St Ephrem Lenten Prayer

The Lenten Prayer of St Ephrem the Syrian
By Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Of all lenten hymns and prayers, one short prayer can be termed the lenten prayer. Tradition ascribes it to one of the great teachers of spiritual life – St. Ephrem the Syrian. Here is its text:

O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother; For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen

This prayer is read twice at the end of each lenten service Monday through Friday (not on Saturdays and Sundays for, as we shall see later, the services of these days do not follow the lenten pattern). At the first reading, a prostration follows each petition. Then we all bow twelve times saying: “O God, cleanse me a sinner.” The entire prayer is repeated with one final prostration at the end.
Why does this short and simple prayer occupy such an important position in the entire lenten worship? Because it enumerates in a unique way all the “negative” and “positive” elements of repentance and constitutes, so to speak, a “check list” for our individual lenten effort. 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 sloth. It is that strange laziness 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 the root of all sin because it poisons the spiritual energy at its very source.
The result of sloth is faint-heartedness. It is the state of despondency which all spiritual Fathers considered the greatest danger for the soul. Despondency is the impossibility for man to see anything good or positive; it is the reduction of everything to negativism and pessimism. It is truly a demonic power in us because the Devil is fundamentally a liar. He lies to man about God and about the world; he fills life with darkness and negation. Despondency is the suicide of the soul because when man is possessed by it he is absolutely unable to see the light and to desire it.
Lust of power! Strange as it may seem, it is precisely sloth and despondency that fill our life with lust of power. By vitiating the entire attitude toward life and making it meaningless and empty, they force us to seek compensation in, a radically wrong attitude toward other persons. If my life is not oriented toward God, not aimed at eternal values, it will inevitably become selfish and selfcentered and this means that all other beings will become means of my own self-satisfaction. If God is not the Lord and Master of my life, then I become my own lord and master — the absolute center of my own world, and I begin to evaluate everything in terms of my needs, my ideas, my desires, and my judgments. The lust of power is thus a fundamental depravity in my relationship to other beings, a search for their subordination to me. It is not necessarily expressed in the actual urge to command and to dominate “others.” It may result as well in indifference, contempt, lack of interest, consideration, and respect. It is indeed sloth and despondency directed this time at others; it completes spiritual suicide with spiritual murder.
Finally, idle talk. Of all created beings, man alone has been endowed with the gift of speech. All Fathers see in it the very “seal” of the Divine Image in man because God Himself is revealed as Word (John, 1:1). But being the supreme gift, it is by the same token the supreme danger. Being the very expression of man, the means of his self-fulfillment, it is for this very reason the means of his fall and self-destruction, of betrayal and sin. The word saves and the word kills; the word inspires and the word poisons. The word is the means of Truth and it is the means of demonic Lie. Having an ultimate positive power, it has therefore a tremendous negative power. It truly creates positively or negatively. When deviated from its divine origin and purpose, the word becomes idle. It “enforces” sloth, despondency, and lust of power, and transforms life into hell. It becomes the very power of sin.
These four are thus the negative “objects” of repentance. They are the obstacles to be removed. But God alone can remove them. Hence, the first part of the lenten prayer; this cry from the bottom of human helplessness. Then the prayer moves to the positive aims of repentance which also are four.
Chastity! If one does not reduce this term, as is so often and erroneously done, only to its sexual connotations, it is understood as the positive counterpart of sloth. The exact and full translation of the Greek sofrosini and the Russian tselomudryie ought to be whole-mindedness. Sloth is, first of all, dissipation, the brokenness of our vision and energy, the inability to see the whole. Its opposite then is precisely wholeness. If we usually mean by chastity the virtue opposed to sexual depravity, it is because the broken character of our existence is nowhere better manifested than in sexual lust — the alienation of the body from the life and control of the spirit. Christ restores wholeness in us and He does so by restoring in us the true scale of values by leading us back to God.
The first and wonderful fruit of this wholeness or chastity is humility. We already spoke of it. It is above everything else the victory of truth in us, the elimination of all lies in which we usually live. Humility alone is capable of truth, of seeing and accepting things as they are and therefore of seeing God’s majesty and goodness and love in everything. This is why we are told that God gives grace to the humble and resists the proud.
Chastity and humility are naturally followed by patience. The “natural” or “fallen” man is impatient, for being blind to himself he is quick to judge and to condemn others. Having but a broken, incomplete, and distorted knowledge of everything, he measures all things by his tastes and his ideas. Being indifferent to everyone except himself, he wants life to be successful right here and now. Patience, however, is truly a divine virtue. God is patient not because He is “indulgent,” but because He sees the depth of all that exists, because the inner reality of things, which in our blindness we do not see, is open to Him. The closer we come to God, the more patient we grow and the more we reflect that infinite respect for all beings which is the proper quality of God.
Finally, the crown and fruit of all virtues, of all growth and effort, is love — that love which, as we have already said, can be given by God alone-the gift which is the goal of all spiritual preparation and practice.
All this is summarized and brought together in the concluding petition of the lenten prayer in which we ask “to see my own errors and not to judge my brother.” For ultimately there is but one danger: pride. Pride is the source of evil, and all evil is pride. Yet it is not enough for me to see my own errors, for even this apparent virtue can be turned into pride. Spiritual writings are full of warnings against the subtle forms of pseudo-piety which, in reality, under the cover of humility and self-accusation can lead to a truly demonic pride. But when we “see our own errors” and “do not judge our brothers,” when, in other terms, chastity, humility, patience, and love are but one in us, then and only then the ultimate enemy–pride–will be destroyed in us.
After each petition of the prayer we make a prostration. Prostrations are not limited to the Prayer of St. Ephrem but constitute one of the distinctive characteristics of the entire lenten worship. Here, however, their meaning is disclosed best of all. In the long and difficult effort of spiritual recovery, the Church does not separate the soul from the body. The whole man has fallen away from God; the whole man is to be restored, the whole man is to return. The catastrophe of sin lies precisely in the victory of the flesh — the animal, the irrational, the lust in us — over the spiritual and the divine. But the body is glorious; the body is holy, so holy that God Himself “became flesh.” Salvation and repentance then are not contempt for the body or neglect of it, but restoration of the body to its real function as the expression and the life of spirit, as the temple of the priceless human soul. Christian asceticism is a fight, not against but for the body. For this reason, the whole man – soul and body – repents. The body participates in the prayer of the soul just as the soul prays through and in the body. Prostrations, the “psycho-somatic” sign of repentance and humility, of adoration and obedience, are thus the lenten rite par excellence.

