O Lord and Master of my life, do not grant me a spirit of sloth, idle curiosity, love of power, and useless chatter.
Rather, favor me, your servant, with a spirit of sobriety, humility, patience, and love.
Yes, Lord and King, give me to see my own faults and not to condemn my brother; for you are blessed to the ages of ages. Amen.
Although attributed to St. Ephrem the Syrian (born in Nisibis ca. 306, dies in Edessa ca. 373), the oldest extant version of this prayer text is in Greek, textual studies suggest that it was composed in Greek, while literary analysis reveals concepts and terms not found in authentic writings of Ephrem. Nonetheless, this is an integral part of Lenten worship (both public and private) among Eastern Orthodox. The faithful recite this prayer several times each day in the 40-day period preparing for Easter; it has been characterized as the expression par excellence of Lenten spirituality, articulating the negative and positive aspects of metanoia.
The first sentence enumerates spiritual ailments that the Christian must overcome on a daily basis. Sloth is a type of laziness that robs one of the energy and desire to engage in spiritually edifying activity. The English term is reminiscent of an animalistic orientation, with one’s “head inclining downward, looking at the stomach and the parts below the stomach, since the fulfillment of happiness for these animals is filling the stomach and enjoying pleasure,” according to St. Basil the Great (On the Origin of Humanity, II.15). Basil counters this by saying that “the human being no longer looks toward the stomach, but his head is lifted high toward things above, that he may look up to what is akin to him” (i.e., God). He exhorts his listeners “do not make yourself go against nature; do not focus on earthly things but on heavenly things, where Christ is. ‘For if you are resurrected together with Christ,’ says Scripture, ‘seek the things above, where Christ is’ (Col 3:1). Idle curiositydistracts the person from his or her ultimate goal and causes them to stray from the spiritual path; desert monastics teach that the Evil One uses distraction as a strategy to make humans stray from God. Love of power is contrary to the ideal of the service commanded by Christ (Mt 20:25-28; Jn 13:3-15). Useless chatter indicates the negative effects communication can have when used improperly. These four constitute the negatives from which the spiritual person must turn. The verb “do not grant” (μή δῷς) does not signify that these obstacles to a healthy spirituality come from God, but that only God can remove them.
The second sentence focuses attention on four positive aspects of the spiritual life to which the believer should aspire. They all speak, in one way or another, of the ideals of discipline, self-control, and humility that are at the core of monastic spirituality, which has become the model for all Orthodox Christians.
The third sentence hearkens back to Jesus’s command to refrain from judging others (Mt 7:1-5; Lk 6:41f). The gender-exclusive term “brothers” may be problematic for some modern English-speakers, but, on the one hand, it reflects the influence of male monasteries in the history of liturgical development and, on the other hand, can easily be understood as “brother or sister.” I have chosen to use the singular to emphasize a concrete person-to-person relationship.
Most frequently this brief prayer is punctuated by prostrations (forehead to ground) as an embodied sign of deep humility. The human is not the one who does any of the actions articulated in this text; God is the one who gives all things. The faithful person simply bows down and accepts God’s gifts of repentance and self-awareness.
A Christian (Roman Catholic), a Jew and a Hindu find in this source, contributed by an Orthodox Christian, a meaningful message for those who feel ‘obligated’ to respond to the Divine imperative in their daily lives. The discussion raises the question of who is your ‘brother’ and whether one owes a higher obligation to one’s ‘brother’ or to the ‘other’.A Christian (Roman Catholic), a Jew and a Hindu find in this source, contributed by an Orthodox Christian, a meaningful message for those who feel ‘obligated’ to respond to the Divine imperative in their daily lives. The discussion raises the question of who is your ‘brother’ and whether one owes a higher obligation to one’s ‘brother’ or to the ‘other’.