St. Ephaem's Prayer


Most of us, I suppose, have never heard of St. Ephraem of Syria. Or perhaps I shouldn’t suppose that. The only thing I know for certain is that I had never heard of him before this week. While attending a pastors’ luncheon last Tuesday, Wilbur Ellsworth shared a prayer by St. Ephaem that is over 1,700 years old. Ephraem (sometimes spelled Ephrem) was a deacon and a preacher who may have attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Following the persecution of 363, he led a group of Christians to Edessa (in modern Iraq) where he founded a theological school. He was a prolific writer and poet, although not all of his work has survived. He is remembered as a strong opponent of the various Gnostic heresies that troubled the early church. One source calls him the light and glory of the Syriac Church. It is said that he often wept when he preached, and that no one ever saw him angry after he become a follower of Christ. It is clear that he had a strong sense of his own sinfulness to the very end of his life. “What was the secret of success so various and so complete? Humility, which made him distrust himself and trust God.” This is the prayer of St. Ephraem that Wilbur shared with us last Tuesday: “O Lord and Master of my life, do not give 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. Yes, O Lord and King, grant that I may see my own transgressions and not judge my brother; for blessed are you unto ages of ages. Amen.” Wilbur told us he prayed that prayer every day because it is good for the soul. Every part of the prayer contains food for thought. Sloth is not mere laziness, but is closer to listlessness, the loss of all vital desire in life. And that leads to profound despair. The lust for power is always with us. We all know the dangers of idle talk. Chastity denotes a single-hearted devotion to Christ. Humility and patience go together. Where one is absent, the other cannot long remain. Love enables us to reach out of our self-centeredness to care for those around us. Then the prayer asks for greater moral clarity about our own sins. If we saw the log in our own eye, we would be more willing to overlook the speck in our brother’s eye. And we would not judge him so harshly or so quickly. The final phrase (“for blessed are you”) seems a surprise. But God himself is the ultimate blessing and the source of all blessing. A healthy dose of humility frees us from a judgmental spirit and releases us to know God “from whom all blessings flow.” This is St. Ephraem’s prayer and I commend it to you.

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