Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: The Newman Press, 2003.
“Section III: Analysis of the Act of Praying” p. 333
The Lord’s Prayer, using plurals such as “our Father,” is clearly meant to be used in group settings. However, Milavec observes that many rabbinic prayers traditionally used in groups are also used when alone (Milavec 2003, 333). Group recitation was not a norm in antiquity. In all likelihood only the brief ending doxology or the “amen” would have been said by the group (Milavec 2003, 334). The closing refrain, a doxology, appears in Didache not only at the end of the Lord’s Prayer but also before and after meals in 9: and 10:5. This suggests to Milavec that it was a refrain which the whole group would say together (Milavec 2003, 334).
The Lord’s Prayer is commonly used as part of a eucharistic ceremony today. However, Milavec observes that the prayer is not included in the Didache’s version of the eucharist. The text appears to stand alone, though the themes of the eucharistic prayers are related to the Lord’s Prayer and vice versa (Milavec 2003, 3335). The use of the Lord’s Prayer in communion is clearly documented by the later part of the fourth century.
Another significant question surrounding the Lord’s Prayer is whether it was to be prayed as presented or would be modified on different occasions (Milavec 2003, 335). The rabbinic pattern was to treat memorized prayers as a framework for further, improvised, prayer. For this reason, Milavec thinks it highly likely that the Lord’s Prayer was used as a model for prayers surrounding the concepts of the different petitions. The pattern could also explain the variety in the prayer between Matthew and Luke (Milavec 2003, 336).
A variety of postures and orientations are found for prayer in the Bible. Standing, bowing, prostration, facing either east or Jerusalem are all customs which can be defended. The Didache does not comment on posture or direction (Milavec 2003, 337).
We may gain some insight into prayer in early Christianity by looking at Tertullian, who tells us about practices in North Africa late in the second century (Milavec 2003, 340). In general, he reports Christians praying at sunrise and sunset, as well as three times in between. The prayers often seem to be in small gatherings, though sometimes they are alone (Milavec 2003, 341). The Lord’s Prayer seems to be used, though with variations. Tertullian also mentions a variety of postures.
Milavec finds no clear prescription in Didache for the times to pray the Lord’s Prayer. He supposes two of the three times would naturally be upon awaking and going to bed. It also seems likely that on fast days there may have been more of an effort to bring the community together for prayers (Milavec 2003, 342).
The members of the community are to pray “as the Lord commanded” (8:2). Milavec builds a brief argument that the Didache community would consider God the Father as “Lord” but not Jesus, God the Son. Milavec’s argument seems here to assume an almost bi-theist view on the part of the community (Milavec 2003, 343). Milavec makes some further observations about the content of prayers. He assumes there would be no consideration of Israel or Jerusalem as special. There would also be no condemnation of gentiles. Milavec does not give reasons for his view. He does, however, seem to connect the Lord’s Prayer with the six petitions that he recognizes to the rabbinic Eighteen Blessings (Milavec 2003, 344). Because the content is different, Milavec concludes that the Didache communities would not have been Jewish in their background (Milavec 2003, 345).
Milavec’s conclusion, based on the Lord’s Prayer, is telling. He says of the community, “They were the discontents who did not trust in the lords of this world and the lords of the pagan pantheon to give them a fair shake. As a result, they took as their own the prayer delivered over to them by a discontent Jew who, for his efforts, was crucified as a Roman insurrectionist. With him, they daily relied on God’s promise to come himself and to bring justice and peace and a measure of prosperity” (Milavec 2003, 346). Milavec sees the community as a revolutionary group, though not one which itself would act to overthrow the culture (Milavec 2003, 347). Following E.P. Sanders, Milavec sees the destruction of the gentiles as absent from the New Testament (Milavec 2003, 348). The similarity of Jew and Gentile as people in need of repentance seems largely lost on Milavec. He describes all of faith and practice in terms of the creativity of a particular community. That creativity seems driven by political and cultural motivations and a desire to oppress or to escape oppression. All is some sort of strategy.