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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Make Lehi's Experience Yours by Praying for Others

The scriptures prove that praying for others can unlock tremendous spiritual manifestations and outpourings.

In this blog post, we'll read how we can literally recreate those opportunities in our own lives, and the lives of our families.  You'll also learn why a new word -- "diptych" -- could help you accelerate such opportunities.

Make Lehi's Experience Yours

"Petitioning Heavenly Father for the blessings we desire in our personal lives is good and proper. However, praying earnestly for others, both those whom we love and those who despitefully use us, is also an important element of meaningful prayer. Just as expressing gratitude more often in our prayers enlarges the conduit for revelation, so praying for others with all of the energy of our souls increases our capacity to hear and to heed the voice of the Lord.

We learn a vital lesson from the example of Lehi in the Book of Mormon. Lehi responded in faith to prophetic instruction and warnings concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. He then prayed unto the Lord 'with all his heart, in behalf of his people' (1 Nephi 1:5; emphasis added). In answer to this fervent prayer, Lehi was blessed with a glorious vision of God and His Son and of the impending destruction of Jerusalem (see 1 Nephi 1:6–9, 13, 18). Consequently, Lehi rejoiced, and his whole heart was filled because of the things which the Lord had shown him (see 1 Nephi 1:15). Please note that the vision came in response to a prayer for others and not as a result of a request for personal edification or guidance." (Elder David A. Bednar, 'Pray Always', October 2008 General Conference)

How The Early Christian Church Prayed for Others

In the early Christian church, a diptych (Greek: "folded double") was a sort of looseleaf notebook or folded parchment placed on an altar.  It contained the names of persons whom the people in a circle of believers wished to remember. The practice of laying names on the altar is of unknown origin though it is very old and, it is agreed by historians, probably goes back to the days of the apostles. (Stegmüller, "Diptychon," 1138, 1147; Cabrol, "Diptyques," 1051)

When the diptych was placed on the altar, people would say a special prayer (called a litany, or a special appeal for certain persons) for the people on the list. "By litanies one intercedes for certain classes of persons."(F. Cabrol, "Diptyques (Liturgie)," in DACL 4:1050.)

How Diptychs Were Prayed Over

As Cyril of Jerusalem explained it, "In the circle we pray for those who are sick and afflicted; in short, we pray for whoever is in need of help." (Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 496–98; cf. 439–40.)

One also prayed for "all my relatives and close associates (consanguinitate vel familiaritate) and for all the Saints of the Church of God, as well as for those who died in the faith, who are recorded in my Book of Remembrance."  In fact they would say, "We pray for ourselves, our brothers and sisters . . . and for those who have paid their due to death, whose names we have written down or whose names appear on the holy altar, ". . . and all who stand in the circle with faith recognition, with devotion and honor to thee." (Odeberg, 3 Enoch, 3–4; cf. OTP 1:255.)   

The prayer uttered for those whose names were on the altar was not a fixed formula, to judge by one old rubric giving instructions: "He (the leader) joins hands and prays for a while (no set limit); then he proceeds with his hands stretched out (extensis, extended): and all those standing in the circle join in." (Augustine, Letters 237, in PL 33:1037–38.)

At first the list of names was read aloud before being placed on the altar, but as that took up too much time (one of the surviving lists has over 350 names) the reading was phased out; "the list could be placed on the altar without any vocal reading of the names." (Ibid., 3:1147, citing the famous Bobbio Missal.)

What Happened to Diptychs

Gradually that practice of reading the names out loud was given up, and the priest merely referred to all the faithful whose names were written down on the diptychs or the leaves taking the place of diptychs."(Cabrol, "Diptyques," 1061.)

The practice of praying over names in a diptych survived to the 4th century, where the work for the dead was something special and apart. "We remember the dead," wrote Epiphanius in the 4th century, "(1) by performing ritual prayers, (2) by carrying out certain ordinances, and (3) by making certain special arrangements (oikonomias)." (Odeberg, 3 Enoch, ch. 1, p. 4; ch. 10, pp. 27–28. Cf. OTP 1:263.)

From the 5th century, we find the following from the so-called Liturgy of St James:

"Remember, O Lord, the God of Spirits and of all Flesh, those whom we have remembered and those whom we have not remembered, men of the true faith, from righteous Abel unto to-day; do thou thyself give them rest there in the land of the living, in thy kingdom, in the delight of Paradise, in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our holy fathers, from whence pain and sorrow and sighing have fled away, where the light of thy countenance visiteth them and always shineth upon them." (

Today, the laying of a small tablet containing the names is the practice in the Western Syrian church (Stegmüller, "Diptychon," 1147; cf. 1144—46.)  Aside from that, usage of diptychs was forsaken as people chose to pray in silence for those they wanted to remember.

