The Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian Explained (Part II)

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, faith-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.

In Greek:

Κύριε και Δέσποτα της ζωής μου, πνεύμα αργίας, περιεργίας, φιλαρχίας, και αργολογίας, μή μοι δώς. Πνεύμα δέ σωφροσύνης, ταπεινοφροσύνης, υπομονής, και αγάπης χάρισαί μοι τώ σώ δούλω. Ναί, Κύριε Βασιλεύ, δώρησαι μοι τού οράν τά εμά πταίσματα, και μή κατακρίνειν τόν αδελφόν μου, ότι ευλογητός εί, είς τούς αιώνας τών αιώνων. Αμήν.



According to Fr. Alexander Schmemann, "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 wasn't rife 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.

Patience is the opposite of despondency: as Evagrius, one of the Desert Fathers, teaches, "Man's patience gives birth to hope; good hope will glorify Him."

Saint Ephraim also prays for a spirit of love. Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 describes true love: "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes in all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."

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

Saint John Chrysostom summarizes the necessity of defeating sin with love:

"Love for one another makes us immaculate. There is not a single sin, which the power of love, like fire, would not destroy. It is easier for feeble brushwood to withstand a powerful fire than for the nature of sin to withstand the power of love. Let us increase this love in our souls, in order to stand with all the Saints, for they, too, all please God well by love for their neighbors."

It is for this reason that Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna in the second century, writes, "He that has love is far from every sin."


The greatest Commandment of God is, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind" (St. Matt. 22:37; Deuteronomy 6:5). Saint Tikhon, an 18th century bishop in Russia, teaches how you can determine if you love God more than yourself:

1. God Himself indicates this, saying, "He that hath My Commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me" (St. John 14:21). For the true lover of God will preserve himself from everything that is repugnant to God, and hastens to fulfill everything that is pleasing to God. Wherefore he keeps His Holy Commandments.

2. A manifest sign of love for God is a heartfelt gladness in God, for we rejoice in what we love.

3. The true lover of God disdains the world and all that is in the world, and strives toward God, his most beloved. He counts honor, glory, riches, and all the comforts of this world which the sons of this age seek, as nothing. For him only God, the uncreated and most beloved good, suffices. In Him alone he finds perfect honor, glory, riches and comfort.

4. The true lover of God keeps God ever in mind, and His love toward us and His benefactions.

5. One who loves, desires never to be separated from the one he loves...Likewise the true lover of Christ is he who abides with Christ in this world, and cleaves to Him in his heart, and uncomplainingly endures the cross with Him, and desires to be with Him inseparably in the age to come.

6. A sign of the love of God is love for neighbor. He who truly loves God also loves his neighbor.

"All this 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 (metanoies) are not limited to the Prayer of Saint Ephraim but constitute one of the distinctive characterizes 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"(the Incarnation). Salvation and repentance then are not contempt of 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 "pshycho-somatic" sign of repentance and humility, of adoration and obedience, are thus the Lenten rite par excellence." (Fr. Alexander Schmemann).

Saint Ephraim's final request is the ability to see his own errors, and refrain from judging others. Judging is not self-examination but "other examination" and in turn usually self-exaltation. Christ sternly warns us not to judge others lest we be judged with the same strictness and unforgiving attitude. During Lent, do not judge, rather forgive those who have sinned against us.

Blessed means to extol as holy, to glorify. During Holy Lent we need to bless God as the most holy person and glorify our Creator This is the antidote to idolatry-to making gods out of anything else in our life.


[Please note: Saint Ephraim was born in Nisibis of Mesopotamia some time about the year 306 A.D. , and in his youth was the disciple of Saint James, Bishop of Nisibis, one of the 318 Holy Fathers at the First Ecumenical Council. Saint Ephraim lived in Nisibis, practicing a severe ascetical life and increasing in holiness, until 363 A.D. the year in which Julian the Apostate was slain in his war against the Persians and his successor Jovian surrendered Nisibis to them. Saint Ephraim then made his dwelling in Edessa, where he found many heresies to do battle with.

Of the multitude of sermons, commentaries, and hymns that Saint Ephraim wrote, many were translated into Greek in his own lifetime. Sozomen says that Saint Ephraim "Surpassed the most approved writers of Greece.

Saint Ephraim was ordained deacon, some say by Saint Basil the Great, whom Sozomen said, "was a great admirer of Saint Ephraim, and was astonished at his erudition."

Saint Ephraim reposed in peace, according to some in the year 373, according toothers, 379 A.D.


With love in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George