This 4th-century prayer that comes from St. Ephrem the Syrian helps to rid ourselves of spiritual disease.
If you are in search of a meaningful Lenten prayer, you might consider one that has been around since the 4th century and attributed to a Doctor of the Church, St. Ephrem the Syrian. It contains the very essence of the Lenten spirit and is recited twice a day (from Monday through Friday) by Orthodox Christians. The worshiper makes the sign of the cross and a “metany” (a prostration) at the end of each petition, bowing 12 times and repeating:“O God, cleanse me, a sinner.” Finally, the entire prayer is recited once again with the final prostration and the sign of the cross at the end.
O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. (Prostration)But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. (Prostration)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. (Prostration)O God, cleanse me a sinner.(To be repeated 12 times with as many bows).
In his book Great Lent: A School of Repentance, Its Meaning for Orthodox Christians, the Orthodox scholar and theologian Alexander Schmemann explains that this prayer “enumerates all the ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ elements of repentance and constitutes 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 prostrations make the body become part of prayer, thus restoring it to itstrue function as “the temple of a priceless human soul.”
“The whole man has fallen away from God; the whole man is to be restored, the whole man is to return. (…)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,” writes Fr. Alexander Schmemann.