Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian
Great Lent: Journey to Pascha | Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Posted on 03/21/2005 9:10:40 AM PST by Southside_Chicago_Republican

Of all lenten hymns and prayers, one short prayer can be termed the lenten prayer. Tradition ascribes it to one of the great teachers of spiritual life- St. Ephrem the Syrian. Here is its text:

"O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the Spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the Spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant. Yea O Lord and King! Grant me to see my Own errors and not to judge my brother; For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen"

This prayer is read twice at the end of each Lenten service Monday through Friday (not on Saturdays and Sundays for, as we shall see later, the services of these days do not follow the lenten pattern). At the first reading, a prostration follows each petition. Then we all bow twelve times saying: "O God, cleanse me a sinner." The entire prayer is repeated with one final prostration at the end.

Why does this short and simple prayer occupy such an important position in the entire lenten worship? Because it enumerates in a unique way all the negative and the positive elements of repentance and constitutes, so to speak, a "check list" for our individual lenten effort. This effort is aimed first at our liberation from some fundamental spiritual diseases which shape our life and make it virtually impossible for us even to start turning ourselves to God.

The basic disease is sloth. It is that strange laziness and passivity of our entire being which always pushes us "down" rather than "up"-'which constantly convinces us that no change is possible and therefore desirable, it is in fact a deeply rooted cynicism which to every spiritual challenge responds "what for?" and makes our life one tremendous spiritual waste. It is the root of all sin because it poisons the spiritual energy at its very source.

The result of sloth is faint-heartedness. It is the state of despondency which all spiritual Fathers considered the greatest danger for the soul. Despondency is the impos-sibility for man to see anything good or positive; it is the reduction of everything to negativism and pessimism. It is truly a demonic power in us because the Devil is fundamentally a liar. He lies to man about God and about the world; he fills life with darkness and negation. Despondency is the suicide of the soul because when man is possessed by it he is absolutely unable to see the light and to desire it.

Lust of power! Strange as it may seem, it is precisely sloth and despondency that fill our life with lust of power. By vitiating the entire attitude toward life and making it meaningless and empty, they force us to seek compensa-tion in a radically wrong attitude toward other persons. If my life is not oriented toward God, not aimed at eternal values, it will inevitably become selfish and self-centered and this means that all other beings will become means of my own self-satisfaction. If God is not the Lord and Master of my life, then I become my own lord and master-the absolute center of my own world, and I begin to evaluate everything in terms of my needs, my ideas, my desires and my judgments. The lust of power is thus a fundamental depravity of my relationship to other beings, a search for their subordination to me. It is not necessarily expressed in the actual urge to command and to dominate "others." It may as well result in indifference, contempt, lack of interest, consideration and respect. It is indeed sloth and despondency directed this time at others; it completes the spiritual suicide with a spiritual murder.

Finally, idle talk. Of all created beings, man alone has been endowed with the gift of speech. All Fathers see in it the very "seal" of the Divine Image in man because God Himself is revealed as Word (John 1:1). But being the supreme gift, it is by the same token the supreme danger. Being the very expression of man, the means of his self-fulfillment, it is for this very reason the means of his fall and self-destruction, of betrayal and sin. The word saves and the word kills; the word inspires and the word poisons. The word is the means of Truth and it is the means of demonic Lie. Having an ultimate positive power, it has therefore a tremendous negative power. It truly creates positively or negatively. When deviated from its Divine origin and purpose, the word becomes idle. It "enforces" sloth, despondency, and lust of power, and transforms life into hell. It becomes the very power of sin.

These four are thus the negative "objects" of repentance. They are the obstacles to be removed. But God alone can remove them. Hence, the first part of the lenten prayer- this cry from the bottom of human helplessness. Then the prayer moves to the positive aims of repentance which also are four.

Chastity! If one does not reduce, as it is so often and erroneously done, this term only to its sexual connotations, it is understood as the positive counterpart of sloth. The exact and full translation of the Greek sofrosini and the Russian tselomudryie ought to be whole-mindedness. Sloth is, first of all, dissipation, the brokenness of our vision and energy, the inability to see the whole. Its opposite then is precisely wholeness. If we usually mean by chastity the virtue opposed to sexual depravity, it is because the broken character of our existence is nowhere better manifested than in sexual lust-the alienation of the body from the life and control of the spirit. Christ restores wholeness in us and He does so by restoring in us the true scale of values, by leading us back to God.

