Archive for the ‘prayers of the church’ Category

Meditations of the Paschal Canon, Ode 3

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Continuing the mediation on the Paschal Canon which I began in this post.

Ode 3

The third biblical ode is the Song of Hannah, the mother of the Prophet Samuel, after God granted her a child (1 Samuel. The primary theme is the idea that all good comes from God and that man should not be arrogant because "The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up." The relevance of this to the good news of Pascha is clear: Christ's victory over death is the ultimate gift to man, given freely to all.

Come, let us drink a new drink: not one miraculously brought forth from a barren rock, but the fountain of incorruption springing forth from the tomb of Christ, in Whom we are strengthened.

The first part of this hymn refers to the water that God brought forth from a rock to quench the thirst of the people of Israel in the wilderness (Ex 17:5-6). They had passed over the Red Sea and escaped the bondage to Pharaoh (if you will recall, this event is a type, prefiguring our baptism). Now they require nourishment in the desert, and God provides this through Moses' hand. This also is a type, prefiguring to the "new drink" that God gives us through the hands of His Priests: the Holy Mystery of Communion, the "blood and water" (John 19:34) which flowed forth from the side of our Lord on the Cross

Now all things are filled with light: heaven and earth and the nethermost parts of the earth. Let all creation therefore celebrate the arising of Christ, in Whom it is strengthened.

"To write the same things to you, to me indeed [is] not grievous, but for you [it is] safe" (Phil 3:1). So much of our services consist of repetition, because this is needful for us. Bursting with joy (or teaching ourselves to understand this joy), we say "Christ is Risen!" more times than we can count — but not as often as we say "Lord, have mercy!" throughout the year.

It should therefore be no surprise that this second hymn of Ode 3 reminds us of the the third hymn of Ode 1: "…let the whole world, both visible and invisible, keep festival…." Moreover, this text makes the reason for this rejoicing even more explicit: "all things are filled with light." Christ's resurrection renews the whole of Creation!

Yesterday I was buried with Thee, O Christ; today I rise with Thine arising. Yesterday I was crucified with Thee; do Thou Thyself glorify me with Thee, O Savior, in Thy Kingdom!

This also hearkens back to a theme from Ode 1: our personal assimilation of the fruits of the Resurrection through baptism. Not only did Christ die and rise again, but each one of us is buried with Him and rises with Him in the waters of Baptism — and we pray that we will continue to abide with Him in His eternal kingdom!

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

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


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NB: Prayer for the Dead. Why do we do it?

Thursday, February 11th, 2010


A short explanation of “Saturday of the Dead”


Around the time of Great Lent, we have some Saturdays which are set aside for the commemoration of the dead. We call these days “Saturday of the dead”, or “All Souls Saturday”, and we just celebrated the first one appointed during this time of year, on the Saturday before the Sunday of the Last Judgment (the penultimate Sunday before Great Lent begins).


The full list of “Saturdays of the dead” for the year is::

·  The second Saturday before Great Lent (before the Sunday of the Last Judgment)

·  The third Saturday of Great Lent

·  The fourth Saturday of Great Lent

·  The Saturday before Pentecost

·  Demetrius Saturday (Saturday before Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki – 26 October)


The proper way to celebrate these days is to serve Vespers the evening before and on Saturday morning, celebrate “requiem matins”, which is a special form of matins in which the dead are commemorated by name two times (if memory serves) and all of Psalm 118 is chanted in two parts. Some people call this a long “panakhida” (parastas in Greek) which is the typical prayer service for the dead which Orthodox Christians are familiar with.


Of course, following matins, the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, and the dead are again all commemorated by name. It is important that an Orthodox Christian submit the names of Orthodox loved ones who have reposed. We have the custom of accepting names by email or other means, and are not prejudiced against the dead because their loved ones are not at the service to pray for them as well, but it is much better to pray in person for one’s loved ones. The priest prays for the people and with the people, but (as much as possible), not instead of the people!


It is a shame that the requiem matins is almost unknown among modern Orthodox. Just check the online calendars for most churches. This service is almost never mentioned. With God helping us, we have preserved this tradition. Like Philip, I must say “Come and see” to those who do not know of this service. It is good to make an effort to pray for the dead, and to hear compunctionate hymns, and think of our own death. Somehow a quickie “Trisagion Service” just does not cut it on these days.


Why do we pray for the dead?  


Many people who call themselves Christians are offended when they hear that we pray for the dead. This begs the question: Why do we pray for the dead?


The answer is really easy. We pray for the dead for three reasons that I can think of off the top of my head.


