Holy and Great Lent is full of most beautiful hymns and prayers. However, there is one prayer which sums up the Lenten ethos more than any other. It is called the Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian (4th c) and it consists in three verses:
Lord and Master of my life, do not give me a spirit of sloth, vain curiosity, love of power and idle talk. (Prostration)
Rather accord to me, your servant, a spirit of soberness, humility, patience and love. (Prostration)
Yes, Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to condemn my brother; for you are blessed to the ages of ages. Amen. (Prostration)
This prayer is said in all weekday Services during Lent and in our private prayer rule. Not only our mind but our body too is involved in saying this prayer: after each of the three verses we make a prostration, then twelve bows saying silently at each one of them O God cleanse me the sinner, and again a fourth prostration after repeating the last verse or the full prayer.
There is nothing more liberating than to take up the good yoke of Christ. It is in our nature to desire freedom, but this is nowhere to be found except in God. Freedom is not to be able to choose from many choices; freedom is to be with God. Wherever God is there is freedom. The only truly free person is the one who has Christ as His Lord and Master.
When I try to run my life on my own I make many mistakes. Lord, I entrust my life to You, receive it and do what You please with it. You gave it to me, lead it as you know. For only You know what is best for me.
God does not give us a spirit of sloth; what God gives is always a blessing. What we are asking here is that He may not permit us to invite such a spirit because of our weakness (in the same way as we ask, in the Lord’s Prayer, God the Father not to lead us into temptation).
Sloth or idleness was considered by the ancient Greeks the mother of all evil (αργία μήτηρ πάσης κακίας) and the Holy Fathers numbered it amongst the seven deadly sins (ακηδία). Weeds and thorns grow in the field which is not cultivated; evil thoughts and desires grow in the soul which remains idle. We are created to pray and practice the virtues; if we do not, we malfunction, and our soul becomes ill.
If we look back, we will see that many of our sins (if not all) were the result of spiritual laziness.
There is good curiosity and bad curiosity; e.g. good curiosity is when one is interested in finding out how a good person has become good so that they may learn to do the same. Also, when one asks to find out how things work so that they may develop their knowledge and skills. This is good curiosity. But there is also bad curiosity: when we are too extrovert and neglect our inner life; when we look into subjects that may be harmful and in any case are not our business. Many people have been spiritually harmed because they did not contain their urge to see or hear things that they ought not to. They let themselves know areas of life it would have been better they did not.
This is a great temptation. Many feel that they will not be fulfilled as human beings unless they dominate others. Humbling themselves, by admitting that the other person is right and not they, is considered by many a defeat. Even some generally docile people, when given a position of authority, can be tempted to exercise dominion over others as a means of self-assurance.
In the Church, however, the words of Christ stand for ever: he who is first among you must be a servant of all. For the Christian, having a position of authority means being called to show more responsibility, greater love and, therefore to carry a greater Cross.
“I have often regretted the words I have spoken, but I have never regretted my silence’’ said Abba Arsenios and many of us will share this. They who talk carelessly will never acquire prayer and inner stillness. ‘’He who chatters uselessly will not escape sin’’ says St Basil the Great.
Instead of the above deadly passions the Saint Ephraim asks the Lord to grant us the following virtues:
Soberness (σωφροσύνη) we have when our mind, enlightened by the Grace of God, rules over us and is not ruled by the passions. Then we see what is spiritually beneficial for us and for others and what is harmful. Accordingly, guarding ourselves against any impurity which can defile our soul, we strive to retain our integrity. A person who has sobriety is a treasure for others because his judgment is sound and his word is ‘’salted’’.
‘’God opposes the proud but gives Grace to the humble’’. The kingdom of God is for the humble. Let us learn from the Lord, Who is meek and humble, how to live so that we may resemble Him. This will grant us peace, freedom and love but also great spiritual strength. There is no stronger person than the humble one!
‘’In your patience you will gain your souls’’ and ‘’he who endures to the end will be saved’’ says the Lord. We should show patience when our prayers are not answered; when our passions, despite our efforts, do not go away; when those close to us do not behave as we would like them to. ‘What do I need to do’ asked one an Elder; ‘’pray and be patient.’’ If we all do so we will gain our souls.
Christian love is the purpose and fulfilment of all the virtues mentioned above; without it they are worthless; without them pure love cannot be achieved. Love is a gift that is granted to those who practice the Christian life; those who pray, abstain from sin and act lovingly towards all.
St Isaac the Syrian says that to be able to see our sins is greater than being able to raise the dead.
When the gift of repentance is granted, one sees his own faults and yet he is not discouraged. Rather he feels true joy and freedom: Joy because he realizes that God loves him and has given him a new beginning; freedom because no matter what he has done or been, God has forgiven him. God is He Who justifies, who can condemn?
He who truly repents has no desire to point out the faults of other people. He covers their mistakes and sympathizes with their weakness. Others become brothers to be loved (or at least be treated lovingly) as ourselves because in Christ we become one.
The Spring of the Fast and the flower of repentance have come.
Brethren, let us purify ourselves from all impurity and singing to the Light-Giver let us say:
Glory to You, the only One Who loves Mankind!