How did an Orthodox Christian in colonial Virginia pray? The prayer shown in this meme is taken from a handwritten book of over two hundred pages that I like to call “The Virginia Service Book,” begun by Philip Ludwell III in the mid-1700s. The date “1760” is written at top center of the first page along with the words This book was translated from the Ancient Greek by Phillip Ludwell Esq. of Green Spring Virginia.
More Than Common: Ludwell’s “Virginia Service Book”
While the book belongs to the tradition of handwritten English-language commonplace books in early modern Europe, it is decidedly more than a “scrapbook” of recipes, proverbs, letters, and prayers, as were most commonplace books of the kind. Rather, this Ludwell family book contains Philip Ludwell’s extensive translations of religious prayers and services, including translations of the three most commonly celebrated Orthodox liturgies (Chrysostom, Basil, and Gregory the Great) followed by numerous other prayers, exhortations, and instructionals.
It is also clear that this book begun by Philip Ludwell retained some importance in the family for more than 50 years after his death in 1767. The book – which is located in Texas to which many of Ludwell’s great-great-grandchildren emigrated from Virginia – cannot be entirely the work of Ludwell since later prayers as well as biographical data of Ludwell descendants occur in the book until at least as late as October 1821. The concluding section is entitled “The Doctrine of the Eucharist.”
The fact that the Virginia Service Book was used for decades by Ludwell and his descendants leads one to believe that it was the result of a blessing and instructions given to London-based Priest Stephen Ivanovsky by the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia in the early 1760s. With Ludwell’s intention to return to Virginia in mind, they instructed Ivanovsky as to
ways to preserve their Orthodox faith after their departure, what order of prayer to follow in their native land [Virginia], and other matters related to Church mysteries, you, priest Ivanovsky, shall, having diligently obtained from them [the Ludwell family] the knowledge of all circumstances and customs observed there, and having carefully considered these, advise them with suitable caution.
Ludwell’s “Devotions for the Evening”
The extract in the meme itself is drawn from an earlier part of the book that is sub-headed Devotions for the Evening. Towards the end of this part the reader is instructed Than in perfect Charity offer the general Intersession and then follows a long prayer.
The quotation in the meme comes from the middle of this long intercessory prayer and, as with other prayers in the book, seems to draw its language in whole or part from Anglican (or in some cases non-conformist) sources and then goes on to elaborate these texts in a distinctly Orthodox manner. As such they are fully consonant with the attitude expressed by Philip Ludwell in his preface to the Orthodox catechism of Metropolitan Peter (Moghila) of Kiev where he writes to The Devout Christian Reader:
Be pleased to accept this labour of Love, of thine unworthy Fellow-Servant; who mindful of the Command, “When thou art converted, strengthen “thy Brethren,” presenteth, with all Humility, these his Endeavours, for thine Attainment of the Truth, and everlasting Salvation.