Archive for February, 2010

NB: Just one resolution for Great Lent. Fasting and prayer

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Many people make some sort of resolution when they enter Great Lent. Usually it is something we have not done before, or perhaps done poorly. The one who has fasted poorly in the past may decide to keep the fast better – to not eat any meat or animal products, and some may even be zealous to keep the fast from oil and wine and fish. The one who keeps the fasts may be zealous to not eat anything at all for the first three days of Great Lent, or eat only one meal a day, which, according to the strict typikon, is “after the ninth hour” (about 3 in the afternoon).

In my pastoral experience, most people make some sort of fasting related resolution. I applaud their intentions, but sometimes their emphasis on fasting obscures for them the real purpose of the fast (it is not fasting!), and trying something that is beyond their spiritual and physical capabilities sets them up for failure, and sometimes, despair. Even if they succeed in their fasting goal, they miss out on improving themselves in more important ways.  Remember: Nobody is saved because of fasting (but those who are being saved fast).


There is only ONE important resolution to make for the Great Fast. It is mentioned (in so many words and images) constantly in our services. We will mention that one in a little bit.


It is very important to fast, especially for the one who has rarely fasted, but there are more pressing things. It would be better if a person prayed the Prayer of St Ephrem [1] with attention in the morning and the evening. How many think about fasting, and even buy cool new vegan food from the local yuppie grocery, and do not increase their prayer? This is more important. We need to become more regular at prayer, and pray with more attention. The prayer of St Ephrem is a great place to start.


Also, there are extra services in any serious parish during the fast [2], especially in Clean week and Holy week. If you are not in the habit of going to church except on Sunday, or sometimes on Saturday too, it would be better for your soul if you made the effort to change your habits and attend at least one of the extra services each week regularly. This is much more meaningful (and difficult!) for those who are not in the habit of so much “church prayer” than “not eating till 3”, or “trying to not use oil” during the week.


Great Lent is a time when we are trying to change the way we think, and act. We are trying to get less selfish.


Many people rarely or inconsistently pray for others. This is the perfect time to decide to give our supplications to God for our loved ones (and especially our not loved ones!), our family, friends, and our pastor. Praying for others is demanded in the scriptures. We must do it; we need to get very good at it. Our prayer will not be fruitless, even though it may be distracted and not seem to us to be very effectual. We are in training to not think of ourselves, and to love, truly love, others. Prayer with attention is the greatest expression of love.


How do we go about this is we are undisciplined in prayer? We must have two things – real honest desire (which will be shown by our effort) and a little planning and organization.


Get a notecard and write a few important names on it. You can also use the prayer list we publish and change frequently- it is here:  


Do not try to be eloquent or lengthy. All you need do is pray “Lord have mercy” for (N)”; do this for each person. You may also pray the Jesus prayer for each person. This blog has written at length about intercessory prayer for others: here: “ Christian Life Skills: Praying for others. Praying for enemies. The Jesus Prayer. [3]


Of course, we should plan to fast from various foods, but in comparison to our prayer, it certainly must take second place. In fact, the scripture teaches that fasting is in order to increase our prayer [4], so merely fasting without making other changes is nonsensical from a spiritual point of view.


The Most important Resolution.


Above, it was said that “Great Lent is a time when we are trying to change the way we think, and act.” This should be our “resolution” during the Great Fast. If we need to have an actual resolution, let us have the one St Herman of Alaska [5] has taught us:


"For our good, for our happiness," … "at least let us give a vow to ourselves, that from this day, from this hour, from this minute, we shall strive above all else to love God and to do His Holy Will!"




“NB” is shorthand for “nota bene” ,which is Latin for “Note well”. These shorter posts are meant to be “noted well” more often because they are briefer than the usual blog posts. I have “noted well”  that many of my flock does do not read the longer posts. I have a lot of stuff to tell you, so there will still be longer posts, but I also plan to post shorter “snippets” which will have “NB:” in the title.

Priest Seraphim Holland 2010.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[2] There are RARE exceptions, when a pastor is unable to support himself without a very inflexible job, and cannot serve services during the week, but for the most part, when you see a church with just weekend services, and even only Sunday services, you would be better off finding another one.


