Scott Richert writes in “From the Chapel”: Over the last few weeks, I have mentioned…
From the Chapel — April 8: The Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian
“From the Chapel” is a series of short, daily reflections on life and faith in a time of uncertainty. As people across the world cope with the effects of the coronavirus — including the social isolation necessary to combat its spread — these reflections remind us of the hope that lies at the heart of the Gospel.
Over 25 years ago, when Amy and I were attending Epiphany of Our Lord Byzantine Catholic Church in Annandale, Virginia, I first encountered the Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian.
St. Ephrem, a fourth-century deacon, in fact wrote many prayers and hymns, which is why he was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1920. But over the centuries, this single prayer has become so integral to the Lenten observance of Eastern Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox, that it has gained the singular title of the Prayer of St. Ephrem.
Many Eastern Christians (and those of us who have been influenced by their traditions) recite the Prayer of St. Ephrem multiple times each day of Lent. There are three verses, each of which is accompanied by the Sign of the Cross and a prostration, in which the person praying kneels down on both knees and touches his head to the floor.
Like one of my other favorite prayers, Cardinal Merry del Val’s Litany of Humility, the Prayer of St. Ephrem is a prayer of petition, asking God to curb the desires of our soul that prevent us from humbling ourself before him. During Holy Week especially, as our spiritual enemies try to divide us from one another when we should all be walking together on the Way of the Cross, this prayer is a powerful reminder that true humility is something that we cannot gain on our own. We must ask God to grant it to us as a gift.
There are many translations of the Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian; this is the one I first learned and still pray today:
“O Lord and Master of my life, Keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, Lust of power and idle chatter. [Sign of the Cross/prostration]
“Instead, grant me the spirit of wholeness of being, Humblemindedness, patience, and love. [Sign of the Cross/prostration]
“O Lord and King, Grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother, For you are blessed always, now and ever, and forever. Amen.” [Sign of the Cross/prostration]
For the last several years, many Catholics have taken a break from social media for Holy Week, but this year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer seem to be doing so. And that, unfortunately, means more opportunities for strife and anger when we should be concentrating on the mysteries of our salvation.
So if you find yourself going on Facebook or Twitter, take a moment beforehand and pray the Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian. Enter social media with the right frame of mind — humbled and at peace.
And if you find, as I did so many years ago, that the Prayer of St. Ephrem touches your soul, consider making it a part of your Lenten observance in years to come.
Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.