The first and wonderful fruit of this wholeness or chastity is humility. We already spoke of it. It is above everything else the victory of truth in us, the elimination of all lies in which we usually live. Humility alone is capable of truth, of seeing and accepting things as they are and therefore of seeing God, His majesty and goodness and love in everything. This is why we are told that God gives grace to the humble and resists the proud. Chastity and humility are naturally followed by patience.

The "natural" or "fallen" man is impatient, for being blind to himself, he is quick to judge and to condemn others. Having but a broken, incomplete and distorted knowledge of everything, he measures all things by his tastes and his ideas. Being indifferent to everyone except himself, he wants life to be successful right here and now. Patience, however, is truly a Divine virtue. God is patient not because He is "indulgent," but because He sees the depth of all that exists, because the inner reality of things, which in our blindness we do not see, is open to Him. The closer we come to God, the more patient we grow and the more we reflect that infinite respect for all beings which is the proper quality of God.

Finally, the crown and fruit of all virtues, of all growth and effort, is love-that love which, as we have already said, can be given by God alone and the gift which is the goal of all spiritual effort, preparation, and practice.

All this is summarized and brought together in the concluding petition of the lenten prayer in which we ask: to see my own errors and not to judge my brother." For ultimately, there is but one danger: pride. Pride is the source of evil, and all evil is pride. Yet it is not enough for me to see my own errors, for even this apparent virtue can be turned into pride. Spiritual writings are full of warnings against the subtle forms of pseudo-piety which, in reality, under the cover of humility and self-accusation can lead to a truly demonic pride. But when we "see our own errors and "do not judge our brothers," when, in other terms, chastity, humility, patience and love are but one in us, then and only then the ultimate enemy-pride- will be destroyed in us.

After each petition of the prayer, we make a prostration. Prostrations are not limited to the Prayer of St. Ephrem but constitute one of the distinctive characteristics of the entire lenten worship. Here, however, their meaning is disclosed best of all. In the long and difficult effort of spiritual recovery, the Church does not separate the soul from the body. The whole man has fallen away from God; the whole man is to be restored, the whole man is to return. The catastrophe of sin lies precisely in the victory of the flesh-the animal, the irrational, the lust in us-over the spiritual and the Divine. But the body is glorious, the body is holy, so holy that God Himself "became flesh." Salvation and repentance then are not contempt for the body or neglect of it, but restoration of the body to its real function as the expression and the life of spirit, as the temple of the priceless human soul. Christian asceticism is a fight, not against-- but for--the body. For this reason, the whole man-soul and body-repents. The body participates in the prayer of the soul just as the soul prays through and in the body. Prostrations, the "psycho-somatic" sign of repentance and humility, of adoration and obedience, is thus the lenten rite par excellence.

TOPICS: Orthodox Christian; Prayer; Worship
KEYWORDS: lent; schmemann; stephrem; stephremthesyrian

1 posted on 03/21/2005 9:10:43 AM PST by Southside_Chicago_Republican
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Southside_Chicago_Republican; Kolokotronis; kosta50; Agrarian; MarMema

Dormition of Saint Ephrem

Saint Ephrem was born in Mesopotamia and ordained as a deacon of Edessa in whatis now Turkey, he vigorously combated the heresies of his time by writing poems and hymns about the Mysteries of Christ and the Blessed Virgin. He had a great devotion to Our Lady, and was in large part responsible for introducing hymns to public worship.

2 posted on 03/21/2005 9:47:38 AM PST by NYer ("The Eastern Churches are the Treasures of the Catholic Church" - Pope John XXIII)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: NYer; Kolokotronis; kosta50; AlbionGirl; MarMema; sionnsar
St. Ephraim the Syrian is a saint whose influence on the Church is incalculable. His writings are appointed to be read during the cycle of services every weekday during Great Lent. His writings are probably the oldest patristic writings appointed to be read in liturgical services, and certainly the oldest ones that have been in continuous usage.

It is not always easy to find digestible forms of his writings, but one that my wife and I really like is the "Spiritual Psalter" that was compiled of his writings by St. Theophan the Recluse in Russia.

This Spiritual Psalter (so-called because it was organized into 150 sections corresponding to the number of Psalms, and furthermore divided into 20 Kathismata, each of which has 3 stases -- just like an Orthodox liturgical Psalter) is a classic of Russian Orthodox spirituality, and for someone wanting to be introduced to St. Ephraim's works, it is very handy. By reading two stases each weekday, one can read through the entire volume during the course of Great Lent.

It can be obtained from -- just type "Spiritual Psalter" into the search, and it will pop up.