Most importantly, we believe in the resurrection. God is the God of the Living, and not of the dead, our Lord told us, and we believe this truth. If this is true, then the dead have not ceased to exist, because “all are alive to God.” Praying for the dead, as much as asking the dead (those whom we believe to be righteous) to intercede for us shows that we really do believe in the resurrection.


We also know that “all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, and there is “not one man who liveth and sinneth not”, and we (at least as a church, if not individually) are profoundly humble. How can we know the judgments of God? They are a vast abyss. We do not presume to declare that one is blessed and another is damned. God knows, and only rarely reveals to us this with certainty.


We also pray because we love. Love remembers. We continue to remember our loved ones even though they are no longer with us who have living flesh.


Why do we pray for the dead? Because, knowing the weakness of flesh and mans predilection to sin, we hope in the resurrection, leaving all judgment to God, and because we love, we remember.


Here is another reason: We pray because we love, and also prayer teaches us to love. It takes effort and time to pray for those from whom we hear no answer. Let’s face it – we rarely think of death, and mostly think of ourselves. By making an effort to pray, We not only remember our loved ones; God also remembers us and softens our hearts and teaches us to love. Remember an important principle in the Christian life: What we do affects who we are and vice-versa!  


The next Saturday for the dead that we will remember (we cannot do all of them yet) is March 6 (ns), the third Saturday of Lent. Will you remember your loved ones on that day?


More about the Commemoration of the Dead



“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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The Great Litany – The Litany of Peace. A Short Introduction.

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

The Great Litany

The Litany of Peace


A Deacon (Andrei Ryabushkin, 1888) andrei-ryabushkin-a-deacon-1888.jpg taken from

An Orthodox deacon extending his orarion at the end of a petition of a litany.

(A Deacon, Andrei Ryabushkin, 1888)


The Great Litany is said as the first litany of Divine Liturgy and Vespers, after the Six Psalms in Matins and at the beginning of the Betrothal and Baptismal services. In all these cases, the exclamation “For unto Thee is due all glory, honor, and worship…“ is said by the priest at the end of the litany.


It is also used in the Great Blessing of the Waters, with a long prayer intoned at the end in lieu of an exclamation. 


Any Great Litany may have special petitions appropriate to the occasion inserted at the usual place.


Any service for a special purpose (such at the Betrothal, Baptismal and Great Blessing of the Waters) has many special petitions.


Services of the “Daily Cycle” (Vespers, Matins and Divine Liturgy) may also have special petitions for the sick, or travelers, or some other concern inserted in the Great Litany, but this is usually not done, and these petitions are instead inserted in the Fervent Ectenia said later in each of these services. 


The Great Litanies of Divine Liturgy and the Great Blessing of the Waters also have a “private prayer” said by the priest (usually) before the ending exclamation.


The Great Litany is also known as the Litany of Peace, since it begins with three petitions concerning peace. This is theologically very significant, and we will discuss this at length later.


Without additional petitions, there are twelve petitions. The idea of 12 petitions is biblically rooted and is found in the pre Christian morning service of the synagogue. (see Taft, Mateos and



Litanies consist of petitions intoned by the deacon or priest, with the people answering with a short sung prayer, such as “Lord have mercy”, “Grant this O Lord”, and others. Traditionally we stand and face East, and make the sign of the cross at each petition.



Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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That we may be delivered from all tribulation, wrath, and necessity…

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

That we may be delivered from all tribulation, wrath, and necessity…

Thoughts on a petition in the Great Ectenia, the Litany of Peace

Oct 21/Nov 3 2009 22nd Tuesday after Pentecost. Monk Hilarion the Great.



That we may be delivered from all tribulation, wrath, and necessity, let us pray to the Lord. 

10th petition of the Great Ectenia.


A passion which we allow to grow active within us through our own choice afterwards forces itself upon us against our will[1]. Saint Kosmas Aitolos +1779



We pray this petition many times, since it is in the Great Ectenia or “Litany of Peace” (which is said at the beginning of Vespers, Matins and Divine Liturgy). More than any other petition, it sums up the totality of the Christian life, and describes the effect of the incarnation upon the human soul. We should tremble with joy, fear and great expectation every time we hear it.


This is a prayer that is hearkening to two times. One time is right now, our present life, and the other time is the next life.


Regarding the next life, we are asking to be delivered from tribulation and wrath – these things will occur in the dread judgment. We are not asking to be delivered from difficulties in this life, or to be relived from the troubles of daily life.


Asking to be delivered from necessity is completely about our current life.


Why did Christ become “a little lower than the angels” (become incarnate) for our sakes? The answer to this question is not to be found in theological books or preaching. It must be found within the soul which thirsts for light, and yet still is aware that it contains darkness.


