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Pray the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem

A classic prayer in Orthodox churches that can help your observance reflect a true Lenten spirit.
Man outside praying the St. Ephrem for Lent
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
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The St. Ephrem prayer is a classic prayer most often used during Lent, a time of fasting and the spiritual practice of giving something up. What is the history of this prayer? Who wrote it? And why is it associated with the Lenten season? Could this simple prayer help us gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of Lent?

Who was St. Ephrem?

Drawing of St. Ephrem writing kneeling to say his prayer
Drawing of Saint Ephrem (1886)

Saint Ephrem (or Ephraim) the Syrian was born around the year A.D. 306 in Nisibis, a Syrian town located in modern-day Turkey.

In some reports, Ephrem’s father was a pagan priest, but there are indications that both of his parents were (at least later in Ephrem’s life) Christians. Ephrem was baptized as a young man by Bishop James of Nisibis.

He lived in a period when churches were suffering great persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. He became highly respected in his hometown, but later fled with other Christians to Edessa, where he continued teaching and praying.

St. Ephrem wrote prolifically. He composed more than 1000 poems and hymns, earning him the name, “Harp of the Faith.” He composed prayers, sermons in metrical form and wrote commentaries on the Old Testament and on Paul’s Epistles. He died in Edessa in A.D. 373 while ministering to victims of the plague.

However he is most famous today for “The Prayer of Righteous Ephrem,” also called “The St. Ephrem Prayer,” which continues to be used during Lent by Orthodox Churches. It is considered to be the classic Lenten prayer, used in all weekday Lenten services in Orthodox churches and several times a day in private prayers during Lent.

READ MORE: A Special Lenten Devotion

The St. Ephrem Prayer

Here are the word of the St. Ephrem prayer:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.

How to Pray the St. Ephrem Prayer

Silhouette of a woman praying the St. Ephrem prayer for Lent outside

It is traditional to do the following when praying the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem:

  • Kneel—or prostrate yourself, face to the floor—at the end of each verse
  • Rise again to recite the next line of the prayer
  • Repeat until the prayer concludes

However you choose to pray the St. Ephrem prayer—several times a day, like our Orthodox brothers and sisters, or daily, or simply once a week or one time during your Lenten journey—it can help your observance this year reflect a true Lenten spirit.


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