Seeking God can be a vain glory trap!

I converted to Maronite Catholicism over 40 years ago. In my early years I was excited and enthusiastic about learning about Eastern Christianity, my prayer and learning. I transformed my faith and started thinking like an Eastern Catholic, rather then just following the Catholic teaching. When you see the truth of Jesus Christ and live the truth of Jesus Christ your every moment becomes a choice between consciously moving closer to the Divine Grace you have been granted or sliding toward death and destruction. There is no gray area. You may get stuck, frozen or confused and not make a conscious choice (or you fool yourself thinking you have) but eventually you move, make a choice and head in a direction.

But your knowledge can be a trap. You can begin to think very highly of yourself given your dedication to living a Christian life. You become so smart in your subjective rationalization that you ate flying high. My spiritual director calls it idiosyncratic intelligent curiosity. I think it may just be vain/glory. Vain/glory can draw you into complacency. Be wise. Avoid this spiritual danger.

Avoid this spiritual danger when pursuing knowledge of God

Know thyself

https://www.facebook.com/groups/thomasmertonpropheticwitness/permalink/628138910964102/ .

This comment by Thomas Merton is so true.

“The reason why so many religious people believe they cannot meditate is that they think meditation consists in having religious emotions, thoughts, or affections of which one is, oneself, acutely aware. As soon as they start to meditate, they begin to look into the psychological conscience to find out if they are experiencing anything worthwhile. They find little or nothing. They either strain themselves to produce some interior experience, or else they give up in disgust.”

—Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

Sit, breath, release, Let Go Let God…Kyrie Elieson.

Guest Blog -Lebanese of Waterville Maine

By Larry Grard
WATERVILLE – Upwards of 75 people packed the Redington Museum parlor on the evening of Thursday, Jan. 10, for a presentation of Waterville’s vibrant Lebanese history, sponsored by the Waterville Historical Society.
Tom Nale and Joe Jabar, both of whom have deep roots in the city’s Lebanese history, provided informative and intriguing half-hour talks.
“What a great turnout on a lovely day,” Historical Society President said, a light-hearted remark considering the frigid temperatures outside. “We have two pillars of the community, both members of the bench, here for us.”
On Feb. 13 at 5:30 p.m., the cultural series will continue with a lecture on Franco-American Women in Waterville. There is no admission charge.
Nale spoke first on Jan. 10, detailing how his Sittoo (grandmother in Arabic) and Giddoo (grandfather), and many other Lebanese immigrants, endured the trip to the United States in the early part of the 20th century. The famine of 1918 had wiped out half the country’s 800,000 people.
“They were caged with chicken wire in the worst part of the ship with little food,” Nale said. “They sang songs.”
One group of Lebanese immigrants landed first in Canada, and traveled at night by foot to reach Waterville.
The great majority of Waterville Lebanese are Maronite (Eastern Rite) Catholics, and they were quick to organize a Maronite church of their own. The first family, that of Abraham Joseph, had come to Waterville in 1888. Two years laater, Lebanese families were attending Roman Catholic Masses at Sacred Heart and St. Francis. But by 1924, Father Awad came from the old country to establish the first Maronite church in the city. Today, the gorgeous St. Joseph Maronite Catholic C hurch on Front Street faces the Kennebec River, looking east.
The immigrants built tenements along the riverside, in an area known as “Head of Falls.” Those houses were torn down in the late 1960s.
“I can tell you where each and every house was on Head of Falls,” Nale said. “That was because I had a paper route. Me and Joe were altar boys, and we went to the church after our routes. When Joe and I were serving the church was absolutely full from front to back.”
The mills attracted most of the Lebanese, French, Polish and other immigrants to Waterville, but some Lebanese were Phoenicians, who were merchants. Al Corey had his famous music store on Main Street, and the Peter Joseph family only recently sold Joseph’s Market, which is still in business a stone’s throw from the church.
“We were all known as cousins,” Nale said. “To work on the railroad was a dream for those men. It was not hard work.”
Sen. George Mitchell became the city’s most celebrated Lebanese, although for a time his older brother, the late Johnny “Swisher” Mitchell, claimed that mantle. Swisher led undefeated Waterville High to the New England Basketball Championship in 1944.
Jabar referred to the Earl Smith “Water Village,” which explains some of the tenets of the Maronite religion. St. Maron was a monk in the hills of Lebanon.
Jabar’s father was born in Waterville in 1905, making him one of the early first-generation Lebanese. In 1922, George Jabar and Phillip Nagem became the first Lebanese boys to graduate Waterville High.
“He made $17 a week at the mill,” Jabar said of his father. “Then he got $20-$25 as a weaver. He became a union organizer in the 1930s. He was a natural.”
Those first-generation Waterville Lebanese instilled in their children the need for education.
“We had eight siblings in our family,” Jabar said. “Seven of them went to college.”
The Lebanese kids – including Swisher Mitchell – made the Boys Club their second home. Jabar said there is a 16 mm tape available of Waterville’s victory over Somerville, MA, in the New England final.
“Swisher would dribble, dribble, dribble,” said Jabar, who wasn’t a bad athlete himself in the mid-1960s. “He kept the basketball.”
The Redington Museum will be open to the public from Memorial Day week to Labor Day. Hours are 10-11 a.m. and 1-2 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Starting Over with George Smith

