Monday, March 24, 2008

A Spiritual Psalter from the works of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian


My heart is pained, my soul agonizes and my inner parts are torn! Where am I to find the tears, where am I to find the contrition and the signs to rightly mourn our orphaned state and the paucity of sanctity among us?

I see, O master, that Thou takest Thy saints, like choice gold, from the vain world to the resting-place of life.

Life a farmer who sees his fruits well ripened and prudently hastens to gather them that they might not be the least bit spoiled, so dost Thou also, O Savior, gather Thy chosen ones who have labored righteously.

Yet we, who are slothful and weak-willed, remain hardened, and our fruits never ripen; for we have not the resolve to labor without sparing ourselves, in order to ripen in good works and rightly be gathered into the storehouse of life.

Say: woe is me, alas, O soul, and weep; for thou hast been left and orphan so young by the blameless fathers and righteous ascetics. Where are our fathers? Where are the saints? Where are the vigilant? Where are the sober? Where are the humble? Where are the meek? Where are those who vow silence? Where are the abstinent? Where are those who with a contrite heart stood before the Lord in perfect prayer, like angels of God? They have left here to join our holy God with their lamps brightly burning.

Woe is us! What times are these in which we live? Into what sea of evil have we sailed? Our fathers have entered the harbor of life, that they might not see the sorrows and seductions that overcome us because of our sins. They are crowned, yet we slumber; we sleep and indulge in selfish pleasures.

O Lord, have pity on us! Make sober our thoughts which whirl about in vain. Grant us contrition and tears, that they might shed some light on the blindness of our hears, and we might see that way in which our fathers walked when they followed Thee. Grant us the desire and strength to follow in this same way, so that we too with them might receive the lot of those who are saved, to the glory of Thy name.


Love prompts me to speak to God, but my unworthiness forces me to be silent. Tortuous spiritual afflictions compel me to talk, but sins force me to keep quiet. My soul languishes and my eyes long for tears.

You have sinned, O soul; repent. For our days pass by like a shadow. We will travel through terrible and frightening places. Do not put off turning to the Lord day after day. Become at last contrite, O my soul.

Become contrite at the thought of all the good things that you have received from the Lord, but not kept. Become contrite at the thought of what you have done, and how patient God has been with you. Become contrite, that at Christ's terrible judgement you might not be sent to outer darkness.

Woe is me, a sinner! For because of my weakness I have become defiled, and ever do I defile the purity of my heart. Apathy and slothfulness have shamed the boldness of my heart. Evil desire commands me, like a master commands his slave, and I, like a child, immediately obey with fear. It leads me into sin and this gladdens me.

Woe is me, O Lord! Thy grace draws me toward life, but I instead prefer death. Thou takest pains that I might become as honorable as the angels; but I, in my depravity, debase myself. My sins have multiplied, O Lord, and ceaselessly do they multiply and there is no limit to their multitude.

And who will mourn for me or pray for me? Do Thou, O my Savior, Thyself condescend to have mercy on me through Thy grace and regard me who despair with compassion! For how will I pray to Thee, O master, when my mouth is filled with vile words? Or how will I sing praises to Thee, when my conscience is defiled? Or how will I love Thee, when I am filled with passions? Or how will truth dwell in me, when I have cursed myself with lies? Or how will I call upon Thee, when I have not kept Thy commandments?


After having gained knowledge of the truth, I have become a brawler and an offender. I argue over trifles; I have become envious of and callous toward my neighbor, merciless toward beggars, wrathful, argumentative, obstinate, slothful, irritable. I harbor vile thoughts, I love fancy clothing. And to this day I have many corrupt thoughts and fits of selfishness, gluttony, sensuality, vainglory, arrogance, lust, gossiping, breaking of fasts, despondency, rivalry, and indignation.

I am worthless, but think much of myself. I lie constantly, but get angry with liars. I defile the temple of my body with wanton thoughts, but sternly judge the wanton. I condemn those who fall, but myself fall constantly. I condemn slanderers and thieves, but am myself bot a thief and a slanderer. I walk with a bright countenance, although I am altogether impure.

In churches and at banquets I always want to take the place of honor. I see hermits and act dignified; I see monks and I become pompous. I strive to appear pleasing to women, dignified to strangers, intelligent and reasonable to my neighbors, superior to intellectuals. With the righteous I act as if I possess vast wisdom; the unintelligent I disdain as illiterates.

If I am offended, I take revenge. If I am honored, I shun those who honor me. If someone demands of me what is rightfully his, I start a suit. And those who tell me the truth I consider enemies. When my error is exposed, i get angry, but I am not so dissatisfied when people flatter me.

I do not want to honor those who are worthy but I myself, who am unworthy, demand honor. I do not want to tire myself with work, but if someone fails to serve me i get angry with him. I do not want to walk among laborers, but if someone fails to help me in my work I slander him.

