St Ephraim the Syrian: No time for the devil

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, we remember the great Syrian saint, Saint Ephraim, today.

St Ephraim the Syrian, a 4th century saint, is venerated by all Christians. He is best known as a monastic who reached out to the world and the communities actively through his poetry, writings and teachings. He also chose to stay as a deacon throughout his vocation, serving others, humbling and devoting himself completely. One of the things said of this great saint was that he represented the Eastern theology of experiencing the Holy Scripture first hand, through spiritual discipline and unceasing prayer, relying on the mercy of God, rather than trying to analyze the Scripture to death. St Ephraim, father among the saints, pray for us.

When we pray the prayer of the heart, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”, as we affirm the nature of Christ our Lord and His salvation, we are also recognizing our fallen condition and asking for the mercy of God. All of us recognize our fallen state. As we strip ourselves of our pride and ego, we begin to see our sins more clearly, and in so doing, God’s light reveals to us much more brightly, as we remove the burden and weight of our sins as we confess to God. The question some of us might ask is, can we even have hope of reconciling back to God given the gravity of our sins?

From Romans 8:26-30, we know that the Holy Spirit holds us up when we are weak and fallen. We are also told that if we truly love God, we will strive to do good things, and all fruits of our labors will be for the good of others. And those of us who are called to labor in God’s name, God will lay out the path for His laborers to do His will.

To all those who belong to God, He will make even the coldest hearts to repent, and become warm to Him. St Ephraim is just one of the thousands of examples. Even though the saint’s parents raised him in piety, the young man was hot tempered and thoughtless, and even doubted God. However, eventually he became a holy deacon to serve the community, transformed by the Holy Spirit and his elders.

The great saint once said, “Blessed is he who prays with fervor, for the devil never approaches him.”

When we pray, we have no time for the devil, or his games and temptations. First, we must remember that God, in His holy nature, would never tempt anyone with evil. As we read from St James 1:12-16, we are tempted by our own desires, which in turn gives birth to sin. Do not be deceived by the devil’s ploys, as he would say such desires are justifiable, or that they are endowed as rewards, or that God intends that His children be in great comfort. Put every thought that arises through the microscope of the Gospel of Christ, and you would easily distinguish what is from God, and what is from the evil one.

In St Matthew 4:1-11, Christ also showed us a spiritual lesson. The devil tried to tempt Christ into submission, but Christ would not bend to those temptations even at the promise of earthly greatness. The Eastern Fathers have consistently and laboriously taught us, to quieten our passions or desires, and focus on an unceasing prayer unto God.

Think of it this way. After a hard day’s work, discounting the time you need to sleep, you end up with just one hour. Do you use that hour to eat to no end to tend to the lure of your stomach? Or do you use that hour to find news ways to make even more money to tend to the lure of your material desires? Or do you use that hour in a quiet corner, to spend time to reflect on the Holy Scripture, writings of the Holy Fathers, to pray?

St Ephraim’s feast day foretells of the Great Lent that is coming soon. The St Ephraim Prayer of Repentance is prayed often to bring us to renewal before the Lord during the Great Lent. Let us remember this prayer:

O Lord and Master of my life,
Grant not unto me a spirit of idleness,
of discouragement,
of lust for power,
and of vain speaking.

But bestow upon me, Thy servant,
the spirit of chastity,
of meekness,
of patience,
and of love.

Yea, O Lord and King,
grant that I may perceive
my own transgressions,
and judge not my brother,
for blessed art Thou
unto ages of ages.

When we have an hour, or even just a few minutes left in a day, and all the windows of time in between, let us pray: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.

Let us close by praying the thanksgiving prayer:

It is truly meet to call thee blest, the Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious than the Seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word: True Theotokos, we magnify thee.

O virgin Theotokos, rejoice; O Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fr Raphael+

Isaiah 33:15-16
Psalm 93:17-19 LXX
St Mark 12:38-44
1 Peter 4:12-5:5