O Lord, Master of my life, grant that I may not be infected with the spirit of slothfulness and faintheartedness, with the spirit of ambition and vain talking.
O Lord and King, bestow upon me the grace of being aware of my sin, and of not judging my brother, for you are blessed forever and ever. Amen.
O God, purify me a sinner and have mercy on me (3x)
O Lord and King, bestow upon me…
The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian
Reflection – And so we come to the last sentence of the prayer, not counting the triple ‘O God, purify me…’ and its reiteration at the end. O Lord and King, bestow upon me the grace of being aware of my sin, and of not judging my brother, for you are blessed forever and ever. Amen.
This is such a basic Christian attitude, so much at the heart of the Gospel, taken directly from the words of Jesus: Do not judge lest you be judged… the judgments you measure out will be the judgments you are judged with... take the log out of your own eye before you remove the speck from your brother’s eye. And so forth.
Now people in our confused times will either object (or celebrate, as the case may be) that this results in moral relativism and chaos, everyone just deciding for himself what the moral law is. But that is not even vaguely implied in the Lord’s own words, and certainly not in the Prayer of St. Ephrem. Logs and specks remain logs and specks – they don’t become eyeglasses and binoculars if we decide they are.
Things are what they are, morality-wise, and we (by which I mean Catholics) believe that God in his merciful love has not left the human race in a state of total ignorance as to what the real moral law coming from God is, has revealed it to us both through the use of rightly ordered human reason and by divine revelation, and has entrusted the transmission (not creation) of that real divine moral law to His Church.
That being said (and I only say it to forestall misinterpretations of what I’m really trying to say here), we are called to a profound spirit of non-judgment and a care for our own sins and offenses against this law. The Church is the teacher of the moral law (even though, alas, alas, its leaders have not over the centuries exactly shone as great exemplars of the moral law); the Church (by which I mean both the institution, but also you and me) is not the judge of the living and the dead, and all the best, wisest, and holiest leaders of the Church have always known exactly where the one ends and the other begins.
God is the judge. But really this prayer of St. Ephrem is not about ‘the Church’ and all those thorny painful issues around that subject. It’s about the attitude I take towards the people I live with when I get out of bed in the morning. Am I sharply looking around me, seeking out everything that everyone around me is doing wrong, ready to pounce at least inwardly in scorn and judgment if not outwardly in a cutting word or a unkind gesture?
Or do I get out of bed deeply mindful of my own weakness, my own propensity to stumble and fall at any moment in a half-dozen ways, my own total and desperate need for God’s grace to see me safely through this day, and my own call to a thorough and honest moral self-inventory, and a deep contrition for my (seemingly) inevitable falls and failures?
This is where the rubber meets the road, Gospel-living-wise, it seems to me. We all live in greater or less proximity to at least some people (in Madonna House, it is very close proximity to a large number of disparate people, which makes the question that much more acute!). This last part of the prayer of St. Ephrem really is the direct application of the Gospel spirit of purity and humility, patience and love, to the immediate context of the people we live with and how we treat them.
So that’s our Lenten prayer of St. Ephrem, so much at the heart of the Byzantine Lenten observance, and so very beloved at MH. I really didn’t plan to spend the whole week talking about it – as I said in a comment to someone on the previous post, I end up getting so much out of these sustained meditations on (to me) perhaps over-familiar texts. Here’s hoping we can all move together into the next week of Lent in the spirit of that prayer, and above all in a spirit of non-judging, compassionate love for the people with whom we share our lives. Amen.