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Choral Corner #30: About the ending of the Lord's Prayer — "evil one" or just "evil"?

In most American Orthodox parishes, the Lord's Prayer concludes with the phrase, "...but deliver us from the evil one." However, we sometimes encounter an alternate version: "...but deliver us from evil." Why is this? There are two prongs to the answer: the Greek language and the American religious/linguistic "melting pot".

The earliest Greek texts of this prayer use a noun that, in English, may be rendered as either "evil" (generally) or "the evil one" (Satan). The same is true in the Latin Vulgate ("malo"), but in English, we need to be more specific about the intended meaning. With regard to our Orthodox choral music, especially in arrangements of the Lord's Prayer that were originally written in another language and then translated into English, it's often the case that the translator was not idiomatically fluent in English and used the word "evil" for that reason alone. Furthermore, we know that Satan, not God, is the father of evil, and so it follows that deliverance from evil is deliverance from the soul-corrupting influence of the devil.

Bearing this in mind, it's not objectively wrong or heretical to render the final phrase of the Lord's Prayer as "...but deliver us from evil." However, to make this connection — that of evil with Satan, its father — abundantly clear, in our parish we always sing "the evil one" (a change which required pencil correction in over half of our musical scores!).

In the words of Archbishop Dmitri (Royster) of blessed memory, "Even among Orthodox Christians, consciousness of the reality of the devil and of spiritual warfare is weak. Evil is too often construed as whatever causes pain or suffering in this life, instead of that which threatens to bind us in eternal death in the age to come." Let us attend!

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