« Forgiveness Vespers | Main | Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican & Sunday of the Prodigal Son »

The Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian

O Lord and Master of my life, Take from me the spirit of sloth faint-heartedness, lust of power and idle talk. (prostration)
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to thy servant. (prostration)
Yea, O Lord and King grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother; for Thou art blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen. (prostration)

The prayer is prayed the first time through with the prostrations, joining body and soul in the prayer for deification, and then 12 metanias are made with the words, "God, cleanse me (a) the sinner." Thereafter the whole prayer is said again, making one prostration at the end. The repetition is meant to help us get the prayer inside of us so that we can truly think it through and begin to make a start in applying it to our lives.


This prayer is at the heart of our Lenten efforts, summing up for us what is at stake during our Lenten struggles: our healing from our sin-sickness.

The Beginning of the Prayer: Christ is the Great Physician of our souls and bodies. It is to Him then that we address this prayer, focusing our full attention with renewed vigor throughout Lent: “Lord and Master of my life...”

  • In this first phrase of the prayer we re-affirm Christ’s lordship in our lives; we re-prioritize our relationship to Him as it always should be. This is what repentance/metanoia means—a constant re-orientation to Christ and our participation in the life of the Holy Trinity.

The Negative Objects of Repentance

Sloth/Faint-heartedness: The first petition of the prayer goes to the heart of our sickness—SLOTH. It is in our slothfulness, our lethargy or faint-heartedness to do battle against our temptations and delusions that keep us from progressing in our deification.

  • Sloth leads to despondency (faint-heartedness), causing us to be weak in trusting God, leading us to see the bad in others and reading into their words and actions; we convince ourselves of the hopelessness of our situation and cultivate an attitude of pessimism towards ourselves and God’s work in others and in the world.

Lust: If God is not Lord and Master of my life, then I am. I make my desires, my ideas, my judgments and not those of Christ and His Church the center of my world and will. Lust is fundamentally a sin of selfishness with self-satisfaction at its heart.

  • Fr. Schmemann writes, “If my life is not oriented toward God, not aimed at eternal values, it will inevitably become selfish and self-centered and this means that all other beings will become means of my own self-satisfaction.”
  • In lust, the world becomes subservient to one’s own desires and will;
  • Lust also therefore manifests itself in contempt, indifference, lack of respect and consideration for others, who are, in turn, made objects for the fulfillment of one’s desires and will.

Idle talk: Man’s speech, say the Fathers, is the ‘seal’ of the image of God in each of us because God Himself is revealed to us as the Logos (the Word).

  • We are reminded that ...”the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire. And the tongue is a fire.” (James 3:5-6a)

The Positive Objects of Repentance

Chastity: The brokenness of our existence and relationship to others, our sin-sickness, is no where better seen in our sexual depravity, “the alienation of the body from the life and control of the Spirit,” as Fr. Schmemann puts it. Chastity means ‘whole-mindedness.’

  • Chastity begets humility, without which we cannot attain to the likeness of God who Himself is humble as exemplified supremely in the Incarnation of the Word (Phil. 2).
  • Humility is more than anything else, “the victory of truth in us,” says Fr. Schmemann.
  • Humility enables us to see the good in others and in creation; it is the opposite of the pessimism associated with the sin of sloth.
  • Humility, in turn, leads to patience, which is related because the whole-minded, chaste man measures all things according to God’s will and in submission to that will.

Love: love is “the fruit of all virtues” and can be given by God alone who IS love. True love is selfless and God-focused.

Pride: Pride is the source of all evil. If we are looking to the faults of others to judge them, we are guilty of the sin of pride. This is the sin of the Pharisee.

  • As a remedy to pride, we must cultivate an attitude of repentance toward God, which manifests itself in chastity, humility, patience, and love. This is the righteousness demonstrated by the Prodigal Son in his return from exile to the Father.