By Phoebe Farag Mikhail
Someone is going to win the U.S. presidential election this November, and I am among many who are awaiting this day in trepidation. There are so many important issues at stake, and every four years, the negativity, vitriol, and mud-slinging get worse and worse. No matter which candidate prevails, millions of Americans will be disappointed, fearful, and angry about the outcome.
Many will worry about what this means for our future generations. In fact, regardless of who wins the election, I worry about what this means for our future generations.
Our government, and in fact every government, is made up of flawed, fallible people. Everyone running for president is a flawed, fallible person, who will take on enormous responsibility and affect millions, if not billions of lives the world over. And so, no matter who wins this election, I will be doing one thing for that person.
I will be praying for the President, no matter who it is.
In the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, we have a special litany for the ruler of the country, to be prayed for the leader of whatever country we are praying in. This litany is prayed in the Coptic liturgy of St. Cyril, and it is also prayed daily in the litanies of Holy Week, the week before the Feast of the Resurrection.
Here is the litany in the liturgy of St. Cyril:
Priest: Remember, O Lord the ruler of our land, Your servant…. [Here the priest says the name
of the leader of the country he is in.]
Deacon: Pray that Christ our God, grant us mercy and compassion before the mighty rulers, and incline their hearts with goodness towards us at all times, and forgive us our sins.
Congregation: Lord have mercy.
Priest: Keep him [or her] in peace, justice and might, subdue unto him [or her] all nations that may desire war for all that is prosperous to us. Speak in his [or her] heart for the peace of Your one only holy Catholic [“Catholic” here means universal] and apostolic church. Grant him [or her] to think peacefully of us and of Your Holy Name, so that we also may live a calm and orderly life, and we may exist in every godliness and virtue through You.
Congregation: Lord have mercy.
Similarly, the litany during Holy Week says:
Pray and ask that God may grant us mercy and compassion before the sovereign rulers, and incline their hearts with goodness towards us at all times, and forgive us our sins.
The requests to God here are simple: that the leaders of the country are not antagonistic towards the Christians and the church, that the country remain at peace and the leader is able to subdue any aggressors to that peace, for the purpose of being able to “live a calm and orderly life,” and “exist in every godliness and virtue through You.”
These prayers have been prayed by the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria during times of peace and during times of severe persecution against the Christians. The authors of the prayers were not concerned about laws and policies; their main concern was to be able to live in peace and without fear of persecution so that Christians can practice godliness and virtue. They had no false perceptions that the ruler or leader would be a standard-bearer of morality and ethics. Even “Christian” rulers of the Roman Empire like Constantine, who ended the persecution of Christians, caused many problems for the church, meddling in theological affairs and getting into conflicts with bishops who spoke up against them or their policies. All the church really wanted was to be left in peace.
We are in no less difficult times. The president who is elected in the United States will face decisions that affect the entire world and future generations. The person will need wisdom from God, and I pray that he or she is receptive to that wisdom.
This does not mean that I will not continue to advocate on the issues and policies that concern me. I will continue to use all methods available to me to hold our elected members of office accountable. I will not be silent about injustices and violations of human rights within the United States and abroad.
But on election day, I will vote, and then I will pray.
At the end of each litany in Coptic liturgical services, the congregation responds “Lord have mercy.” After we are done praying for the leader of the country, we pray for ourselves. The leaders and those seeking election are flawed and fallible, and so are we.
After I pray for the President, I will pray for myself. I need forgiveness for my sins. I need wisdom to raise my children and carry out my own responsibilities. I need grace to live a godly, virtuous, calm, orderly, and peaceful life.
The future of our country is bright if we all pray for these things.
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(c) Phoebe Farag 2016