Kyrie Eleison; Christe Eleison.
Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy.
As the beginning of Christian worship become more elaborate as Christianity became a more established, legal religion in the middle of the fourth century, a worship leader would sing out prayer petitions asking for God’s peace to come to particular people or situations. These would include prayers such as for peace for the world, for civic rulers, for the coming of salvation to the world, for the church and for the unity of the church. The people would sing back, “Kyrie Eleison,” or “Christe Eleison,” the Greek words for “Lord have mercy,” or “Christ have mercy.”
What is interesting is that there is a very civil act that the early church adopted for itself. It was not uncommon for people to cry out to emperors and rulers, “Lord have mercy!” as they passed by. The word “hosanna!” [see the story of Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; St. Mark 11:7-10] is a Hebrew word that means the same thing. In various places in the New Testament, we see people crying out to Jesus, “Kyrie eleison,” “Lord have mercy.” [see St. Matthew 15:22, 20:30-31 or St. Mark 10:46]
The Kyrie, properly understood, is one of the church’s oldest prayers for peace. As we sing through this prayer each week, we’re asking the Lord, asking Jesus to give us mercy [peace] in whatever situation we our friends or even the whole world finds itself. The petitions [petition is the proper word for each verse or request] also remind us that worship is not for us alone, but the inclusion of prayers for the world, for civil authorities, etc., remind us that we aren’t separating ourselves from the world when we come to worship. In fact, worship binds us more tightly to the word God loves so much.