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“Lord have mercy.” This simple, three word prayer is said more often than anything else during the course of the Divine Liturgy. It is said nearly 30 times. That doesn’t even take into account any special petitions that are added during the Triple Litany after the Gospel. Take those into account, and you may hear the words “Lord have mercy” close to 40 times! Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, or even had the thought yourself, “why do we say this so many times? It’s repetitive!” It can seem repetitive, and to some people unnecessary if we don’t understand the great meaning behind it.
Think about your favorite movie. You can watch it over and over again. You probably feel like it never gets old. How many times have you sat around with your friends and quoted lines from your favorite comedies? No matter how many times you say those lines, they make you laugh each time. They have meaning to you. If we understand the power of the words, “Lord have mercy”, they will never get old.
When we say our evening prayers, we pray for our families and friends and ask for things that are important to us. We probably pray for the same people and things each and every night. It’s no different in the Liturgy. We say Lord have mercy because we are asking for very important things from God. We are asking for peace within ourselves and for the world. We are asking that He protect our churches, the faithful, our Patriarch and Bishop, our government, country and armed forces. We are asking for good weather, protection for those who travel and that we will be delivered from bad things. The only way these things can be granted to us is if God has mercy on us. This is because we are sinners. It is the mercy of God that gives us the forgiveness of our sins. No matter how many mistakes we make, God still forgives us. He still shows us mercy.
Every time we sin, we need to ask for God’s mercy. That is why the Jesus Prayer, which is really just an extended version of “Lord have mercy” is so powerful. When we pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” we are admitting that we sin, we are recognizing that Christ is truly God and we are begging for his mercy. That is what we are doing every time we sing “Lord have mercy” during the Divine Liturgy. It’s such a simple prayer that we can take for granted, but asking God to have mercy on us is a very powerful request. When we think about it that way, saying “Lord have mercy” 30-40 times every Sunday probably isn’t enough!