Latter-Day Diptychs

In May 1842, Joseph Smith taught the Endowment to several of his closest associates; and a prayer circle group was formed on May 26, 1843, with Joseph Smith as its leader. This prayer circle, referred to in many early records as the "Quorum of the Anointed," to which others (including women) were gradually initiated, met and prayed together regularly during the last year of Joseph Smith's life and continued after his martyrdom in June 1844 until endowments began to be performed in the Nauvoo Temple in December 1845. (George S. Tait, "Prayer Circle", Encyclopedia of Mormonism)

The prayers given at these prayer circles have had no set text, but are, "among other things, an occasion for seeking the Lord's blessing upon those with particular needs whose names have been submitted for collective entreaty."  (George S. Tait, "Prayer Circle", Encyclopedia of Mormonism)

Indeed, in the temples of the Church throughout the world, "frequent prayers are offered for those who are sick, bereaved, or in need. The names of those afflicted may be placed upon a temple prayer roll by request of family or friends. This practice derives from abundant scriptural counsels regarding unity in prayer-'Be agreed as touching all things ye shall ask' (D&C 27:18)-and the conviction that the modern temple, as anciently, is a house of prayer (D&C 109:8). United prayer and fasting, sometimes by an entire ward or stake and in some historic instances by the full world membership of the Church, is occasionally advocated. This is the fulfillment of a divine admonition: 'If ye are not one ye are not mine'" (D&C 38:27). (Nephi K. Kezerian, "Sick, Blessing the", Encyclopedia of Mormonism)

Unofficial Diptychs

A close approximation to diptychs (or prayer rolls) continues to exist outside temples.  Those conducting LDS sacrament meetings, especially Fast and Testimony Meetings, often refer to those who are sick or afflicted in the business portion of the meeting; members are encouraged to remember the person or persons in their prayers.

LDS Church leadership meetings, particularly ward or stake leadership meetings, often include prayers of those who are sick or otherwise afflicted.  The person assigned to say the prayer may ask for suggested names to be included in the prayer, to which others in attendance may suggest a name for inclusion.  Names are written down, then mentioned during the prayer.

Personal Diptychs

One could find tremendous personal spiritual growth by maintaining their own personal diptych, or prayer roll. 

For example, one could write the names of those who need special prayers into a notebook, over which the person would say their personal prayers by imploring God to send those on the list comfort, peace, healing and enlightenment. 

Smart phones (iPhones, Androids and Blackberrys) also enable people to maintain an "e-diptych" anywhere, anytime.  One could literally refer to the names recorded in their e-diptych during their prayers, exhibiting the same charity, clean hands and pure heart as they would in any temple. 

By maintaining and actively praying over one's e-diptych, one could quickly find that their own prayers become more meaningful as they pray for others with real intent and a sincere heart. 

Taking Diptychs to Higher Levels

Does your family engage in daily prayer?

If so, does it remember the names of those who could use a prayer?

Knowing the benefits of such prayers (as elaborated above), what benefits could your family enjoy as it maintains its own diptych?  Could a literal "Prayer Roll" be maintained in a consistent, central place where family members could record, then later pray over, those who need our prayers?

Should such prayers be limited to just those on this side of the veil, or could they be integrated with family history efforts?  Could our prayers have an effect on removing the barriers often faced in obtaining more complete biographical information with which names could be submitted for temple ordinance work?

What else could we do with our own personal (or family) diptychs?


  1. i love this article and the ideas for invoking the Powers of Heaven and the Blessings of our Father. We can ALways use Blessings and help with Family History and with other righteous desires. -And we may need Help-with-a-capital 'H' in immediate, perilous, mortal difficulties = a child with physical or emotional health difficulties; even unforeseen,unexpected life threatening substance abuse illness...SO true about the wrenching of our heart strings during mortal journeys (parenthood)!
    You are more than inspired here. This is straight from the Heart of a Loving and tender, watchful Heavenly Father. Thank you for living so in-tune, and for sharing with us. There is no place else on earth where this kind of ministering angel therapy exists:) It is a result of your pure, enlightened life intune with the Grace of Heaven.
    Love and Blessings!

  2. A friend of mine referred me here after I had written her an email about my prayer list I keep. I keep it on my computer on an Excel spreadsheet, making a new sheet every month. As I have new names to add, I just put them on the list. If they have a specific need, I may put the need next to their name. I started doing this last October because I was afraid I might forget someone I dearly wanted to pray for. It has been absolutely miraculous in its results. I RARELY pray for myself anymore. It is as if my needs are met automatically and I have the energy to focus outward to others. I have had a family member's friend begin to recover from metastatic cancer, a ward member's daughter who was in critical condition from Wegener disease recover and go home, two nephews quit their alcohol addiction and one of them also quit nicotine addiction -- the second one never smoked. My friend in recovery from breast cancer had all kinds of problems with her prosthetic and she is now healing very well. There are many other miracles that the Lord has accomplished. I could go on and on. So it is my testimony that you are very right about this. The Lord will bless you greatly as you turn away from yourself and turn toward others and seek comfort and guidance for them.

  3. Thank you for clues that create curiosity. I always get a lot out of your posts