I arrogantly deny my brother when he is in need, but when I have need of something I turn to him. I hate those who are ill, but when I myself am ill I wish that everyone would love me. I do not want to know those who are their than I, and I scorn those who are lower.

If I abstain from indulging my foolish desires, I praise myself vaingloriously. If I succeed in vigilance, I fall into the snares of conceit and contradiction. If I refrain from eating, I drown in pride and arrogance. If i am wakeful in prayer, I am vanquished by irritability and wrath. If I see virtue in someone, I studiously ignore him.

I have scorned worldly pleasures, but do not abandon my vain desire for them. If I see a woman, I go into raptures. To all appearances I am wise in humility, but in my soul I am haughty. I seem not to be acquisitive, but in reality I suffer from a mania for possessions. And what good is it to dwell on such things? I appear to have forsaken the world, but in fact I still think about worldly things all the time.

During services I always occupy myself with conversations, wandering thoughts, and vain recollections. During meals I indulge in idle chatter. I yearn for gifts. I participate in the sinful falls of others and engage in ruinous rivalry.

Such is my life! With what vileness do I obstruct my own salvation! And my arrogance, my vainglory does not permit me to think about my sores that I might cure myself. Behold my feats! See how vast are the regiments of sins which the enemy sends to campaign against me! Yet in the face of all this, I who am wretched endeavor to boat of sanctity. I live in sin, but want others to honor me as a righteous man.

In all this I have but one thing to say in my defense: the devil has ensnared me. But this did not suffice to absolve Adam of his sin. Cain was of course also prompted by the devil, but he did not escape condemnation either. what shall I do if the Lord comes to me? I have no means to justify my negligence.

I fear that I shall be numbered among those whom Paul called vessels of wrath, who will share the devil's fate and whom God, because of their contempt for Him, has committed to the passions of degradation. Thus there is the danger that I will be sentenced to the same fate.

If Thou wouldst save me, who am unworthy, O Merciful Lord, vouchsafe me, a sinner, repentance; enliven my soul deadened by sins, O Giver of Life. Drive out the stony hardness that is in my miserable heart and grant me a fountain of contrition, O Thou Who didst pour forth life unto us from Thy life-creating rib.


The evil devil, after he was decisively vanquished by the holy saints and ascetics restrained by God's grace, sat down and railed against himself, weeping and saying: woe is me who am miserable! To what have I been subjected? How did it happen that I lost the struggle and ceded victory over myself? But is is I who have become the author of my own shame, for I started this lengthy battle with them.

After being defeated at the first two battles I should have retreated immediately, seeing that Christ is with them. But since I pursued victory over them, I only increased their reward, to my own disgrace.

I should have realized my error before, when I suffered at Christ's hands, when He overthrew all my power. For I did all I could to ensure His crucifixion, but it was His very death that conquered me.

I have suffered the very same at the hands of the martyrs. I have raised up kings and prepared torments that the martyrs might see these things and become terrified and renounce Christ. Not only have they not been terrified by various forms of torture, but they have confessed Christ right up until their death.

And now again, when I wanted to defeat these struggles in warfare, I had to retreat defeated and with great shame. I boasted of my clever schemes, but they are all torn to shreds like a spider's web. I wanted to overpower them with various passions, but they have made me turn back and flee by the power of the Cross. And now at last I do not know what to do.

I will leave these courageous strugglers and go to my friends who have chosen a carefree life. Among them I will not have to labor, nor will I need to use any deception.

I can take up bonds and tie them up. And after I tie them with the bonds of which they are so fond, I will have them under m y control like slaves who always do my bidding voluntarily.

Thus shall they fling themselves into the abyss, and I will rejoice at their ruin and keep them there, that I might have company in the inextinguishable fire.

In a like manner do we, who are foolish, give authority over ourselves to the enemy by cutting ourselves off God through our rejection of His commandments. Having found us thus stripped of grace, he freely takes possession of us, and unopposed he leads us along his path--the path of ruin.

O Lord! Grant that we might escape from the evil one, having torn to shreds the bonds with which he has tied us up according to our own choosing. Lay upon us Thy good and easy yoke and send us the strength to carry it, that, traveling along the good path of Thy commandments, we might reach the city which Thou prepared for them that love Thee.


Mimi said...

Wow. This selection really had a lot of truths for me, particuarly this part:

I love fancy clothing. And to this day I have many corrupt thoughts and fits of selfishness, gluttony, sensuality, vainglory, arrogance, lust, gossiping, breaking of fasts, despondency, rivalry, and indignation

Thank you so, so much. Sigh.

John said...

Same here. In fact, nearly every one of these selections hits me dead-on.

Thanks for the encouragement. God willing, I will keep posting about 4 a day until I copy all 150.