Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fr. Alexander Schmemann on the Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian

The Lenten Prayer of St Ephrem the Syrian
By Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann
Of all lenten hymns and prayers, one short prayer can be termed the lenten prayer. Tradition ascribes it to one of the great teachers of spiritual life - St. Ephrem the Syrian. Here is its text:
O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, 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 errors and not to judge my brother; For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen
This prayer is read twice at the end of each lenten service Monday through Friday (not on Saturdays and Sundays for, as we shall see later, the services of these days do not follow the lenten pattern). At the first reading, a prostration follows each petition. Then we all bow twelve times saying: "O God, cleanse me a sinner." The entire prayer is repeated with one final prostration at the end.
Why does this short and simple prayer occupy such an important position in the entire lenten worship? Because it enumerates in a unique way all the "negative" and "positive" elements of repentance and constitutes, so to speak, a "check list" for our individual lenten effort. This effort is aimed first at our liberation from some fundamental spiritual diseases which shape our life and make it virtually impossible for us even to start turning ourselves to God.
The basic disease is sloth. It is that strange laziness and passivity of our entire being which always pushes us "down" rather than "up" -- which constantly convinces us that no change is possible and therefore desirable. It is in fact a deeply rooted cynicism which to every spiritual challenge responds "what for?" and makes our life one tremendous spiritual waste. It is the root of all sin because it poisons the spiritual energy at its very source.
The result of sloth is faint-heartedness. It is the state of despondency which all spiritual Fathers considered the greatest danger for the soul. Despondency is the impossibility for man to see anything good or positive; it is the reduction of everything to negativism and pessimism. It is truly a demonic power in us because the Devil is fundamentally a liar. He lies to man about God and about the world; he fills life with darkness and negation. Despondency is the suicide of the soul because when man is possessed by it he is absolutely unable to see the light and to desire it.
Lust of power! Strange as it may seem, it is precisely sloth and despondency that fill our life with lust of power. By vitiating the entire attitude toward life and making it meaningless and empty, they force us to seek compensation in, a radically wrong attitude toward other persons. If my life is not oriented toward God, not aimed at eternal values, it will inevitably become selfish and selfcentered and this means that all other beings will become means of my own self-satisfaction. If God is not the Lord and Master of my life, then I become my own lord and master -- the absolute center of my own world, and I begin to evaluate everything in terms of my needs, my ideas, my desires, and my judgments. The lust of power is thus a fundamental depravity in my relationship to other beings, a search for their subordination to me. It is not necessarily expressed in the actual urge to command and to dominate "others." It may result as well in indifference, contempt, lack of interest, consideration, and respect. It is indeed sloth and despondency directed this time at others; it completes spiritual suicide with spiritual murder.
Finally, idle talk. Of all created beings, man alone has been endowed with the gift of speech. All Fathers see in it the very "seal" of the Divine Image in man because God Himself is revealed as Word (John, 1:1). But being the supreme gift, it is by the same token the supreme danger. Being the very expression of man, the means of his self-fulfillment, it is for this very reason the means of his fall and self-destruction, of betrayal and sin. The word saves and the word kills; the word inspires and the word poisons. The word is the means of Truth and it is the means of demonic Lie. Having an ultimate positive power, it has therefore a tremendous negative power. It truly creates positively or negatively. When deviated from its divine origin and purpose, the word becomes idle. It "enforces" sloth, despondency, and lust of power, and transforms life into hell. It becomes the very power of sin.
These four are thus the negative "objects" of repentance. They are the obstacles to be removed. But God alone can remove them. Hence, the first part of the lenten prayer; this cry from the bottom of human helplessness. Then the prayer moves to the positive aims of repentance which also are four.
Chastity! If one does not reduce this term, as is so often and erroneously done, only to its sexual connotations, it is understood as the positive counterpart of sloth. The exact and full translation of the Greek sofrosini and the Russian tselomudryie ought to be whole-mindedness. Sloth is, first of all, dissipation, the brokenness of our vision and energy, the inability to see the whole. Its opposite then is precisely wholeness. If we usually mean by chastity the virtue opposed to sexual depravity, it is because the broken character of our existence is nowhere better manifested than in sexual lust -- the alienation of the body from the life and control of the spirit. Christ restores wholeness in us and He does so by restoring in us the true scale of values by leading us back to God.
The first and wonderful fruit of this wholeness or chastity is humility. We already spoke of it. It is above everything else the victory of truth in us, the elimination of all lies in which we usually live. Humility alone is capable of truth, of seeing and accepting things as they are and therefore of seeing God's majesty and goodness and love in everything. This is why we are told that God gives grace to the humble and resists the proud.
Chastity and humility are naturally followed by patience. The "natural" or "fallen" man is impatient, for being blind to himself he is quick to judge and to condemn others. Having but a broken, incomplete, and distorted knowledge of everything, he measures all things by his tastes and his ideas. Being indifferent to everyone except himself, he wants life to be successful right here and now. Patience, however, is truly a divine virtue. God is patient not because He is "indulgent," but because He sees the depth of all that exists, because the inner reality of things, which in our blindness we do not see, is open to Him. The closer we come to God, the more patient we grow and the more we reflect that infinite respect for all beings which is the proper quality of God.
Finally, the crown and fruit of all virtues, of all growth and effort, is love -- that love which, as we have already said, can be given by God alone-the gift which is the goal of all spiritual preparation and practice.
All this is summarized and brought together in the concluding petition of the lenten prayer in which we ask "to see my own errors and not to judge my brother." For ultimately there is but one danger: pride. Pride is the source of evil, and all evil is pride. Yet it is not enough for me to see my own errors, for even this apparent virtue can be turned into pride. Spiritual writings are full of warnings against the subtle forms of pseudo-piety which, in reality, under the cover of humility and self-accusation can lead to a truly demonic pride. But when we "see our own errors" and "do not judge our brothers," when, in other terms, chastity, humility, patience, and love are but one in us, then and only then the ultimate enemy--pride--will be destroyed in us.
After each petition of the prayer we make a prostration. Prostrations are not limited to the Prayer of St. Ephrem but constitute one of the distinctive characteristics of the entire lenten worship. Here, however, their meaning is disclosed best of all. In the long and difficult effort of spiritual recovery, the Church does not separate the soul from the body. The whole man has fallen away from God; the whole man is to be restored, the whole man is to return. The catastrophe of sin lies precisely in the victory of the flesh -- the animal, the irrational, the lust in us -- over the spiritual and the divine. But the body is glorious; the body is holy, so holy that God Himself "became flesh." Salvation and repentance then are not contempt for the body or neglect of it, but restoration of the body to its real function as the expression and the life of spirit, as the temple of the priceless human soul. Christian asceticism is a fight, not against but for the body. For this reason, the whole man - soul and body - repents. The body participates in the prayer of the soul just as the soul prays through and in the body. Prostrations, the "psycho-somatic" sign of repentance and humility, of adoration and obedience, are thus the lenten rite par excellence.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