An editorial article in our local paper by George Smith inspired me to write him a short letter. Rather an email not a letter. We don’t write letters anymore except those who want to use script to send a very kind and personal note to a friend. Anyway Georgia’s article was about starting over. The gist of his article was that we all at times in our life must start over. We reach a point where our mistakes, foibles and tragedies have overcome us and we give up at least for a moment. Then our faith takes over and some of us give up and give in and accept that no one’s perfect and that we must start again from where we know is a perfect beginning. George is an amazing man, for you see he has ALS. And even in the midst of this disease he continues to write and share his thoughts about life, the outdoors, and our great state of Maine. Remarkable, and sad. But his article says it all. For it seems to me that every morning when he wakes up and realizes he has ALS he must start over again understanding accepting living with this tragedy and trying to make lemonade from the lemons life has given him. He seems to have done a great job with this challenge. Thanks George for a great article.

Get out in the community

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181108164316.htm

The message here is that face to face contact with other human beings is preferable to the superficial immediate gratification and popularity on social media. It’s ok to stay in touch with old and new friends. But as the article states social media use will have negative consequences with over use.

Chimney Pond…. Almost

Saturday, August 25, 2018, I climbed the trail from Roaring Brook to Chimney Pond in Baxter State Park with my older brother Doug the III, and my younger brother Jeff. I made it to the 1 mile marker at Basin Pond which is 2.2 miles from Roaring Brook. I am disappointed I could not make it all the way to Chimney Pond but proud of my effort. Just gives me something to shoot for next year.

We three are the last in our family of origin. Our brother Rob died in 2001, at age 40, from pancreatitis, my Mom, Sally in 2004, at age 73 from emphysema and my Dad Doug Jr. in 2008 at age 82 from TTP complications. Just half of my family of origin left in 2018. We miss them all but have continued our relationship as brothers. We enjoy getting together often to eat, play family board games or hike.

AT Chimney Pond

It was a drizzly day, the rocks were wet and slippery so it was very slow going. Add to that the fact that I was 70 lbs heavier than the the last time I was here more than 20 years ago when we climbed with my Dad and family (see insert). It was August of 1976, Daniel was only 7 years old, Matt just out of high school. I had been working on the Brennan campaign. Dad was 70. Also with us was Doug Crate, Jeff Crate Gabe Crate, Paul Crate, Zach Crate and of course Allison who took this picture.

So here we are. I am way out of shape, my brothers wanting to continue the family tradition started many years ago by my grandfather at Camp Katahdin. When he would bring up boys from Friends Central outside Philadelphia for a 6-8 week camping experience that included climbing Mt Katahdin .

I was exhausted as we climbed. I had the great fortune of using some walking sticks loaned to me by my barber Joe at Headquarters on Main Street in Waterville. I had my hair cut the day before our trip and he mentioned he had them and that I would be welcomed to use them for support. Boy was I glad I had them. Without them I would have fallen flat on my fact. Joe has done a lot of hiking, including part of the Appalachian trail and when I told him of my goal he was happy to contribute to my effort. Thanks Joe.

Interesting conversation as we climbed the trail. Doug a Zen Contemplative Christian, Jeff an evangelical Christian and me a Maronite Catholic all had our views about spirituality, but in the end all centered on Christ. So for me it was a successful ecumenical and family affair. We also talked about wives, mostly how appreciative of them we were and of course we talked about our children. Jeff has the most grandchildren, then Doug.

A great day for the Crate Family.