The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim
by by Deacon Danial Doss
Anyone attending the Great Vespers of the Forgiveness Sunday at the
beginning of the Great Lent, or any of the Liturgies of the Pre-sanctified Gifts, will
hear the Lenten prayer attributed to St. Ephraim the Syrian. The text of this popular
prayer is as follows:
O Lord and Master of life! Take away from me the spirit of laziness,
despair, lust of power, and idle talk (Prostration - a bow with the head to the floor).
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to thy servant
(prostration). Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own transgression and not to
judge my brother; for blessed are thou unto the ages of ages (prostration).
This prayer is recited twice at each of the Lenten service. At the
end of the first reading, a prostration follows each petition. Then one bows the head
with the sign of the cross 12 times saying, "O God, cleanse me a sinner". The entire
prayer is repeated with the final prostration at the end.
This short and simple prayer enumerates in a unique way the negative
and positive elements of repentance and can be considered, so to speak, a "check list"
for our individual Lenten effort which is aimed to liberate us from the fundamental
Laziness is a basic disease that poisons our spiritual energy at its
every source. This strange spiritual laziness and passiveness pushes us down away from
spiritual progress with bad feeling of "what for?" The result of laziness is despair or
faint-heartedness, through which one cannot see anything good or positive. Therefore,
one will not be able to see the spiritual light nor to desire it. The consequence of
sloth and despair can fill our life with lust of power. By making our life empty and
meaningless, they force us to seek compensation in a wrong attitude toward other persons.
If one's life is not oriented toward God, and eternal values, it would inevitably become
selfish and self centered; which leads to lust of power.
Finally, idle talk. Of all created beings, humans alone have the gift
of speech. It is, as the early Fathers see it, the "seal" of the Divine Image in man
because God Himself is revealed to us as Word. Despite that, talk can be the means of
man's fall and self-destruction. The word saves, but also kills; it inspires and also
poisons. It is the means of truth and is the means of demonic lies. When the word
deviates from its divine purpose, it becomes idle. It enforces sloth and lust of power
and becomes the very power of sin. These four elements are the negative elements of
repentance. God alone can remove them. Hence, the first part of Lenten prayer is this
cry from the bottom of our human helplessness.
Let us move now to the positive goals of repentance, which are also
four: chastity, humility, patience, and love. Chastity in its big picture means
wholeness. It is not limited to restraint from sexual lust. Christ alone restores
wholeness in us by restoring in us the scale of values which lead us back to God.
The first fruit of this wholeness is humility. It is the victory of truth in us, the
elimination of all lies in which we usually live. Humility is capable of truth, of
seeing and accepting things as they are, and thus of seeing God's goodness and love
in everything. That is why God gives grace to the humble and resists the proud. Chastity
and humility are followed by patience. The "natural" or "fallen" man is impatient.
Being blind of himself, he is quick to judge and to condemn others. Patience is a divine
virtue, and God is patient. The closer we come to God, the more patient we grow, and the
more we reflect that infinite respect for all beings. Finally comes the crown of all
fruits and virtues, and of all growth and effort; that is love. God can give love alone,
because "God is Love". It is the goal of all-spiritual preparations and practice.
All the above is summarized and concluded in the Lenten prayer when we
ask "to see our own errors and not to judge our brothers." When chastity, humility,
patience and love are in us, then the ultimate enemy, pride, will be destroyed in us.