[4]  “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.” 1 Corinthians 7:5


“But I, when they troubled me, put on sackcloth, and humbled my soul with fasting: and my prayer shall return to my own bosom.” (Psalm 34 , Brenton Septuagint)


“And I set my face toward the Lord God, to seek him diligently by prayer and supplications, with fastings and sackcloth. “(Daniel 9:3  , Brenton Septuagint)


Clean Wednesday – Thou knowest our frame.

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010


Thou knowest our frame, thou knowest our weakness, O Lover of mankind; we have sinned, but have not turned away from Thee, O God, nor have we stretched out our hands to a strange god. Spare us in Thy goodness, O Compassionate One.
Wednesday in the First Week, Sixth Hour: Troparion of the Prophecy, 4th Tone



In the course of life, a Christian may feel joy and sadness, grief and exultation, compunction and fervent desire, but he should never feel alone. How can we be alone, when the Lord has already walked the difficult path of human life and fulfilled all righteousness for us?



"For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. (17) Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. (18) For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted." (Heb 2:16-18 KJVA)


A fundamental aspect of human nature is that is is difficult to do something onerous alone, but easier when one feels the support of his brethren, whether materially, or by a word of encouragement and advice. The Lord Jesus Christ, God and man, provides us both. Whatever our flesh is going through, He has already successfully negotiated. Even human feelings He has already felt, and yet even in the midst of these difficult emotions, He did not sin.


Christian! You are not alone!


"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. (16) Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Heb 4:15-16 KJVA )


Do we ever feel alone? Let us call this feeling what it really is, and be couragious and and honest with ourselves. This is because of lack of faith.


“Lord increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5)


Priest Seraphim Holland    St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas




New material throughout the year is posted on our BLOG: http://www/

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Why be righteous? It can be so hard sometimes. Clean Wednesday. Sixth Hour

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

The Lord is righteous and hath loved righteousness; upon uprightness hath His countenance looked. (Prokeimenon, from Psalm 10, 6th tone, for Wednesday in the First Week of Great Lent)

 Why be righteous? It can be so hard sometimes.

Why be righteous? To see the Lord’s face (His countenance). The Lord loves righteousness, because, it causes His beloved creatures to be most like Him. The reason to struggle for righteousness is to become like Him, so that we can see Him as He really is. To the pure all things are pure. If we strive to become pure, we can gaze upon He who is above all purity, and understand.

Do you want to see God? Do you want eternal happiness, and peace and completeness? Only the countenance of God offers these things. And the only way to behold God’s face is to strive to become like Him, as He has revealed Himself, through His only begotten Son.

How marvelous is the Word of God, and how sublime the God-breathed divine services which are a beautiful tapestry, woven throughout with the Word of God. Even a small Prokeimenon, during a weekday service can teach us the whole evangelical gospel and the purpose of life!

O Lord, help us to love righteousness, so that we may behold Thy countenance!

The First Week of Great Lent – Clean Monday. An Anthem for Great Lent and all of Life.

Monday, February 15th, 2010


Wash yourselves, and ye shall be clean; put away the wicked ways from your souls before mine eyes; cease to do evil; 17.learn to do well; diligently seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, consider the fatherless, and plead for the widow. 18.Come then, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: and though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow; and though they red like crimson, I will make them white as wool. 19.If then ye be willing, and obedient unto Me, ye shall eat the good of the land; 20.but if ye desire not, nor will obey me, the sword shall devour you, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.(Is 1:1-20, First Monday of Great Lent, the Sixth Hour)


Everyone needs to frequently wash. The accumulated grime of the day is unsightly, unpleasant and unhealthy. If we wash carefully, and ignore no dirty place, then we will be invigorated, and healthy, but if we ignore some place for a long time, that place will fester and cause us to be ill.


Great Lent is especially a time for careful washing. In us there may be wicked ways: thoughts, feelings, priorities and habits that are not immediately apparent, and are all displeasing to God.


