Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Spiritual Psalter of St. Ephraim the Syrian

In a post a month ago, I talked briefly about St. Ephraim as he was commemorated on that particular day. Lent had not yet begun and as I was going through some difficulties with regards to my spiritual life and I need counsel and repentance. My priest, always eager to recommend good spiritual reading, recommended Ephraim's Spiritual Psalter. During Lent, when I can pray the hours, in place of the psalter that is read, I read Ephraim's Spiritual Psalter instead which is also divided up into kathismata and respective stases. I have found it to be such a great gift to my spiritual life.

As I prayed the 1st hour this morning, when the 9th Kathisma was prescribed, I read this from St. Ephraim:

I strain to redirect my will, but my previous state will not allow me any success in this endeavor. I who am miserable try to free my soul from its debts, but immediately does the evil usurer lead me into greater debt. Generously does he grant me loans, never mentioning repayment. He does not even want to take anything back, for he desires only my slavery. He lends and then does not seek after my debts, that I might be made rich in passions. I want to pay off my old debt, but he adds a new one.

I encounter new passion and, occupied with them, I forget about former ones. I befriend teh passions which reappear and become again a debtor. I run to them as to friends and again my usurers behave toward me like masters. And I, who not so long ago tried to gain freedom, make myself their loyal slave. Again I hasten to tear apart their bonds and again I put on new ones. I hasten to free myself from the obligation to fight in their ranks, but because I have taken many gifts from them I find myself involuntarily bound to them.

O, how great is the authority of the sinful passions over me! O, how great is the soverignty of the wicked and cunning serpent.

St. Ephraim the Syrian, Kathisma 12, Stases 3, Psalm 69

Again, this spiritual psalter is meant to be read along with the psalter itself. Here is the 69th Psalm. It is short, but St. Ephraim has really brought out how much is contained in this short psalm.

Make haste, O God, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me!
2 Let them be put to shame and confusion
who seek my life!
Let them be turned back and brought to dishonor
who delight in my hurt!
3 Let them turn back because of their shame
who say, “Well done, well done!”

4 May all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you!
May those who love your salvation
say evermore, “God is great!”
5 But I am poor and needy;
hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay!

How well does St. Ephraim lay out as to how our sins only multiply further sins. How well does St. Eprhaim reveal to us that when we sin we are nothing more than slaves. Sinfulness is not buying something and needing a loan to make payment. It is about the giving of our very self to the evil one. There is no repayment, because we are entirely the evil one's. He already owns us! We are no longer the Lord's.

But, despite this fact, there is always one thing that makes the evil one and the sins with which he entraps us flee. It is the sign of the Cross, to be made reverently and with purpose. It is not a batting of flies as you see some make it. It is the light of His countenance that has been signed upon us (Psalm 4). The cross gives us the way to repentance and salvation. St. Ephraim makes that very clear as well. To those, outside Orthodoxy, who think that the Orthodox lack the Cross in its theology only should read St. Ephraim and see how wrong they are. And for those who think that St. Ephraim is not a major figure and thus is to be discoutned should remember that St. Basil the Great considered Ephraim to be the eloquent master of the truths of the Lord. And, for the Orthodox, St. Basil the Great's testimony ranks pretty high.

This work, I think, has made all the difference for my Lenten journey. I hope it can continue to enrich my private prayer life and show fruits in the spiritual contest.

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