by St. Luke, Archbishop of Crimea –
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, 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 transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.
The prayer of St. Ephrem (St. Ephraim) the Syrian occupies a special place in the services of the holy Church. It is repeated many times during the services of Great Lent.
This prayer penetrates the heart like none other, mysteriously acts upon it, and you feel a special, exceptional divine power in it. Why is that so? Because it was poured from a heart that was perfectly purified and holy, and from a mind that was enlightened by divine grace and had become a participant in the mind of Christ. It is short, but it nevertheless contains an enormous wealth of thoughts and feelings. Extraordinarily important is the very fact that St. Ephraim asks God to deliver him from everything unholy and repugnant to Him, and to vouchsafe him great virtues. Why does he ask for this?
There are people—and there were especially many during pagan times—who rely entirely upon themselves and think that everything is achievable through the powers of their minds and feelings. They do not understand that many things, in fact the most important, precious and cherished things, are not accessible to our minds and feelings. Whoever understands this understands what the apostle Paul said: “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do”(Rom. 7:15).
Thus spoke the greatest and chief apostle, recognizing his powerlessness to walk the path of goodness, profoundly understanding that his flesh, which drags him down and hinders his heart’s ascent on high to God, has enormous power over him. He pined and suffered because he did not do the good that his soul desired, but did the evil that he did not want.
Deeply aware of this, St. Ephraim the Syrian prayed to God that He would deliver him from wickedness, that He would give him the strength to do good. The strength to do good works, like the strength to be freed from vices, is something we receive only from God. The soul of every Christian is vaguely aware of this, and that is why the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian so touches it.
Every man has his own spirit—in his soul are the traces left by those vices in which he sins, as well as by the good that he does. It is much easier to be freed from individual vices than from the spirit of these vices. The latter is possible only gradually, with God’s help.
And so St. Ephraim the Syrian asks God not only to give him the spirit of virtues and deliver him from the spirit of his faults, but he asks that his soul would become fragrant with Christ.