This time is a time to consciously attempt to put away wicked ways from ourselves just as we put away from ourselves certain foods.  How to do this? By listening and seeking, with diligence and proper priorities. This will lead to actions accomplished with a merciful heart, that is:


“learn to do well; diligently seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, consider the fatherless, and plead for the widow”.


Why should we make all this effort? Because some stains are so dark and embedded that we cannot of our own effort wash them out, and their ugliness and stench will always be with us, but if the Lord sees our resolve and or effort, He will wash us so that the scarlet and crimson of our sins, and even of our sinful nature and predilections will be annihilated and forgotten, and will not return to infect us again.


18 “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”


And those who struggle, with an honest and good heart, will inherit the good of the land, and know the Lord.



SIXTH HOUR – Clean Monday Isaiah 1:1-20  1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. 4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. 5 Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. 6 From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. 7 Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. 8 And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. 9 Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah. 10 Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. 11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. 12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? 13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. 14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. 15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; 17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. 18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. 19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: 20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.


Priest Seraphim Holland    St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

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Now it is high time to awake out of sleep. Forgiveness Sunday Audio Homily 2010.

Sunday, February 14th, 2010


Romans 13:11-14:4 11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. 13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. 14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. 1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. 2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. 3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. 4 Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

Matthew 6:14-21 14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. 19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

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Lenten Lectionary – all texts – prokeimena, troparia and scripture for the entire fast.

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

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The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete. Explanation, themes, texts, biography

Saturday, February 13th, 2010


Explanation of the Canon liturgical format

Short Explanation of the Great Canon

Themes of the Great Canon.

Full Text of the Great Canon as chanted on 5 days of Great Lent

Biography of St Andrew


The Great Canon of St Andrew, Bishop of Crete, is the longest canon in all of our services, and is associated with Great Lent, since the only times it is appointed to be read in church are the first four nights of Great Lent (Clean Monday through Clean Thursday, at Great Compline, when it is serialized) and at Matins for Thursday of the fifth week of Great Lent, when it is read in its entirety (in this latter service, the entire life of St Mary of Egypt is also read).


There is no other sacred hymn which compares with this monumental work, which St Andrew wrote for his personal meditations.  Nothing else has its extensive typology and mystical explanations of the scripture, from both the Old and New Testaments.  One can almost consider this hymn to be a “survey of the Old and New Testament”. Its other distinguishing features are a spirit of mournful humility, hope in God, and complex and beautiful Trinitarian Doxologies and hymns to the Theotokos in each Ode.


The canon is a dialog between St. Andrew and his soul. The ongoing theme is an urgent exhortation to change one’s life. St Andrew always  mentions his own sinfulness placed in juxtaposition to God’s mercy, and uses literally hundreds of references to good and bad examples from the OT and NT to “convince himself” to repent.


A canon is an ancient liturgical hymn, with a very strict format. It consists of a variable number of parts, each called an “ode”. Most common canons have eight Odes, numbered from one to nine, with Ode 2 being omitted. The most penitential canons have all nine odes. Some canons have only three Odes, such as many of the canons in the “Triodion” (which means “Three Odes”).


In any case, all Odes have the same basic format.  An “Irmos” begins each Ode. This is generally sung, and each Irmos has a reference to one of the nine biblical canticles, which are selections from the Old and New Testament, which can be found in an appendix in any complete liturgical Psalter (book of Psalms, arranged for reading in the services). A variable number of “troparia” follow, which are short hymns about the subject of the canon. These are usually chanted, and not sung. After each troparion a “refrain” is chanted. At the end of each Ode, another hymn, called the “Katavasia”, either  the Irmos previously sung, or one like it is sung.


The troparia of the Great Canon in all its twelve Odes are usually chanted by the priest in the center of the church, with the choir singing the Irmos and Katavasia. There are varying traditions about bows and prostrations. Some prostrate and some make the sign of the cross and bow three times after the Irmos and each troparion.

General Themes of the Great Canon.


