility. And rouse me in good time to glorify Thee, for Thou art supremely glorified, with Thy eternal Father, and Thy most Holy Spirit forever. Amen.
Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian to the Most Holy Spirit
O Lord, Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, have compassion and mercy on Thy sinful servant and pardon my unworthiness, and forgive me all the sins that I humanly committed today, and not only humanly but even worse than a beast - my voluntary sins, known and unknown, from my youth and from evil suggestions, and from my brazenness, and from boredom. If I have sworn by Thy Name or blasphemed it in thought, blamed or reproached anyone, or in my anger have detracted or slandered anyone, or grieved anyone, or if I have got angry about anything, or have told a lie, if I have slept unnecessarily, or if a beggar has come to me and I despised or neglected him, or if I have troubled my brother or quarrelled with him, or if I have condemned anyone, or have boasted, or have been proud, or lost my temper with anyone, or if when standing in prayer my mind has been distracted by the glamour of this world, or if I have had depraved thoughts or have overeaten, or have drunk excessively, or have laughed frivolously, or have thought evil, or have seen the attraction of someone and been wounded by it in my heart, or said indecent things, or made fun of my brother's sin when my own faults are countless, or been neglectful of prayer, or have done some other wrong that I cannot remember - for I have done all this and much more - have mercy, my Lord and Creator, on me Thy wretched and unworthy servant, and absolve and forgive and deliver me in Thy goodness and love for men, so that, lustful, sinful and wretched as I am, I may lie down and sleep and rest in peace. And I shall worship, praise and glorify Thy most honourable Name, with the Father and His only-begotten Son, now and ever, and for all ages. Amen.
Lord, deprive me not of Thy heavenly joys. Lord, deliver me from eternal torments. Lord, if I have sinned in mind or thought, in word or deed, forgive me. Lord, deliver me from all ignorance, forgetfulness, cowardice and stony insensibility. Lord, deliver me from every temptation. Lord, enlighten my heart which evil desires have darkened. Lord, I being human have sinned, but Thou being the generous God, have mercy on me, knowing the sickness of my soul. Lord, send Thy grace to my help, that I may glorify Thy holy Name. Lord Jesus Christ, write me Thy servant in the Book of Life, and grant me a good end. O Lord my God, even though I have done nothing good in Thy sight, yet grant me by Thy grace to make a good start. Lord, sprinkle into my heart the dew of Thy grace. Lord of heaven and earth remember me, Thy sinful servant, shameful and unclean, in Thy Kingdom. Amen.Night
O Lord, accept me in penitence. O Lord, leave me not. O Lord, lead me not into temptation. O Lord, grant me good thoughts. O Lord, grant me tears and remembrance of death and compunction. O Lord, grant me the thought of confessing my sins. O Lord, grant me humility, chastity and obedience. O Lord, grant me patience, courage and meekness. O Lord, plant in me the root of all blessings, the fear of Thee in my heart. O Lord, grant me to love Thee with all my mind and soul, and always to do Thy will. O Lord, protect me from certain people, and demons, and passions, and from every other harmful thing. O Lord, Thou knowest that Thou actest as Thou wilt; may Thy will be also in me, a sinner, for blessed art Thou for ever. Amen.