Prayer of Manasseh
1. O Lord Almighty, God of our fathers, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and of their righteous seed,
2. You Who have made heaven and earth with all their adornment,
3. You Who have bound the sea by the word of your command, You Who have shut the deep, and sealed it with your fearsome and glorious Name,
4. You at whom all things shudder, and tremble before Your power,
5. for unbearable is the magnificence of Your glory, and not to be withstood is the anger of Your threat toward sinners,
6. and unmeasurable and inscrutable is the mercy of Your promise,
7. for You are the Lord Most High, compassionate, patient, and merciful, repenting from the evil deeds of people.
You, O Lord, according to the fullness of Your clemency, promised repentance and forgiveness to those who have sinned against You, and in the fullness of Your mercies, You have appointed repentance for sinners toward salvation.
[συ κυριε κατα το πληθος της χρηστοτητος σου επηγγειλω μετανοιαν και αφεσιν τοις ημαρτηκοσι σοι και τω πληθει των οικτιρμων σου ωρισας μετανοιαν αμαρτωλοις εις σωτηριαν]
8. Therefore, You, O Lord, God of the righteous, have not given repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who had not sinned against You, but you have given repentance for me, the sinner.
9. For I have sinned more than the number of sand of the sea; my lawless deeds are multiplied, O Lord, multiplied, and I am not worthy to look and see the heights of heaven because of the multitude of my unrighteous deeds.
10. I am bent down by too many a bond of iron for the lifting of my head because of my sins, and there is no relief for me, for I have provoked Your wrath and done evil before You. I have set up abominations and multiplied provocations (idols).
11. And now I bend the knee of my heart, begging for Your clemency.
12. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I know my lawless deeds.
13. I am asking, begging You: forgive me, O Lord, forgive me! Do not destroy me with my lawless deeds, nor for all ages keep angry with me, nor condemn me to the depths of the earth, for You, O Lord, are the God of those who repent.
14. And in me You will display Your goodness, for, my being unworthy, You will save me according to Your great mercy.
15. And I will praise You throughout all the days of my life, for all the power of the heavens sing Your praise. For Yours is the glory, to the ages. Amen.
This is one of my favorite Biblical prayers, the Prayer of Manasseh, ranging from depths emotional, spiritual and physical, to heights of the same, and from human inabilities and failures to heavenly powers. But especially memorable, I think, is the entirely striking “And now I bend the knee of my heart.” Someone else agrees. You may have noticed an allusion to this prayer in First Clement 57.1, where the phrase is καμψαντες τα γονατα των καρδιας ημων, “bending the knees of your hearts.” The Prayer of Manasseh is a kind of short and perfect treatise in repentance.
While the exact origins of this prayer are unknown, outside of it being very likely Jewish rather than Christian in origin, it was probably composed in Greek (though some oddities in it may be taken to indicate otherwise) in order to supply the prayer of King Manasseh of Judah, son of Hezekiah, mentioned in 2 Chronicles 33.18: “And the rest of the words of Manasseh, and his prayer to God, and the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the Lord, God of Israel, behold, they are in the Words of the Kings of Israel.” This prayer is recited during Lent in the Great Compline service in Eastern Orthodox Christian monasteries and churches, and has been for well over a millennium.
The Greek text in verse 7 is that of a slight addition to the text which isn’t included in Rahlfs’ edition of the Septuagint, and so probably isn’t in most people’s hands, so I’ve transcribed it here. The Göttingen Septuaginta (which is actually Rahlfs’ own Psalmi cum Odis volume) indicates this extra text is found in Codex Alexandrinus and in Codex Turicensis (a rare purple-dyed manuscript of the Psalms and Odes). Most manuscripts lack it, but the Didascalia includes it, as does The Apostolic Constitutions (both with very slight differences), and the Vulgate includes the first half of it. The following verse also makes better sense with this addition. It’s hard to say how or even when it dropped out. Anyhow, there it is.