How we should think about ourselves


Where shall I begin to lament the deeds of my wretched life? What first-fruit shall I offer, O Christ, for my present lamentation? But in Thy compassion grant me release from my fallsMon:1.1


Desire to change – dialogue with the soul


Come, wretched soul, with your flesh, confess to the Creator of all. In the future refrain from you former brutishness, and offer to God tears of repentanceMon:1.2


Recognizing Reality


The end is drawing near, my soul, is drawing near! But you neither care nor prepare. The time is growing short. Rise! The Judge is at the very doors. Like a dream, like a flower, the time of this life passes. Why do we bustle about in vain? Mon:4.2


How to pray – Laments and supplications to God


Thou art the Good Shepherd; seek me, Thy lamb, and neglect no me who have gone astray Mon:3.5


OT and NT examples of righteousness and unrighteousness, for the purpose of emulation or avoidance.


Do not be a pillar of salt, my soul, by turning back; but let the example of the Sodomites frighten you, and take refuge up in Zoar.(Genesis 19:26) Thu Ode 3:5


I have reviewed all the people of the Old Testament as examples for you, my soul. Imitate the God-loving deeds of the righteous and shun the sins of the wicked.Tue Ode 8




The Great Canon was written by a holy man to teach himself the right way to live. We cannot benefit from it unless we make it a priority to stand in prayer, in the church, and listen to it, with a great desire and expectation for God’s grace to teach us and heal us. Our theology is first and foremost – experienced and prayed, and not only “studied”.



The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete

All these texts are available at

As chanted on Monday of the first Week

As chanted on Tuesday of the first Week

As chanted on Wednesday of the first Week

As chanted on Thursday of the first Week

As chanted on Thursday of the Fifth Week

St Andrew, Archbishop of Crete.

Commemorated July 4

From the Prologue


Born in Damascus of Christian parents, he was dumb until the age of seven. When his parents took him to church for Communion, the power of speech was given to him. Such is the divine power of Communion.


He went to Jerusalem at the age of fourteen and was tonsured in the monastery of St Sava the Sanctified. In his understanding and ascesis, he surpassed many of the older monks and was an example to all. The Patriarch took him as his secretary.


When the Monothelite heresy, which taught that the Lord had no human will but only a divine one, began to rage, the Sixth Ecumenical Council met in Constantinople in 681, in the reign of Constantine IV. Theodore, Patriarch of Jerusalem, was not able to be present at the Council, and sent Andrew, then a deacon, as his representative. At the Council, Andrew showed his great gifts: his articulateness, his zeal for the Faith and his rare prudence. Being instrumental in confirming the Orthodox faith, Andrew returned to his work in Jerusalem.


He was later chosen and enthroned as archbishop of the island of Crete. As archbishop, he was greatly beloved by the people. He was filled with zeal for Orthodoxy and strongly withstood all heresy. He worked miracles through his prayers, driving the Saracens from the island of Crete by means of them. He wrote many learned books, poems and canons, of which the best-known is the Great Canon of Repentance which is read in full on the Thursday of the Fifth Week of the Great Fast.


Such was his outward appearance that, ‘looking at his face and listening to the words that flowed like honey from his lips, each man was touched and renewed’. Returning from Constantinople on one occasion, he foretold his death before reaching Crete. And so it happened. As the ship approached the island of Mitylene, this light of the Church finished his earthly course and his soul went to the Kingdom of Christ, in about the year 740.

From The Prologue from Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich  ©1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK

Priest Seraphim Holland    St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


New material throughout the year is posted on our BLOG: http://www/

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Snow in Texas. Hope in the soul.

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Saturday before the Sunday of Forgiveness, Jan 31/Feb 13 2020

It has snowed about 12 inches in Dallas Texas! I went to a nearby heavily wooded park with my dog and walked through gigantic fields, expanses of shining whiteness.


Snow makes me think of purity. It makes me hopeful. It just feels good to walk in the midst of it.


As is usually the case when I am somewhere in an introspective mood, I begin to think in metaphors and feel this welling up in my soul, a desire for change.


Just as snow can cover everything and make it look clean and beautiful, so can my repentance make me clean and beautiful.


There is something deeply spiritual about walking through the woods and fields and thinking that I was made to be beautiful, pure, like the snow.


