Let us who mystically represent the cherubim and sing the Thrice-holy Hymn to the life-creating Trinity, now lay aside all earthly care. . . .” So begins the Cherubic Hymn of the Eastern Orthodox Church, marking the beginning of the great entrance in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. With these words begins that part of the service called the Liturgy of the Faithful—the most solemn part of the Liturgy. The admonition to lay aside all earthly care was a very old part of the Liturgy even in Chrysostom’s time in the fourth century. This same command is given in that most ancient of Christian Liturgies—the Liturgy of St. James. The words of the Cherubic Hymn from that Liturgy are preserved in the English hymn, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” with the line, “ponder nothing earthly minded.”
Laying aside all earthly cares has always been an important part of Christian worship. When we gather with the angels to praise the God of the universe, it is good and right that we should set aside thoughts about things like the choice of color we want for the leather interior of our next SUV or what we will do after church. We should not even ponder how we will be able to afford our next meal or whether our family members are safe. The cares of the world are both frivolous and serious. But we should set aside thoughts about relationships gone awry and injuries sustained and all other thoughts of this world if we wish to truly focus our minds and hearts on God. Hence, the admonition to lay aside all earthly care.
This does not just apply to the times we pray in church. Even in our homes, in our secret closets, we need to take our eyes off ourselves if we wish to pray to God rightly. Our souls are easily distracted by the cares of this world: our plans for the next business day or upcoming vacation or times with our friends. These are not sinful thoughts, but they distract us from thinking about God and from real prayer. They rush into our minds constantly, and we must be vigilant to keep them out when we wish to pray. Such thoughts are even more difficult to lay aside when we are troubled, and in such cases we can make our concerns a part of our prayers, pouring out our hearts to God. But even then, we need to be still and calm and quiet if we wish to hear his voice.
There are times when considering the things of the world is appropriate. We must make decisions about things every day. But we should not ponder things so long as to worry about them, for in doing so we show a lack of trust in God. Our worries will not make us bigger or stronger. Instead, they should turn us to him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or think. If we can take all our worries and cares and turn them to God, we will have taken the first step in learning how to pray without ceasing.
Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children.
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“Earthly Cares” first appeared in the January/February 2004 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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