The prayer of Ephrem the Syrian is one that I urge us to learn and pray daily in this season of Lent. Today we begin looking at each part with a brief commentary adapted from Alexander Schmemann. The first petition: “Take from me the spirit of APATHY:”
Why does this short and simple prayer occupy such an important position in the Eastern Church Lenten worship? Because it enumerates in a unique way all the “negative” and “positive” elements of repentance and becomes for us a kind of “check list…” This effort is aimed first at our liberation from some fundamental spiritual diseases which shape our life and make it virtually impossible for us even to start turning ourselves to God.
The basic disease is apathy (or spiritual apathy, Grk: acedia) It is that strange laziness (or idleness) and passivity of our entire being which always pushes us “down” rather than “up” — which constantly convinces us that no change is possible and therefore desirable. It is in fact a deeply rooted cynicism which to every spiritual challenge responds “what for?” and makes our life one tremendous spiritual waste. It is a root of all sin because it poisons the spiritual energy at its very source.
O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of
apathy, faint-heartedness, love of power, and empty talk.
But give rather the spirit of
purity, humility, patience, and love to Your servant.
Yes, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother or sister;
For You are blessed forever, to ages of ages. Amen!
Note: In the Eastern church, prostrations (kneeling with the head to the floor) are made after each section of the prayer. The body participates as a sign of repentance and humility, of adoration and obedience.