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April 2, 2022

An Interpretation of the Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian: On Idle Talk (5)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

"Lord and Master of my life, give me not a spirit of idle talk."
Saint Ephraim prays about this, as the holy prophet David says in his psalm: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Ps. 140:3).

And the Lord Jesus Christ Himself said that for every idle word we will give an answer at the Last Judgment (Matt. 12:36). Think about how serious it is, how hard it is: to give an answer for each and every single idle word.

But tell me, is there anything else that would be treated easier than words? It is amazing how people do not understand the enormous, colossal significance of human words.

Our ability to speak makes us similar to God Himself to a large extent. God created the whole world with a word (Gen. 1:1), the word of God has huge, tremendous power. You know that the prophet Elijah raised the dead with a word (1 Kings 17:21-22), with his word he stopped the rain, shut up the sky and caused famine (1 Kings 17:1), and then he brought rain down to the earth (1 Kings 18:42-45).

What is the power of the word? Do not think that the word escaping from the mouth is scattered in the air, and nothing remains of the word. This is not true. The word lives, it lives for centuries, for thousands of years. The words that were spoken by the great prophets of God, who lived many centuries before the birth of Christ, still live. The great words of Moses, the great words that once were spoken by the holy apostles, those words that came from the lips of the ascetics of God, the teachings of the Church of God, have been alive for thousands of years.

And if a word lives for thousands of years, then it is something extremely important. Words, proceeding from our mouths, always produce an extremely deep effect on the people around us, even on people remote from us.

Every kind, wise word lives in people's hearts and brings good fruits for many years. Any evil word - slander, lies, gossip - also lives for an extremely long time, for many years, they are instilled in the minds, in the hearts of both close and distant people, directing their thoughts, their desires. Hearing our evil words, they are poisoned by them, imitate us and emit the same evil, poisonous words.

The graceful and wise words of the Saints create truth in the world, do eternal good, while evil, sinful words bring dishonor, hatred, bring great harm to people around, even to all of humanity.

Words are alive, rushing like radio waves rushing through space and pouring into the hearts and minds of people. Words are a huge force that connects or separates people. They unite when the word is full of truth, they separate when it is full of slander and malice towards people. If people were deprived of words, they would become like animals, and human life would be upset.

That is how great, how deep is the meaning of the human word. That is why Saint Ephraim prays for deliverance from idle talk, from verbosity.

You have all met a lot of people in your life, especially women, who chatter, chatter and chatter endlessly, irresistibly, and at the same time do not know their language brings fatigue: it grinds, grinds and grinds. Everything they say is empty, no one needs it. And Ephraim the Syrian prays to God to deliver us from idle talk. He was afraid of falling, lest his tongue should destroy him, and these unfortunate talkers are not afraid of anything.

You know that people often endure this idle talk - they chatter, and let them talk to themselves - and they make it look like they listen to them with pleasure, while they do not know that in the depths of their hearts everyone is weary of them, hates them. So great is the evil of idle talk, the evil that is caused by their chatter.

If the tongue talks idly, then thoughts wander, not focusing on anything deep, true, important, wandering aimlessly everywhere, as an unfortunate mongrel wanders, wagging its tail. Both their thoughts and feelings, as well as the direction of their desires, their activity - everything is empty, insignificant. The soul is starving, a person is disgusted by others, he inflicts grave harm on himself. This is the meaning of idle talk.

Wise people who live a spiritual life never idle talk, they are always silent and concentrated. In ancient Greece, philosophers and sages were held in high esteem. Philosophers did not accept anyone as their disciple before the person proved that he knew how to keep silent. Would any of the idle talkers now pass the test of silence? Of course not.

If the vice of idle talk is so heavy, how do we get rid of it, what do we do with our irrepressible tongue? You need to do what Ephraim the Syrian did: you need to pray to God for deliverance from this vice, and the Lord Jesus Christ will grant what you ask. It is necessary to avoid communication with people who talk idly, to go far, far away from them, to seek the company of a few wise ones who open their mouths to say something useful, from whom you will not hear idle, soul-damaging words.

Watch yourself extremely carefully, acquire the habit of watching what you say, what your tongue is doing, get used to keeping your tongue in check. Don't let it talk idly. Remember in the evening what it said during the day, whether it chatted, whether it insulted anyone, whether it lied, whether it were sneaky. If you learn this habit, you will get used to watching the tongue, watching every movement and holding it back.

Remember, the more a person is focused on the necessary, within, on that which is true, the more time he relies on reading the Gospels, Holy Scripture, the works of the holy fathers, and the more he is imbued with their wisdom and the more he loses the desire to idly chat. To acquire power over language is a great thing.

The Apostle James in his universal epistle says: "Whoever does not sin in word, he is a perfect man, able to bridle even the whole body" (James 3:2).

Do you understand what it means to bridle the whole body? This means subordinating the body to the highest goals of spiritual life, curbing all lusts, passions, everything bad that the flesh attracts. Begin by curbing the tongue, and if you reach this goal, attain perfection and curb your whole body. And if you bridle your whole body, you will be pure and righteous before God. May the Lord grant you all this purity and righteousness, and may the prayer of Ephraim the Syrian always remind you of this. Amen.