When I started to cross the first virgin field of snow, I feel an intense excitement, an expectation.


I guess I am wired a little different than others – it made me immediately think of the beginning of Divine liturgy, or when I start to say the Jesus prayer for my family and flock, or when vigil begins, or when Great :Lent is about to begin. These are also times of new beginnings, exciting times. It is during these times that hope springs up within me – I can pray and become holy! I can intercede for those I love, some of whom I am consumed with worry for (and worry always has a hint of hopelessness to it, and wherever hopelessness is, God is not – it is a dark and cold place). I can pay attention to every prayer, and my breath can be joined to the breath of the Holy Spirit, and I can get better.


I live for those moments, because I really want to get better. I really want my loved ones (as a father and pastor I have many) to get better. I battle thoughts every day that my day to day behaviors show I am not getting better or at least am getting better hardly at all, but when I begin to pray, there is always a certainty before me that I am changing and those whom I love will change.


It does not last long, just as snow in Texas become a muddy mess sometimes even on the day it falls, and just as my mind is distracted and sometimes even intensely saddened and tempted during prayer – but I remember these moments. They are like snow, which covers everything, and even after if melts, I remember how beautiful it was.


God promised it, and I believe it: someday that snow which sometimes covers my heart and makes me pure will not melt, and all will be serene, and peaceful and white.  I beg of the Lord that all in my flock will believe this, and order their lives according to this dogma.


Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isa 1:18)


For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:  (11)  So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.  (12)  For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.  (13)  Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. (Isa 55:10-13)




Priest Seraphim Holland 2010.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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10 Questions about Lenten Services – Volume 1

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Also at:




What service begins Great Lent, when is it served, and what distinctive rite is observed which is done only once a year?


Forgiveness vespers

, which marks the beginning of Great Lent, is served in the evening (in some parish usage, the early afternoon, a short time after Divine liturgy) of Forgiveness Sunday, which is also called

Cheesefare Sunday

, being the last day that Orthodox eat cheese, any other milk product, and eggs and fish.

The previous Sunday (The Sunday of the Last Judgment, or Meatfare Sunday) was the last in which meat was eaten. At the end of the forgiveness vespers is the "rite of forgiveness". The pastor preaches a short homily about forgiveness, asks forgiveness of everyone with a prostration, and everyone in turn approaches the pastor and they exchange mutual forgiveness. A receiving line is formed, so that all the faithful exchange forgiveness with each other, individually. In this way, we begin Lent having no bitterness towards anyone (if we do in our heart what we perform externally in the ceremony).



What distinctive penitential prayer is said in almost every service during the Lenten season? Give the full text. You should know it by heart!



prayer of St. Ephrem

is said in most services of Great Lent, and pious Orthodox include it in their morning and evening prayers. It has three parts as follows:

O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, idle talking give me not.
But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow up me Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of amen..



Give the two ways in which this prayer is said in the services.


Usually, the prayer of St. Ephrem is said with 4 prostrations and 12 bows as follows:

O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, idle talking give me not. Full Prostration

But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow up me Thy servant. Full Prostration


Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of amen.. Full Prostration

Then twelve "reverences" (bows from the waist with the sign of the Cross). With each one say: God, cleanse me a sinner..

Then say the entire prayer all at once, and make a full prostration.

There are some times that the prayer is said once, with a prostration after each sentence.



Name ALL the services it is said, and ALL the services it is not said (paying particular attention to what day it is).


The prayer of St. Ephrem is said in almost every weekday (Monday – Friday) Lenten service.

For The weekday Services:
Twice, with 4 prostrations and 12 bows.
Vespers: (Monday – Thursday night)
Great Compline (if appointed)
Midnight Office: (Mon – Fri morning)
Matins (Mon – Fri morning)
The Hours (1st, 3rd, 6th, 9th)
The Typica

Once, with 3 prostrations.
Vespers: (Sunday night)
The Presanctified Liturgy (There are two times the prayer is said this way).

The prayer is not said in Small Compline.

It is also not said in the Hours following the Great Canon service (matins on the 5th Thursday of Great Lent), because of the length of this service.

