Wednesday, March 23, 2022

An Interpretation of the Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian: Introduction (1)


By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea
 
Lord and Master of my life, 
give me not a spirit of idleness, 
despondency, lust for power, and idle talking.
 
Bestow on Your servant instead 
a spirit of chastity, 
humility, patience, and love.
 
Yes, Lord King, grant me to see my own offenses, 
and not to condemn my brethren, 
for You are blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.

This is the Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, about whom I have already told you, and some of whose great works I have read. Why does the Holy Church give this prayer such an unusually prominent place in the Divine Services, why is it repeated so many times during all Lenten Divine Services? Not without a special reason - you yourself feel with your heart what the reason is - this prayer penetrates the heart like no other, you feel its special, exceptional, divine power.

Why is this? Because it poured out from a completely cleansed, perfect, holy heart, from a mind enlightened by God's grace, which became a partaker of the mind of Christ. Hence, such power, such a mysterious effect on the Christian heart by this amazing prayer.

To begin with, I will say that the very fact that Saint Ephraim asks God to deliver him from everything wicked that is contrary to God, so that the Lord vouchsafes him virtues, the most important great virtues, is extremely important. Why is he asking for them? There are people, and especially in the old pagan times, who relied on themselves in everything, thought that everything was achievable by the powers of their mind, their feelings. Even now there are people who do not understand that much, and moreover, the most important, the most precious, the most secret, is inaccessible to our mind and feeling.

People who understand this remember what the Holy Apostle Paul said: “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (Rom. 7:15). This is what the greatest foremost apostle says, recognizing his impotence to follow the path of goodness, deeply understanding that his flesh, which pulls down and does not let the heart rise towards God, has tremendous power over it. He yearned, tormented in soul, that he did not do that good that his soul longed for, but did that evil that he did not want.

Saint Ephraim, deeply aware of this, prayed to God to deliver him from vices, to give him the strength to do good. We get the power to do good deeds only from God, we get the power to get rid of vices only from God. The soul of every Christian is vaguely aware of this, and therefore the prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian is so touching.

Go deeper into this prayer, think about why he does not simply ask God to deliver from such and such vices and give such and such virtues. Why does he say: “Give me not a spirit of idleness, curiosity, lust for power, and idle talking”? Why does he speak of the spirit of vices and the spirit of virtues? - this is important to understand.

You know that things have their own smell, peculiar to them. If your things remain in your room, and the room remains locked, your smell, the spirit of these things, will remain in it. You know that if you pour a fragrant substance into a vessel, then empty the vessel and wash it, the aroma will remain for a long time; and vice versa, if something that stinks is poured in, then the stinking spirit will remain for a long, long time. This is what happens in the human soul. In the soul of a person, all the vices that a person sins leave their spirit, their mark, on the other hand, all the good that he creates leaves their light. If a person has always done evil deeds, if his soul is saturated with vices, the spirit of these vices will remain in the soul forever. If a person lives a good life, does a lot of good, if he constantly sanctifies his soul with prayer, he is imbued with the spirit of prayer,

We know from everyday experience that we can already with a brief acquaintance, sometimes at the very first meeting, we can catch what kind of spirit a person is. If we meet a person who is mired in sins, you will catch what kind of spirit this person is. It is similar to how a dog searches for a smell, which remains even on the tracks of a person, and leads to this person.

Every person has his own spirit, and so Saint Ephraim the Syrian asks God not only to deliver him from vices and give virtues, he asks that the Lord give him the spirit of these virtues, to deliver him from the spirit of vice - so that there is no trace of the smell of vice, so that it smells with the sweet fragrance of Christ.

One must know that it is much easier to get rid of individual vices than to get rid of the spirit of these vices. This spirit clings extremely tenaciously to our hearts, and it is possible to completely get rid of the wicked spirit only gradually, praying to God for help, so that God will deliver us from this evil spirit. This is how the words of Ephraim the Syrian should be understood. Perhaps they can be understood more directly.

We always live and act under the spiritual influence of two things: on the one hand, the grace-filled holy influence of God Himself, the Angels and the Saints, and, in particular, our Guardian Angel; on the other hand, the spirit of Satan, the demonic spirit, always pours out on us in a dark stream. And just as among the Angels of Light there are Angels who carry individual holy virtues, so among demons there are carriers of individual sins that always affect us. Therefore Saint Ephraim asks God that by the grace of God the dark, crafty demonic spirits that lead us to sin be driven away.

You see what these deep words of Ephraim the Syrian mean? Asking consciously to free us from the very spirit of wickedness, malice, all vices, is extremely difficult, since the power of demons over us is extremely strong. Remember that by your own efforts you cannot avoid the dark, disastrous influence of these spirits, so humbly pray to God, as Ephraim the Syrian teaches to pray:

Lord and Master of my life, 
give me not a spirit of idleness, 
despondency, lust for power, and idle talking.
 
Bestow on Your servant instead 
a spirit of chastity, 
humility, patience, and love.
 
Yes, Lord King, grant me to see my own offenses, 
and not to condemn my brethren, 
for You are blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.
 
PART TWO


Become a Patreon supporter:

To read more about supporting the ministry of the Mystagogy Resource Center, either as a monthly supporter or an annual supporter, please visit the DONATE page.

Thank you!