3 posted on 03/21/2005 1:31:29 PM PST by Agrarian
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: Southside_Chicago_Republican
"For this reason, the whole man-soul and body-repents. The body participates in the prayer of the soul just as the soul prays through and in the body. Prostrations, the "psycho-somatic" sign of repentance and humility, of adoration and obedience, is thus the lenten rite par excellence."

For those who don't know, we are talking full prostrations here, not genuflections or simply touching the floor and crossing oneself. This is all the way down with forehead to the floor. The Mohammedans learned from us!
4 posted on 03/21/2005 2:49:13 PM PST by Kolokotronis (Nuke the Cube!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Southside_Chicago_Republican

Prayer of St. Ephrem

This prayer is said in the Byzantine Church during the Liturgy of the Presanctified (Liturgy of Pope St. Gregory the Great, by both Catholic and Orthodox alike. It is said at all services of the Divine Office during Lent and at various other times during the day — recommended at morning, noon, evening — upon arising and before retiring for the night.

O LORD, Master of my life, grant that I may not be infected with the spirit of slothfulness and inquisitiveness, with the spirit of ambition and vain talking.

Grant instead to me, your servant, the spirit of purity and of humility, the spirit of patience and neighborly love.

O Lord and King, grant me the grace of being aware of my sins and of not thinking evil of those of my brethren.

For you are blessed, now and ever, and forever.


5 posted on 06/09/2009 7:43:21 AM PDT by Salvation († With God all things are possible.†)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: All
Saint Ephrem, Deacon & Doctor of the Church

Saint Ephrem, Deacon & Doctor of the Church
Optional Memorial

June 9th

The Dormition of St. Ephrem, from Iveron Monastery on the Holy Mountain

Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven. -- Saint Ephraem

Saint Ephrem was born in Mesopotamia and ordained as a deacon of Edessa in whatis now Turkey, he vigorously combated the heresies of his time by writing poems and hymns about the Mysteries of Christ and the Blessed Virgin. He had a great devotion to Our Lady, and was in large part responsible for introducing hymns to public worship.

Source: Daily Roman Missal, Edited by Rev. James Socías, Midwest Theological Forum, Chicago, Illinois ©2003


in Your love fill our hearts with the Holy Spirit,
who inspired the deacon Ephrem to sing
the praise of Your mysteries
and gave him strength to serve You alone.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.

First Reading: Colossians 3:12-17
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Gospel Reading: Luke 6:43-45
"For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Prayer for Strength in Weakness

Lord Jesus Christ, King of kings, you have power over life and death. You know even things that are uncertain and obscure, and our very thoughts and feelings are not hidden from you. Cleanse me from my secret faults, and I have done wrong and you saw it. You know how weak I am, both in soul and in body. Give me strength, O Lord, in my frailty and sustain me in my sufferings. Grant me a prudent judgement, dear Lord, and let me always be mindful of your blessings. Let me retain until the end your grace that has protected me till now.

St Ephrem of Syria, Deacon, Poet and Doctor

Related Links on the Vatican Website:

PRINCIPI APOSTOLORUM PETRO, Encyclical of Pope Benedict XV on St. Ephrem, October 5, 1920

Benedict XVI, General Audience, Paul VI Audience Hall, Wednesday, November 28, 2007, Saint Ephrem

Related Links on New Advent website:

Saint Ephraim the Syrian
- Nisibene Hymns
- Miscellaneous Hymns -- On the Nativity of Christ in the Flesh, For the Feast of the Epiphany, and On the Faith ("The Pearl")
- Homilies -- On Our Lord, On Admonition and Repentance, and On the Sinful Woman

6 posted on 06/09/2010 9:53:32 AM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: 2ndMostConservativeBrdMember; afraidfortherepublic; Alas; al_c; american colleen; annalex; ...

we say this prayer after communion at a church where I attend mass during the week. This is the first time I’ve heard of this prayer and of St. Ephrem

7 posted on 04/03/2014 6:33:42 PM PDT by Coleus
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Coleus
Christian asceticism is a fight, not against-- but for--the body

Very good.

Thank you for bringing this up, Coleus.

There are two books out by St. Ephrem:

Hymns on Paradise

Hymns and Homilies of St. Ephraim the Syrian

8 posted on 04/04/2014 5:23:09 AM PDT by annalex (fear them not)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: Southside_Chicago_Republican

Pray for us Saint Ephraim.

9 posted on 04/07/2014 8:21:33 PM PDT by eleni121 ("All Along the Watchtower" Book of Isaiah, Chapter 21, verses 5-9)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson