This beautiful little prayer and accompanying exercise is an important and classic prayer used in Eastern Orthodox observance of the Lenten season. I first discovered it while reading Great Lent: Journey to Pascha by Alexander Schmemann (see pages 34-38). After reading it I was in love with its simple and succinct summary of the spirit of Lenten season, but especially after reading Dr. Schmemann’s explanation and meditation of it!
St. Ephrem (or Ephraim) was born in A. D. 306 in Nisibis (modern-day Turkey). Living during a period of persecution under the emperor Diocletian he was baptized by Bishop James of Nisibis. He was influential and beloved in his hometown before fleeing to Edessa because of the persecution. In Edessa he continued to preach, teach, and write. He was such a prolific author that he earned the name “Harp of the Fatih” for himself. He composed over 1000 poems and hymns in addition to prayers and sermons in metrical form. He also wrote commentaries on the Old Testament and Paul’s epistles.
He is most remembered today for his prayer that became a staple in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy for Lent being used every weekday for the Lenten liturgy and many times in private devotions during Lent as well.
The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth*, despair*, 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 transgressions*, and not to judge my brother*, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.
How to Use the Prayer
- Read through prostrating yourself and rising again after each petition (marked by asterisks* in the prayer above). After the first recitation bow 12 times saying each time: “O God, cleanse me a sinner.”
- Read through a second time without prostration at each petition, but with one final prostration at the conclusion of the prayer.
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