Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE LENTEN PRAYER OF SAINT EPHRAIM THE SYRIAN
O Lord and Master of my life, Take from me the spirit of sloth, lust of power And idle talk. (Prostration) But grant rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience And love to Thy servant. (Prostration) Yea, O Lord and King, Grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, For Blessed art Thou, unto the ages of ages. Amen. (Prostration)
This uplifting and inspiring Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephraim is very brief, but in the words of this prayer the meaning and purpose of Holy and Great Lent is revealed to us in great depth. This is the prayer of repentance, humility, patience and purity. We call upon the 'Lord and Master' of our lives--Jesus Christ--to take away from us the soul-destroying passions of 'sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk.' We further implore Him to fill our pure hearts with those divine gifts of the Holy Spirit that are transforming and 'resurrection'--chastity, humility, patience and agape.'
+Repentance and Resurrection--'the springtime of the soul'--are given to us through this unique prayer as we keep the 'soul-saving forty days' of the Great Fast. This prayer is meant to be used in our homes just as much as we use it in the church; and if we offer up this prayer with sincerity and regularity in our everyday lives, then we will create that unique environment in our Christian homes which makes this holy season so solemn and beautiful for us as the children of God.
In the longer form of the this Lenten Prayer we would then say, 'O God, cleanse me a sinner' twelve times together with a bow each time. The Prayer is then repeated in its entirety followed by a final prostration.
A prostration is made when we fall forward onto our hands and knees and touch the ground with our forehead. A bow (a little metanoia) is made by bending at the waist and touching the ground with our right hand. Prostrations and bows are usually preceded by making the sign of the Cross.
The prostrations and bows which emphasize this Prayer are meant to outwardly symbolize the grace of God working inwardly in our hearts and souls: a prostration is a sign of falling before God (as the Prodigal son before his father) in the spirit of repentance, while standing up again is a sign of our spiritual resurrection in Christ Jesus. The whole person-body and soul-participates in prayer, because the whole person has been created and redeemed in Christ; and we await in the hope and promise of the resurrection.
"If you are not successful in prayer, you will not be successful in anything, for prayer is the root of everything." (Saint Theophan the Recluse)
"Great is the power of prayer. More than anything else, it brings with it the Spirit of God, and its practice is available to everyone...When the mind and the heart are united in prayer and the soul's thoughts are not dispersed, the heart is warmed by spiritual warmth in which the Light of Christ shines, making the whole inner man peaceful and joyous" (Saint Seraphim of Sarov).
TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On March 17th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercession of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Alexios the Man of God, in Rome; Saint Patrick, Enlightener of Ireland; Saint Theosterictos the Confessor; Saint Marinos the soldier, at Caesarea; Saint Ambrose, deacon; Saint Paul of Crete; Saint Gertrude, Egoumenissa (Abbess) of Nijvel; Saint Gabriel the Lesser of Garesja; Saint Beccan of Rhum; Saint Withburga at Holkham; Saint Macarius of Kalyazin.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Mothers, Holy Fathers, Holy Deacons, Holy Confessors, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
OUR RIGHTEOUS FATHER ALEXIOS, THE MAN OF GOD. OUR FATHER AMONG THE SAINTS PATRICK, THE ENLIGHTENER OF IRELAND. Saint Alexios (Alexis) was born in old Rome of illustrious parents named Euphemianus and Aglais, and at their request was joined to a young woman in marriage. However, he did not remain with her even for one day, but fled to Edessa, where he lived for eighteen years. He returned to Rome in the guise of a beggar and sat at the gates of his father's house, unknown to all and mocked by his own servants. His identity was revealed only after his death by a paper that he had on his person, which he himself had written a little before his repose. The pious Emperor Honorius honored him with a solemn burial. The title "Man of God" was given to him from Heaven in a vision to the Bishop of Rome on the day of the Saint's repose.
SAINT PATRICK, the Apostle of the Irish, was seized from his native Britain by Irish marauders when he was sixteen years old. Though the son of a deacon and grandson of a priest, it was not until his captivity that he sought out the Lord with his whole heart. In his Confession, the testament he wrote towards the end of his life, he says, "After I came to Ireland--every day I had to tend sheep, and many times a day I prayed--the love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened. And my spirit was so moved that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many at night, and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountains; and I would rise for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain, and I felt no harm." After six years of slavery in Ireland, he was guided by God to make his escape, and afterwards struggled in the monastic life at Auxerre in Gaul, under the guidance of the holy Bishop Germanus. Many years later he was ordained bishop and sent to Ireland once again, about the year 432 A.D., to convert the Irish to Christ. His arduous labors bore so much fruit that within seven years, three bishops were sent from Gaul to help him shepherd his flock, "my brethren and sons whom I have baptized in the Lord--so many thousands of people," he says in his "Confession." His apostolic work was not accomplished without much "weariness and painfulness," long journeys though difficult country, and many perils; he says his very life was in danger twelve times. When he came to Ireland as its enlightener, it was a pagan country; when he ended his earthly life some thirty years later, about 461 A.D., the Faith of Christ was established in every corner.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of Saint Alexios. Fourth Tone
Though thou didst bud forth from a renowned and notable root, and though thou didst blossom from a city famed for her great imperial dignity, yet didst thou scorn all things as corruptible and fleeting, striving to be joined to Christ thy Master forever. Entreat Him, O Alexis most wise, fervently for our souls.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of Saint Patrick. Third Tone
O Holy Hierarch, equal of the Apostles, Saint Patrick, wonder-worker and enlightener of Ireland: Intercede with the merciful God that He grant unto our souls forgiveness of offences.
Kontakion of Saint Alexios. Fourth Tone
As we celebrate with fitting reverence the all-holy festival of Saint Alexis the all-blest, with hymns we praise him and cry aloud: Rejoice, thou gladsome adornment of righteous men.