42 Things Italians Grew Up With

01. You have at least one relative who wore a black dress every day for an entire year after a funeral.

02. You spent your entire childhood thinking what
you ate for lunch was pronounced "sangwich."

03. Your family dog understood Italian.

04. Every Sunday afternoon you eat lunch at nonna's house

05. You've experienced the phenomena of 150 people fitting into 50 square feet of yard during a family cookout.

06. You were surprised to discover the FDA recommends you eat three meals a day, not seven.

07. You thought killing the pig each year and having salami, capacollo, pancetta and prosciutto hanging out to dry from your shed ceiling was absolutely normal.

08. You ate pasta for dinner at least three times a week, and every Sunday, and laughed at the commercial for Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti day.

09. You grew up thinking no fruit or vegetable had a fixed price and that the price of everything was negotiable through haggling.

10. You were as tall as your nonna by the age of seven.

11. You thought everyone's last name ended in a vowel.

12. You thought nylons were supposed to be worn rolled to the ankles.

13. Your mom's main hobby is cleaning.

14. You were surprised to find out that wine was actually sold in stores.

15. You thought that everyone made their own pomodoro sugo

16. You never ate meat on Christmas Eve or any Friday for that matter.

17. You ate your salad after the main course.

18. You thought Catholic was the only religion in the world.

19. You were beaten at least once with a wooden spoon or slipper.

20. You thought every meal had to be eaten with a hunk of bread in your hand.

21. You had pet rabbits and chickens in cages in the backyard that always dissapeard in winter...

22. You have at least one relative who came over on "the boat."

23. All of your uncles fought in a World War.

24. You have at least six male relatives named Tony, Frank, Joe or Luigi

25. You were taught to call people Zio even though they weren't even your REAL zio

26. You can recite all the names of the saints off by heart

27. You drank wine before you were a teenager.

28. You relate on some level, admit it, to the Godfather and the Sopranos.

29. You grew up in a house with a yard that didn't have one patch of dirt that didn't have a flower or a vegetable growing out of it.