On weekends, it is not said on Saturday at all, or on Sunday, until after the entrance at vespers (which marks the "beginning" of the new day, Monday).



Name the last time this prayer is said during before Pascha.


After the presanctified liturgy on Holy Wednesday, the prayer is said after the dismissal. It is not said again in church.



Name the times outside of Great that the prayer is also appointed.


The prayer is said the first three days of Holy Week, at vespers and matins.

It is also said Thursday Vespers and Friday Matins and Vespers, of Cheesefare Week

There are typicons which appoint the prayer on the first day of the Apostles Fast, and of the Nativity Fast, if they fall on a weekday.



What distinctive, long penitential hymn is chanted 5 times in Great Lent. Name the days, and the services it is chanted in. What else is read in the last service?


The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is chanted in four parts on the first four evenings of Great Lent, as part of the Great Compline service (Clean Monday – Thursday), and the entire long and compuncionate hymn is chanted as part of matins on the Sixth Thursday of Great Lent (the Thursday before the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt). In this latter service, which is usually served on Wednesday evening, the entire life of St. Mary of Egypt, by St. Sophronius, is read in two parts.



There is a service which is sung 5 times in the Lenten period, as well as several other times throughout the year . Name this service, and mention the other days outside of Great Lent that it is chanted (hint: there are usually 4 other times). There are two ways in which this service is served. Name them.


The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is served on all the Sundays of Great Lent. It is also served on, St. Basil’s day (January 1st),. These services appear to be just like the usual liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, except that the Megalynarion hymn to the Theotokos is different, and the priest’s private prayers are longer.

It is also served on Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday and is usually served on the prefestivals of Nativity and Theophany. These services are "Vespral Divine Liturgies", where the service begins as a vespers, and switches to St. Basil’s liturgy after the Old Testament readings. These are the ONLY times when a vespral divine liturgy is appointed, except when the Vespral Divine liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is served for the Feast of the Annunciation when it falls on a weekday in Great Lent. On all other feasts of the Lord and the Theotokos, the vigil service is served the eve of the feast and the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is served in the morning.

In all, St. Basil’s liturgy is usually celebrated 10 times in the church year.



Divine liturgy is not served every day during Great Lent. What service is chanted so that the faithful can partake of the holy mysteries? Who is the author?


The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts was written by St. Gregory the Dialogist, Pope of Rome. This service is very similar to vespers.



When is the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom celebrated during the Lenten period?


On Saturday and Sunday the Lenten fast is relaxed a bit, and the services are more festive, on account of the celebration of the resurrection. The services are celebrated very similar to times outside of Great Lent. The liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is celebrated on every Saturday morning (but not on Sunday, which is reserved for St. Basil’s liturgy). It is also usually celebrated on the Annunciation, and is always celebrated on Great feasts of the Lord, such as Palm Sunday.

O Lord and Master of my life. The Prayer of St Ephrem explained

Friday, February 12th, 2010

The “Prayer of St Ephrem” is ubiquitous during Great Lent, and is used in all weekday services, and in prayers at home.


This prayer is much like the “Our Father”, in the following way. When the disciples asked the Lord to teach them to pray, He told them to “pray in this way”, and then recited the “Our Father”, thus giving us a model for how to pray and a prayer which perfectly fulfilled these principles. So should we treat the prayer of St Ephrem. Its content is truly sublime, and teaches us the right way to approach God in prayer, how to think of ourselves, and what to ask for. It also is a perfect prayer fulfilling these principles.


Everyone should say this prayer daily during the week in Great Lent. Because of the  physical way in which we say this prayer (it is done with bows and prostrations), it has the remarkable ability to put the soul in the right frame of mind.  One might even go so far to say that if the Prayer of St Ephrem has been prayed with attention at least once during the day,  and nothing else has been done, the Christian has prayed well.


The reality of our scattered, busy, distracted and often lazy lives is that we do not pray often enough, or with enough attention, or in the proper frame of mind. If a person is consistent in praying the prayer of St Ephrem, no matter how well he does in other prayer and spiritual reading, he has a “life line” and is grounded in the most important aspects of the way a Christian should conduct himself during Lent.


