March 24, 2022

An Interpretation of the Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian: On Idleness (2)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

"Lord and Master of my life, give me not a spirit of idleness."

This is how Saint Ephraim the Syrian begins his great prayer. Why does he begin with a request to be delivered from idleness, as if there were no more grievous vices than idleness?

Saint Ephraim speaks of idleness because he knows better than us what is more important, what is more disastrous, what vice is stronger, more dangerous, and, if we talk about idleness, he begins his prayer with a prayer not to give the spirit of idleness, which means that idleness is a very dangerous vice.

Observing idleness from an ordinary, worldly point of view, we see that idleness is contemptible, deserving of universal condemnation. See how low idle people are, who do not want to work, spend their lives in complete idleness and go toward many, many vices. Idleness is the mother of a great many vices. Idle people lie down, doing nothing, sitting and dreaming. About what? About nothing, their thoughts often wander completely aimlessly; they remember the past, that happiness, those joys that they experienced, they dream that all this will happen again. They think only about this, about nothing serious, they do not focus their thoughts on the deep seriousness of life, on the enormous responsibility that lies with everyone not only before people, but also before God Himself.

An idle person is a harmful member of society, a harmful member of the state. Idleness leads to great and grave vices. Idle people are not able to work, they fall into poverty, into hunger. Money does not come by itself, wealth does not come, they do not want to work, nothing comes by itself, and a person needs everything that is necessary for life, and in addition, that which exceeds the limit of what is necessary: he needs pleasures, needs luxury in life.

To get money, he invents various, often sinful, means, becomes capable of all baseness, dark deeds, theft, lies, deceit, bribes. So contemptible is idleness from a purely worldly point of view.

And what shall we say if we speak of idleness in our spiritual life? Does it really deserve less condemnation than in the area of our material life? It is even more disastrous in the spiritual life. Any ability of ours that remains without exercise is lost. If a musician who has reached perfection in playing ceases to practice, if he leaves music altogether for many years, he loses his perfection in playing.

Every organ of our body without exercise comes into a state of lethargy, inability to work. A person who always lies down loses the ability to walk. He who does not work with his hands, brings the muscles of the hands to sagging. Without physical inactivity, the powers of the body fade away.

Also the faculties of the soul: any spiritual faculties left untrained are lost. If a person does not pray, then he loses the ability to pray. A person who always rejects fasting will not force himself to pray. Whoever does not follow his spirit, his heart, becomes spiritually dissolute, never follows anything. The soul, left without exercise, becomes like a field that has not been cultivated for several years, which is overgrown with weeds, worthless grass, thorns, which is difficult to make fruitful. Idleness of the spirit, lack of exercise in good deeds lead to the death of the soul, to the overgrowth of the soul with all the weeds of sin. As bad as it is, that's not the whole problem.

It is a much greater misfortune that we lose the days of spiritual work - the short days of our lives. They are given by God in order to achieve a great and holy goal, to prepare for the Last Judgment, for the answer at the Judgment, so that we become worthy in the eyes of God, so that He won't put us on the left side Himself and say: “Go ... you damned ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).

Life is given to us so that we hurry, hurry to do the great work of purifying our hearts, following the Lord Jesus Christ. But this following is strenuous work, often hard work, and not idleness. This is the enduring of suffering for the Lord Jesus Christ, and idleness does not suffer, it avoids suffering.

Do you know that all the saints, who, it would seem, did not need labor, who devoted their entire lives to spiritual exploits, divided the time of day into three parts: one part - prayer, the other part - reading the word of God, another part - work or labor. They lived in the desert, in the wild Libyan desert, lived in the forests of the Far North, in impenetrable wilds, and devoted one part of their time to work.

They chose different kinds of work: weaving baskets, matting, planting vegetable gardens, cutting wood, building cells, churches and entire monasteries. What they did with their hands was sold to the nearest city, they ate by what they made for themselves and fed the poor. They considered work an important and necessary thing.

The holy apostle Paul preached God throughout the day, and at night he made tents. By the light of the moon or lamp, he worked diligently, considering work obligatory for himself. His main work, his main aspiration was to run, to hasten as much as he could towards the goal - to flee to the Kingdom of God.

Do you know his amazing words: “Brethren, I do not consider myself accomplished; but only, forgetting what is behind and stretching forward, do I strive for the goal, for the honor of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).

He, not at all considering himself to have achieved it, strove forward, forgetting what had already been achieved, he strove for a higher goal, for receiving the highest calling of the Divine in Christ Jesus.

This is an example of a life opposite to the life of idle people. You will not find any trace of idleness in the life of the Apostle Paul, in the life of fasting hermits, in the life of a monastic, in the life of great saints. They all worked from morning to night. Idleness was alienated from them, idleness was considered a great and fatal evil.

It is necessary, hearing the prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, which is repeated so often, to carefully listen to every word of the prayer, and remember, delve into the meaning of these words and imprint them forever in your heart. I will help you capture them. Today I captured the petition of Saint Ephraim for deliverance from the spirit of idleness.

Remember that life is short, you must hasten, as the apostle Paul hastened - you must hasten in the work of the Lord. Amen.