30. Your grandparent's furniture was as comfortable as sitting on plastic. Wait!!!! You were sitting on plastic.

31. You thought that talking loud was normal.

32. You thought sugared almonds and the Tarantella were common at all weddings.

33. Your Dad owned 4 houses,10 acres of land and drove a caddie but still drove a 1964 impalllla ( still pimmmmmp)

34. Your mother is overly protective of the males in the family no matter what their age.

35. There was a crucifix AND/OR a picture of Padre Pio in every room of the house.

36. Wakes would be held in someone's living room.

37. You couldn't date a boy without getting approval from your father. (Oh, and he had to be Italian)

38. You called Canadian kids Cakers (Not in MY house, we didn't!!!! We called them relatives!!!)

39. You dreaded taking out your lunch at school.

40. Going out for a cup of coffee usually meant going out for a cup of coffee over Zia's house.

41. Every condition, ailment, misfortune, memory loss and accident was attributed to the fact that you didn't eat something.

42. Those of you who get this...YOU KNOW who to pass it on to!


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What's in a Name?

What's In A Name

Denise Marie Babineau

2.WITNESS PROTECTION NAME:(mother and fathers middle names)
Elena Joseph

3.NASCAR NAME:(first name of your mother's dad, father's dad)
Vincenzo Edward

4.STAR WARS NAME:(the first 3 letters of your last name, first 2 letters of your first name)

5.DETECTIVE NAME:(favorite color, favorite animal)
Red Dog

6.SOAP OPERA NAME:(middle name, town where you were born
Marie Everett

7.SUPERHERO NAME: (2nd fav color, fav drink, add "THE" to the beginning)
The Black Vodka Shot

8.FLY NAME:(first 2 letters of 1st name, last 2 letters of your last name)

9.ROCK STAR NAME:(current pets name, current street name)
Poochie Montclair

10. PORN NAME: (1st pet, street you grew up on)
Maybelle Shute

11.YOUR GANGSTA NAME:(first 3 letters of real name plus izzle)

12.YOUR IRAQI.. NAME:(2nd letter of your first name, 3rd letter of your last name, first two letters of your middle name, last two letters of your first name then last three letters of your last name)

13.YOUR GOTH NAME:(black, and the name of one of your pets)
Black Kyo

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Daybook Journal

Outside my window the sun is just starting to come up.

I am thinking that I really need to get going on my day, starting with breakfast and a shower

I am thankful for a new day and a new life. I wonder what direction life will take me?

From the learning room was running appeals yesterday. I like to help out other departments.

From the kitchen is breakfast - homemade egg mcmuffins and coffee

I am wearing my jammies that Elisabeth usually makes fun of, and my beloved, ratty old terry cloth bathrobe.

I am creating a new life for myself.

I am going - I have no idea, but God will point the way.

I am reading or rather, last night I finished The Open Door by Frederica Mathewes-Green which was rather disappointing.

I am hoping to see my parents again on the last day.

I am hearing my little doggie snore by my feet.

One of my favorite things is going food shopping, which I will do this morning.

A few plans for the rest of the week: birthday dinner with Cindy and Joan tonight, choir rehearsal tomorrow, Doc and Mari's tomorrow afternoon, I Cantori rehearsal Monday night, working, unpacking, cleaning, laundry.... and I thought that I'd have oodles of free time once dear daughter went off to college! Yaright!

The Simple Woman’s Day Book

Books I read in 2008

Here is a partial list of books that I read in 2008. I read more, but I was so frazzled that I didn't write most of them down.

Julie Andrews: An Intimate Biography - Richard Stirling

Defeating Sin - Fr. Joseph Huneycutt

Living in Christ - Mother Raphaela

My Life In France - Julia Child

Iconography, A Writer's Meditation - Susan Neville

World Vegetarian - Madhur Jaffrey