Of course, to just pray the prayer of St Ephrem is NOT enough for a Christian, but a pastor must prescribe “baby steps for baby feet” We all are in some measure “babies”, and all of us should pray this prayer, attentively, and carefully, without fail. The person who takes this advice to “come and see” will soon find the fruit of this practice.


The prayer of St Ephrem is found in any complete Orthodox prayer book. For instance, the “Jordanville prayer book” has this prayer in its Triodion section (page 166 in the latest printing). Our website has it in English and Slavonic with 4 sections per page so it can be printed, cut in quarters and inserted in a prayer book, in RTF and PDF formats.  It is part of  a dedicated page containing information about our Theology, Homilies, Services, and other Resources about Great Lent.


Other resources for this prayer include a catechetical talk about the prayer of St Ephrem.


Like anything worth doing, the prayer of St Ephrem takes some practice before we can receive the full benefit. There are bows AND prostrations during the prayer, and a certain number of repetitions. To someone who is accustomed to this prayer, the physical actions and specific repetitions free the mind and penetrate the soul. This can only be understood if it is done, else, a person will consider the prayer to be too complicated, or worse, an example of “vain repetition”, which the scripture forbids.


He who has ears to hear, and mouth to speak, arms to make the sign of the cross, and knees to bend, let him understand!


The prayer of St Ephrem is said two different ways in church. The best way to say it at home is the “longer” way, twice a day, in morning and evening prayers. If a person is not organized or motivated enough to say formal morning of evening prayers, at least this prayer can be said. As my father used to say, Once or twice, but never “nunce”!


This is the “long way”.



The prayer is said two times, one time in parts, and the last time in full. After each part, or the entire prayer, a prostration is made. In between the two “O God cleanse me a sinner” is said twelve times, with a bow each time. This is easy to remember after doing it a few times.  Two prayers, four prostrations, twelve bows (and 100 calories burned).


“O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, and idle talking give me not.“


Prostration [i].


“But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow upon me Thy servant.“




“Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.“




Then, twelve repetitions of:


“O God, cleanse me a sinner.”  



And then repeat the entire prayer all at once:


“O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, and idle talking give me not. But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow upon me Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.”





A Prostration is a full bow to the ground with the knees touching the ground, and the head touching or near the ground, then immediately standing back up. As the bow to the ground is begun, the sign of the cross is made. Some people touch their knees to the ground first and then bend their upper body down, and the more athletic or coordinated essentially “fall” forward to the ground  with their knees and hands touching at essentially the same time. This is very similar to the familiar gym class “burpee”.


A Bow, also known as a “reverence” or “Poklon” is when the sign of the cross is made, while simultaneously bowing the head by bending at the waist. Some bow deeply and touch the ground with their right hand, and other make very shallow bows. It really does not matter as long as the movement is done with attention.


Something NOT TO DO: No “waving at the air”. Some do prostrations and bows quickly or carelessly, and the sign of the cross they make looks like they are shooing away a fly. “Let all things be done in good order”.



The author has many fond memories of saying this prayer way back when, when a layman, especially in church, or with his children. The church would be dark, and lit only by candles, the priest standing in front of the royal doors. It would be very quiet, and only his voice and “swishing” sounds from the prostrations or bows would be heard. Everybody would be doing the same thing at once; this was always a profoundly holy moment and I remember thinking sometimes that I wish I would always be in this state of mind.  There was a feeling that something profoundly good and important was happening. A mixture of sorrow for my personal condition and great hope in God that I really would get better sometime, would flood my soul. Many times I would even feel warmth. With the sublime, was always mixed “real life” – sounds of grunts, heavy breathing, the sights of children making very creative prostrations.  When I had to say the Trisagion prayers immediately after, I would sometimes struggle to say them without betraying that I was out of breath!


Parents: say this prayer with your children! I know, it is sometimes a “circus”, but where are they going to learn piety is not from you. Prayer is not always neat and pretty with children, but you will be glad you went to the trouble.


Here is the most important “take home” point: SAY THIS PRAYER EVERY WEEKDAY IN GREAT LENT!