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Lord, have mercy

One of the most frequent prayers of the Orthodox Christian is, "Lord, have mercy." The first time I visited an Orthodox church (while still a Protestant Christian), I heard it said over and over again during the liturgy and thought, "Talk about overkill. How many times do you have to ask God to take pity on you and forgive you?"

But I didn't understand the prayer from the Eastern Orthodox perspective.

Now that I'm Orthodox, I pray this prayer more than any other. For myself, for my loved ones, and for the world. It's a prayer that covers everything. Let me explain.

The book "Orthodox Worship" describes the meaning of the word mercy as follows:

"The word mercy in English is the translation of the Greek word eleos. This word has the same ultimate root as the old Greek word for oil, or more precisely, olive oil; a substance which was used extensively as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. The oil was poured onto the wound and gently massaged in, thus soothing, comforting and making whole the injured part."

"The Hebrew word which is also translated as eleos and mercy is hesed, and means steadfast love. The Greek words for, 'Lord, have mercy,' are "Kyrie, eleison'--that is to say, 'Lord, soothe me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love.'"

"Thus, mercy does not refer so much to justice or acquittal, a very Western interpretation, but to the infinite loving-kindness of God, and His compassion for His suffering children! It is in this sense that we pray, 'Lord, have mercy,' with great frequency throughout the Divine Liturgy."

After my diagnosis with breast cancer (really, from the time I learned I needed to have a biopsy), I had an especially hard time going to sleep at night and waking up in the morning. I did okay during the day at work when I could keep myself distracted.

But as soon as I laid down in bed, my mind went into overdrive. My mom suggested I try taking some Tylenol PM. It worked pretty well for about four good hours of sleep at night, which was better than not sleeping at all.

What I found most comforting of all, though, was reading the Psalms, praying with my family, and praying, "Lord, have mercy" (soothe me, comfort me, take away my pain and fears, and show me Your steadfast love).

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