This is the first Sunday of Lent: the Great Fast—the great reflection on life and death. For many weeks the readings of each Sunday have been teaching us how to step back and take a critical look at ourselves. What motivates our actions? (Laws or Love?) How do we see others? (With condemnation or compassion?)
Including this week, for 40 days until Lazarus Saturday, our task is to focus on our relationship with God. The Fast is not about diet; it is about doing what it takes us personally to bring our consciousness into harmony and awareness of Divine presence in our ordinary existence. Our liturgical services support and sustain our personal journeys by praying together as a community, through the readings, and hymns.
Our Lenten journey, both personal and communal is encapsulated most perfectly in the Lenten Prayer of St Ephrem. Through this ancient prayer, we recall the lessons of the previous Sundays and with each repetition we take inventory of our status as persons who have professed to “put on Christ”.
St Ephrem’s prayer has been said to contain the entire content and purpose of the Great Fast. St Ephrem the Syrian (ca. 306-373 AD) is a Church Father. He was a monk, theologian, and poet, who comforted both bodies and souls during his lifetime. He died ministering to victims of plague and famine in Edessa (SE Turkey today). Traditionally, when we say the words of this prayer, we bring our full body into meditation by making a full prostration (poklin) after each of the three segments, and after repeating the segments together at the end. In between this prayer, it’s customary to repeat (4 times) the prayer of penitence that we pray before receiving the Eucharist: “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner; Lord, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy on me; I have sinned without number, Lord forgive me.” (We bow deeply with each petition and cross ourselves.) English translations of St Ephrem’s prayer vary greatly, but the expression of profound desire to live in Grace is constant nonetheless.
Each year in the Lenten period, we have the opportunity to join 16 centuries of faithful who have been spiritually nourished and encouraged by St Ephrem’s devotion to Christ.
Lord and Master of my life,
keep me from being lazy, apathetic, selfish, and boastful. (Prostration)
Instead, bestow on me, your servant,
the spirit of integrity, humility, patience, and love. (Prostration)
Yes, O Lord and King,
let me see my own sins
and not judge my brothers and sisters;
For you are blessed forever and ever. Amen (Prostration).