For the Eastern Orthodox Church, Great Lent is the seven week period before Pascha (Easter) during which the faithful fast from certain foods and, more importantly, from sin. In order to enter more fully into the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, we repent through the traditional disciplines of prayer and fasting. Over the next several weeks, I will be posting articles in this series entitled “The Lenten Journey” in which I share resources, ideas, and meditations to help us all make ready for Christ’s resurrection–and our own.
In the Orthodox Church, Lent is a time of repentance, and there is perhaps no clearer example of this than the prayer of St. Ephraim. The Prayer of St. Ephraim has often been called the quintessential Lenten prayer, the Lenten prayer par excellance. Today I would like to share this prayer with you, offer a few meditations upon it, and give examples of ways that you can use the Prayer of St. Ephraim in your Family’s Plan for Great Lent.
The Prayer of St. Ephraim
The Prayer of St. Ephraim is attributed to St. Ephraim the Syrian–a fourth century hymn writer and theologian. The prayer is:
Oh, 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 Your servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother. For you are blessed, unto ages of ages. Amen.
After each section, Orthodox Christians make a full prostration–make the sign of the cross and bow all the way down with the face on the floor. Then we rise and pray the next section of the prayer.
The Prayer of St. Ephraim is prayed at every weeknight service during Great Lent (which would include Presanctified Liturgy, a mid-week service with the Eucharist given as a means of strengthening believers during the intense spiritual struggle of Lent). It is also prayed during family prayers in the icon corner.
The Meaning of the Prayer of St. Ephraim
Each section of the Prayer of St. Ephraim offers some insight into the spiritual reality of Great Lent. By praying the prayer every day during Lent, we come to a deeper understanding of repentance and salvation.
In the first section, we ask God to take our sins from us. These sins–sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk–are sins that can sneak up on us, catch us unaware, and lead us to more sin.
The season of Lent is a time to be reminded of our sins, of the depth of our sins, and to repent from them.
A New Life
Next, we ask God to give us the virtues that will counter these sins–chastity, humility, patience, and love. Simply getting rid of sins is not enough; instead we must replace them with a new way of life that is pleasing to God.
During Lent we fast from sin and live a righteous life in preparation for Christ’s death and resurrection so that we, too, may die to self and rise with Christ.
Relationship with Others
Finally, we ask God to help us see our own sins. It can be hard to truly see ourselves as we really are–to acknowledge our sins and to humble ourselves before God. Therefore, we need God’s help to be able to repent.
It can be much easier to see the sins of others. However, the prayer reminds us that we are not to judge our brother. Scripture tells us, “Who are you to judge another man’s servant?” By focusing on our own sins and our own need for constant repentance, we try to maintain a right relationship with others, with our brothers.
For a deeper meditation upon the Prayer of St. Ephraim, take a look at this excellent short video by Father Maxym Lysanck.
Integrating the Prayer of St. Ephraim into Family Life
The Prayer of St. Ephraim can be a beautiful addition to your family’s Lenten discipline. I encourage you to make it part of your Evening Prayers each night. In our family, when our children were younger, our evening prayers looked like this:
-We prayed the Trisagion Prayers concluding with the Lord’s Prayer together as a family
-Our two youngest children prayed “Lord have mercy” on various family members
-Our oldest son prayed the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”) and then prayed for others
-My husband and I prayed for people on our prayer list or other prayer requests
-We concluded with the Prayer of St. Ephraim and singing “Having Suffered the Passion for Us”
Altogether, this entire prayer time is less than 15 minutes and (generally!) holds the attention of all of our children. The kids really enjoy doing the prostrations and manage to learn the Prayer of St. Ephraim by the end of Lent.
Have a blessed Great Lent.
What does your family prayer time look like?