In the fourth edition of the Jordanville Prayer Book, published in 1986, there is, toward the end of the Morning Prayers, this intercession:
O Lord Jesus Christ our God, forgive our iniquities. Through the intercessions of Thy most pure Mother, save the suffering Russian people from the yoke of the godless authority. Amen.
As of May 17, 2007, when the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, and that part of the Russian Orthodox Church under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Moscow were reunited after decades of separation that came about to a very large degree because the Church in the Russian homeland had, indeed, fallen victim to the yoke of the "godless authority," this language was changed – at least, as it was written and heard in the litanies offered in the public worship of the Church. However, if there was a suggested change for the text in the prayer book, it has not been widely publicized.
Even before the restoration of communion between ROCOR and the ROC-MP, I had added a phrase to the prayer as part of my own devotions. After the phrase, "save the suffering Russian people," I added, "and the people of my native land" – that is, of course, America. After May 17th, I followed the change made in the litanies in my prayer book, replacing "suffering" with "God-preserved." These changes have produced the following text:
O Lord Jesus Christ our God, forgive our iniquities. Through the intercessions of Thy most pure Mother, save the God-preserved Russian people and the people of my native land from the yoke of the godless authority. Amen.
Why bother to mention this at all? A part of the reason is to offer one suggestion to those who may not know what to do with this prayer, the text of which is no longer consistent with the realities of today. One option, of course, would be to simply omit this prayer entirely from the morning office – but when I tried that, somehow it just didn't feel right. So, if you aren't comfortable with the prayer as it was printed, but you are likewise uncomfortable with simply omitting it, a change in the text is necessary.
But the greater reason for mentioning this is found in the last part of the prayer – the part that prays for deliverance from the yoke of the godless authority. Clearly, this was a reference to the brutal domination of the land of Russia and her people by the Bolsheviks, either by that name, or by the name they later adopted, the Communists. Their day in power has ended – at least, the open exercise of power. So, is the prayer still relevant?
Another way of understanding the phrase, "the godless authority" is to see it as a reference to the "prince of the power of the air" – a Biblical euphemism for Satan, the Adversary, the "evil one." Certainly the agenda of the Bolsheviks for the destruction of the Church and the faithful who are the Church, advanced as well Satan's efforts to overthrow the worship of God, and to destroy that which God had made, and found that it was very good – human beings, made in the image, and after the likeness, of God. As such, the prayer is still very much relevant in today's world, even though the circumstances today, on the surface, are not the same as when the prayer was originally written and included in the prayer book. Not only that: When we see that the "godless authority" Is not limited to the Bolsheviks, then it makes sense to pray, not only for the deliverance of Russia, but of every land. The Bolsheviks have not come to power in the United States; but that does not mean that we do not need to be delivered from the yoke of the "godless authority."
What forms might that yoke take? We who are the Body of Christ should be prepared against the day that might see the return of the confiscation of church property, the desecration of holy icons, vestments, and the sacred vessels used for the communion of the faithful with the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We should be ready in the event that believers are once again arrested and charged as being "enemies of the state" whose only crime is that they will not deny that Jesus Christ is the Lord, and will not accept the substitution of the rule of the state in place of God. It happened in the land once known as "holy Russia"; and there is no reason whatsoever to think that it cannot happen here.
The yoke may, however, take a more subtle and insidious series of forms. Look at the battles being fought on the culture front, right here, right now. The culture of the West has dropped almost all restraints when it comes to criticizing and denigrating our Lord Jesus Christ and the Church and her faith – even as it becomes increasingly less acceptable to speak negatively about any other religious beliefs. You can mock our Lord, and ridicule those who seek to follow Him, in ways that would put you at risk of being prosecute for a "hate crime" if the same mocking and ridicule is directed at another religion. God has been removed from our schools; the efforts continue to remove any reference to God from the vast majority of the public square; even the phrase, "In God We Trust," printed or stamped on our currency, is under attack by those who do not want that statement being made by the government. Christians who oppose abortion may find themselves being labeled as "domestic terrorists"; those who speak of what God has said and the Church has taught with regard to sexual morality are at risk of committing a "hate crime"; it is even becoming more and more difficult in some settings to greet someone with the cheerful statement, "Merry Christmas!" It's hard to imagine what the result might be of we greeted everyone at this time of year with the traditional Orthodox greeting of, "Christ is risen!"
In this, we can see that we are already coming under the yoke of the godless authority. We are silent at times when we should speak out about our Lord Jesus Christ, and our faith in Him. We do not easily – or ever – make the sign of the Cross when in public. We have accepted the cultural practice of compartmentalizing the time we spend with God, if we spend any time at all in seeking Him, restricting the time to the few minutes required to read our prayers in the morning and in the evening, and to blessing the food at the start of a meal, and attendance at the divine services of the Church. The rest of the time, we are caught up with the worries and cares and responsibilities and burdens of life in the world – becoming, even with the best of intentions, like Martha, the sister of Lazarus, when we should instead be more like Mary, who, we are told, sat at the feet of our Lord, to be taught by Him in humility and with devotion. To the extent that we do not realize that every moment of our lives is spent in the immediate presence of the God Who loves us, and calls us to share our lives and being with Him without ceasing, we have come under the burden of the yoke of the godless authority.
The days are evil; and I have no doubt that, as was heard at the start of every episode of the 1960's television show, "Batman" – the worst is yet to come. We must be watchful, and take care to guard our hearts, lest the night come upon us and catch us unprepared. The Lord says to us, His disciples, that we must watch, and pray always, that we may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.