Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first of the forty days of Lent. One good practice for Lent—there are many—is to offer the Prayer of St. Ephrem each day. This prayer from the Syriac tradition has been translated into a long list of languages. In some churches it is accompanied by a pattern of bows and prostrations.
The saint for whom the prayer is named is known also as Ephraim. Born in Nisibis, he relocated late in his life to Edessa, both of which are now in Turkey. A teacher, poet, orator, deacon, and defender of the faith, he flourished in the fourth century. Called by the Syrians “the Harp of the Holy Spirit,” his hymns still enrich the liturgies of their churches. His sermons and poems often employ vivid and memorable imagery.
During a severe famine, Ephrem distributed food and money to the poor and organized a sort of ambulance service for the sick. He died of exhaustion, brought on by his long hours of relief work. The Episcopal Church commemorates him on June 10.
Here is the Prayer of St. Ephrem, slightly adapted from the translation by the American poet Scott Cairns.
O Lord and Master of my life,
remove from me this languid spirit,
this grim demeanor,
this petty lust for power,
and all his empty talk.
Endow your servant instead
with a chaste spirit, a humble heart,
long suffering gentleness,
and genuine, unselfish love.
Yes, O Lord and King,
grant that I may confront my own offenses,
and remember not to judge others.
For you are—always and forever—blessed.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington