A few weeks ago, some dear friends (you know who you are) treated us to a delicious dinner in their home. Earlier that very day, I had contemplated purchasing a small icon of the Mother of God “Multiplier of Breads” for the monastery chapel. Aware that the icon represented Our Lady’s intercession in meeting daily needs, I felt that the presence of this icon in the chapel may help to ease our ongoing financial struggle; however, I rationally couldn’t justify incurring an additional expense. So, I restrained myself from placing the order. Upon arrival at our hosts’ home, we were graciously gifted with three icons, one of which was the icon of the Mother of God “Multiplier of Breads”. And, yes, I confess my lack of faith and kindly ask for your prayers!
Today according to the older (Julian) calendar is the Church’s commemoration of this particular icon. In reflection before the icon, my thoughts turned to the familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer “give us this day our daily bread”. And I then recalled from my “New Testament Greek” class at seminary that the word “daily” as used in the English version of the Lord’s Prayer isn’t a precise translation of the original Greek. And, yes, I confess my frequent distraction in contemplative meditation and kindly ask for your prayers!
The Greek word we translate as “daily” only occurs in two places in the New Testament: once in Matthew and once in Luke, both times in the scriptural passage of the Lord’s Prayer. And this word doesn’t appear in any other Greek writing from antiquity, so we have no other comparative source for a precise translation.
Incidentally, the Greek word that usually gets translated as “daily” in the Lord’s Prayer is επιούσιος. The word is compromised of two parts: (1) the preposition επι (which means on, above, after, against, over, under, among, around, because, beside, beyond, or within); and, (2) the noun οὐσία (which means substance, essence, or being). Hopefully you can understand why it’s a bit hard to translate, requiring careful examination of the surrounding words in the phrase for context.
“Give” is the verb in the phrase, the central act. It implies a one-way transaction with nothing expected in return. We don’t say sell us today our daily bread, trade or negotiate with us today for our daily bread. The verb is “give” as in a gift.
“Us/Our” is about us – our needs, our cares, and our concerns – and “us/our” is not “me/my.” When we pray “give us bread” we are saying a prayer not only for ourselves, but for others, as well. Jesus is reminding us to ask each day for our own needs and for the needs of our neighbors.
“This day” is the one place where the words of Saint Matthew and Saint Luke differ slightly. Matthew says give us σήμερον (this day, today) where Luke says καθʼ ἡμέραν (each day, every day). This makes more sense when you consider the two different audiences: the Gospel of Matthew is written earlier—his people are still expecting Jesus to come back any day now. They are present-focused—take care of us today, this day. The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, is written later. His people are beginning to realize that Jesus might take awhile; so they are settling in for the long haul. Take care of us each day, every day. This prayer changes to accomodate the circumstances—it’s not something set in stone like a magical formula. It’s contextual; the prayer becomes our own.
“Bread” represents the grain that functions as the basic staple of existence in every culture. Lord, give us what we need to live—spiritually, physically, practically—in every way. There’s an excellent older Eastern Orthodox translation: “Give us this day the bread that we need.”
The sheaves of wheat in the icon of the Mother of God “Multiplier of Breads” evoked within me thoughts about the great Mystery of the Holy Eucharist, instituted by our Lord before His death by the sharing of bread and wine with His disciples. The eucharistic bread is super-transubstantial and spiritual and concurrently common and comforting. Fortunately we aren’t required to understand exactly what all of this means. All we have to do is accept the invitation to His table, willing to humbly partake and to faithfully trust that God will take care of our daily needs.