The true Christian knows that the purpose of His life is to become all light, to be perfect, with no sin or darkness in him at all. The only way to know God, Who is all light, and all perfection, with no sin or darkness, is to emulate Him, and become perfect. We are commanded to do this very thing[2], and God does not give any command that is impossible (just difficult).


It is possible to be perfect, because of the incarnation. Our Lord taught us how to live by word and example, took great care that His teaching was understood and would be passed on, and then accomplished in His human flesh everything He requires of our flesh, and in so doing, changed our flesh so that it would be capable of becoming perfected.


Only the soul which understands this, and also looks within himself the darkness of the “law of sin”[3], working in his members, can cry out with compunction “deliver me from necessity”.


When something is necessary, it must be done. If you are a slave and your master tells you to do something that is arduous or difficult, you must do it, whether you want to or not,. or you will be punished. If we are slaves of sin, then there are things that we are going to do even though we don’t want to do them. That is necessity.


St Paul talks about it quite eloquently in Romans.


14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. 17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Rom 7:14-24)


If you are sold, your life is not your own. He is speaking of necessity! We desire to be good, and yet we are not always good. We desire to not be angry, and yet we get angry! We desire to say our prayers, and yet we end up not saying them. We desire to be pure in our thoughts, and yet there are lustful thoughts in our heart, or angry thoughts against someone who has wronged us, and remembrance of wrongs, despite our best efforts.


Necessity is active in us because our weak will. Christ came to strengthen our will. In this petition, we are begging the Lord to help us with our weakness. It is similar in spirit to the prayer of the man whose child had a demon:


"Lord I believe; help my Thou my  unbelief"[4]: we cry "Lord my will is to follow Thee, help Thou my weak will!"


Every Christian should feel this prayer acutely, painfully, fervently, with great longing in their heart. Is there anyone who does not feel  that there are things that they do not have the strength to accomplish? Is there anyone who realistically  believes that they will never get angry again, never remember wrongs, always be at peace? We want to, but we cannot, because of our weakness.


We pray to be delivered from necessity, our own carnality, our own sinfulness, which sometimes forces us to sin.


What is the solution?


1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.


2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.


3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Rom 8:1-4)


Delivery from necessity is to walk  in the way of Christ, with God helping us, and enabling us. Christ  has shown us this way, and we are to walk this way, and this is the only way to free ourselves from compulsion and to be able to be "free indeed"[5] as Christ promised us that we should be and would be.


11  Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. 12  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. `



This petition is discussed at length in a Catechetical Discussion about the Great Ectenia, Part Two ( The discussion begins at 19:10, and continues almost to the end. Some of this article is a modified transcription of this talk.



Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[2] Matthew 5:48  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

[3] Rom 7:23  But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

[4] Mar 9:23-24 KJV  Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.  (24)  And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

[5] John 8:36  If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.


Dormition hymns: The Furnace and the Theotokos. The Three Holy Children. The Angel of the Lord.

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009


The Three Holy Children.

The Angel of the Lord.

Dormition hymns: The Furnace and the Theotokos

The Best time to hear the hymns of the church.

Everything depends on our disposition.

Aug 13/26 2009 Two Days before Dormition.



The Three Holy Children, in the furnace, with the "Angel of the Lord", the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ.


The almighty Angel of God showed forth for the youths a flame which bedewed the venerable and utterly consumed the ungodly; and He made the Theotokos a life-creating well-spring pouring forth destruction for death and life for them that chant: O ye who have been delivered, let us hymn and exalt the one Creator for all ages! (Dormition matins, Canon, Irmos, Ode VIII)



I am amazed at how often the hymns at the end of vigil seem so much more profound and beautiful than those at the beginning. I do not think they are of substantially higher quality, although it could be argued that the “Canon” is the masterpiece of all Orthodox hymnology, but I do believe that WE are of higher quality! Standing (sitting, pacing, having an itch, having your mind wander, thinking about how your feet hurt, getting hungry, etc, etc) during the vigil prepares us for holy moments when something being chanted seems to permeate to the very depths of our soul.


We are not “quiet” at the beginning of vigil. Our souls are coarse, noisy. It takes some seasoning for us to be prepared to “sit at the feet” of our Lord, and contemplate the one thing needful. Towards the end of vigil, we have quieted down somewhat, and are prepared for something fantastic, although ineffable and invisible, and perhaps even barely discernable, to happen in our soul.


If you have not experienced this type of “Theophany” during the evening service, then come to vigil – all of it, as often as can. It will happen for you, but I warn you, if you are not accustomed to long vigils, you will have many attacks that make you want to leave. You cannot feel anything until you are made ready. This will take consistency, and TIME. Don’t expect the first or even the thirtieth vigil in a row that you attend to bring you great consolation, but it will come if you are patient.