Kontakion of Saint Patrick. Fourth Tone
The Master revealed thee as a skillful fisher of men; and casting forth nets of Gospel preaching, thou drewest up the heathen to piety. Those who were the children of idolatrous darkness thou didst render sons of day through holy Baptism. O Patrick, intercede for us who honor thy memory.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT:
Isaiah 8:13-9:7; Genesis 6:9-22
SAYINGS FROM THE ASCETICS AND HOLY MOTHERS AND FATHERS:
"The Lord opened the understanding of my unbelieving heart, so that I should recall my sins." (Saint Patrick of Ireland).
HOLY AND GREAT LENT: OUR SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
A LENTEN "STYLE OF LIFE"
by Father Alexander Schmemann (Source: Great Lent)
Attending liturgical services, fasting, and even praying at regular intervals do not exhaust the Lenten effort. Or rather, in order to be effective and meaningful, they need the support of our whole life. They need, in other terms, a "style of life" which would not be in contradiction with them, would not lead to a "split" existence. In the past, in Orthodox countries, such support was given by society itself: it was that complex of customs, external changes, legislation, and public and private observances which is covered by the Russian word "byt" and which is partly rendered by the English word culture. During Lent, the whole society accepted a certain rhythm of life, certain rules, which kept reminding the individual members of that society of the Lenten season. In Russia, for example, one could not forget Lent if only because of a special Lenten church bell ringing; theatres were closed; and, in more ancient times, the courts suspended their activities. By themselves, all those externals were obviously unable to force man into repentance or toward a more active religious life. But they created a certain atmosphere--a kind of Lenten climate--in which personal effort was made easier. Being weak, we need external reminders, symbols, signs. Of course there is always the danger that these external symbols may become ends in themselves and instead of being mere reminder become in popular opinion the very content of Lent.
We are not living in an Orthodox society and no Lenten "climate" can therefore be created on a social level. Lent or no Lent, the world around us and of which we are an integral part does not change. Consequently, this requires from us a new effort of rethinking the necessary religious relationship between the "external" and "internal"...
In the Orthodox world view, the home and the family constitute the first and most important area of Christian life, of application of Christian principles to daily existence. It is certainly the home, the very style and spirit of family life, and not the school, not even the Church, that shapes our fundamental world view, that shapes in us that fundamental orientation of which we may not even be aware for a long time, but which ultimately will become a decisive factor. Dostoevsky's "staretz" Zosimas--in The Brothers Karmazov--says: "A man who from his childhood can remember good things is saved for his whole life." It is very significant that he makes this remark after recalling his mother taking him to the Presanctified Liturgy, the beauty of the service, the unique Lenten melody of "Let my prayer be set forth in Thy sight as incense..." The wonderful effort of religious education which is being made today in our church schools will mean very little unless it is rooted in the home and family life. What then could and should be done during Lent at home? Since it is impossible to cover here all aspects of family life, I will concentrate on one of them.
Everyone will no doubt agree that the whole style of family existence has been radically altered by radio and television. These media of "mass communication" permeate today our whole life. One does not have to "go out" in order to "be out." The whole world is permanently here within my reach...Music has ceased to be something one listens to; it is fast becoming a kind of "background sound" for conversations, reading, writing, etc. In fact, this need for permanent music reveals the incapacity of modern man to enjoy silence...If the Christian past lived in great measure in a silent world, giving him ample opportunity for concentration and inner life, today's Christian has to make a special effort to recover that essential dimension of silence which alone can put us in contact with higher realities. Thus the problem of radio and TV (my addition: The computer and Internet) during Lent is not a marginal one but in many ways a matter of spiritual life or death...
The silence created by the absence of the world's noises made available by the media of mass communication is to be filled with positive content. If prayer feeds our soul, our intellect of also needs its food for it is precisely the intellect of man which is being destroyed today by the ceaseless hammering of TV, radio, newspapers pictorial magazines, (my addition: computers and Internet), etc.
...Lent is the time for the search for meaning: meaning of my professional life in terms of vocation; meaning of my relationship to other persons; meaning of friendship; meaning of my responsibility...Thousands of people think that necessary changes come from outside, from revolutions and change in external conditions. It is for us Christians to prove that in reality everything comes from inside--from faith and life according to faith. The Church, when she entered the Greco-Roman world, did not denounce slavery, did not call for a revolution. It was faith, her new vision of man and life that progressively made slavery impossible. One "saint" --and saint here means very simply a man taking his faith seriously all the time--will do more for changing the world than a thousand printed programs. The saint is the only revolutionary in this world.
Finally, and this is our last general remark, Lent is the time to control our speech. Our world is incredibly verbal and we are constantly flooded by words which have lost their meaning and therefore their power. Christianity reveals the sacredness of the word--a truly divine gift to man. For this reason our speech is endowed with tremendous power either positive or negative. For this reason also we shall be judged on our words: "But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof on the Day of Judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" (St. Matthew 12:36-37)...
And thus if Lent is, as we have said at the very beginning, the recovery by man of his faith, it is also his recovery of life, of its divine meaning, of its sacred path. It is by abstaining from food that we rediscover its sweetness and learn again how to receive it from God with joy and gratitude. It is by "slowing down" on music and entertainment, on conversation and superficial socializing, that we rediscover the ultimate value of human relationships, human work, human art. And we rediscover all this because very simply we rediscover God Himself--because we return to Him and in Him to all that which He gave us in His infinite love and mercy.
And thus, on Pascha night we sing:
"Today are all things filled with Light, Heaven and earth and the places under the earth; All creation does celebrate the Resurrection of Christ On Whom it is founded..."
Of this expectation, do not deprive us, O Lover of Man!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God