Here before us we have a holy metaphor. The Theotokos, amidst her many other names (“jar of manna, “gate that remained shut“, “ever-virgin“, “rod that budded“, etc) is now likened to a furnace.


The furnace in which the three youths were cast contained flame, and then was visited by the divine flame, the “Angel of the Lord”, who is none other than Jesus Christ, in an appearance before His bodily incarnation (when you see “Angel of the Lord” in the OT, translate this to “Jesus Christ”).


The Theotokos is the furnace that also contained the Divine Flame, Jesus Christ, however in her case, He is fully incarnate, God and man. In both furnaces, the flame burns the ungodly and refreshes those who love God (which the hymn calls "venerable").


God is the same, to the righteous and unrighteous. The action of the fire in the furnace demonstrates this truth. The Chaldeans who were feeding the furnace we slain by the flames, but the three holy youths considered them to be a “moist dew”. It is the same with the Divine flame, Jesus Christ.  The ungodly are burned, and the righteous are refreshed.


The recent feast of the Transfiguration should teach us that becoming righteous is a process of long duration and great difficulty; we are not immediately ready to be in the presence of God after our baptism because we have not changed enough yet. The three apostles were terrified and confused in the presence of the uncreated Divine Light. They eventually were ready, but not until great trials, difficulties, falls and repentance. How can it be any different for us poor ones?




Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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O Lord and Master of my life… a few words about the Prayer of St Ephrem.

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009




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 only prayers in the morning, than once. If both times, then twice. 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.“








“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.






In another post, we will look at some of the profound theology in this prayer.




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











This document is available at It is also in DOC or PDF format.

The Lord’s Prayer / ??????? ????????

Friday, June 6th, 2008
The Lord’s Prayer
translated from the Russian at

“Hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come” (Lk. 11, 2)

Thy name, the name of my Heavenly Father, I will reverence and hallow above every name. If I defile or soil my own name, I can cleanse it in the name of my Father. Do not rejoice in your works, or in your service, or in your power over evil spirits; rather, rejoice “that your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:20). Christ alone can teach us how to pray. It is only through Him that we have peace with God and “access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:1-2).

Lord, your Name is Truth, Life, Righteousness, Purity, Wisdom, Compassion, Peace, Holiness, Humility, Meekness — It is everything great, radiant, and good. Let your name be hallowed in my soul, in my heart, in my mind, in my life, and on my lips. Let it be my holy relic, which sanctifies me and by which I sanctify myself! Let it not be blasphemed or defiled by anything, and let it not depart from me!

Thy kingdom come! In this vicious world, where we fight against sin, against the passions, against our very selves – in this world of evil and temptation, where there is so much noise, emptiness, unrighteousness, impurity, and suffering, where evil reigns – in this world we call to God, thirsting for the coming of His Kingdom. We pray that evil be subjugated, that God’s righteousness reign, that every tear be removed, that death be no more, that we ourselves may, like the repentant thief, approach His feet and that we may all be united in brotherly love at the Throne of His glory in His Kingdom. O Lord, hear our prayer, and may Thy Kingdom come in our soul, transforming, cleansing and renewing it completely.

Adoption to Sonship

Friday, June 6th, 2008
“Our Father, Who art in the heavens”
(Lk. 11:2)
by St. Theophan the Recluse

From the Russian book, “Day by Day.” Translated from the Russian text at

Our Father! How little we understand what this means! Christ gave us the Father; often during His earthly life He repeated the words: “your Heavenly Father,” and he proclaimed the news of this adoption with additional strength just before and after His death. He says to the Father, “You have loved them as you have loved me” (John 17:23). These words should cause us to be gripped with fear: is it really possible that the Father loves us with the same measure of love that he has for his Beloved, Only-Begotten Son? This is what Christ said! Knowing the Father, he asked for him that we be giving this adoption, as the reward for His suffering. Rising from the grave, He proclaimed: “I ascend to my Father, and to your Father” (John 20:17). The adoption which He accomplished was complete.

The Apostle John, fully understanding the great value, the joy, the abundant inheritance of this adoption, proclaims: “Behold, what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1)!

This adoption unites all of the faithful. “Our Father”… and in Him we are brothers and sisters of one another. This is relationship is higher, closer, and stronger than any other. We have unlimited access to the Father, and we should bring to Him all of our sorrows and cares. He is an inexhaustible fountain of all good things for those who trust in Him, and in Him all hearts are united, for “There is one God and Father of all, Who is above all, in through all, and in you all” (Eph 4:6).

Audio talk on: Vespers, An overview of the themes of Vespers, and the Jewish character of Orthodox worship.

Thursday, May 29th, 2008


In this catechetical talk, we give an overview of the themes of Vespers and the “Jewishness” of Orthodox worship.

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