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Проповеди иеромонаха Михаила Thoughts of repentance in “The Psalter or reflections about God" of St. Reverend Ephraim Syrianа
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Статья Иеромонаха Михаила (Чепеля) "Мысли о покаянии в «Псалтири, или богомысленных
размышлениях» преподобного Ефрема Сирина" на английском языке

Hieromonk Mikhail (Chepel) 

Thoughts of repentance in “The Psalter or reflections about God" of St. Reverend Ephraim Syrianа

As St. Theophan the Recluse wrote in the preface to the first edition of this book, the name "The Psalter or reflections about God taken from the works of our Holy Father Ephraim Syrian and arranged in order of the Psalms of David " is given to this edition, embodying favorites prayers to God of St. Reverend Ephraim Syrian, because the Psalter is the book of praises of God, or prayer worship to God. St. Ephraim was filled with the grace of God and, moved by it, poured out before God his sincere prayers. <...> As David primarily is between the holy prophets a psalmist, so Saint Ephraim primarily is among the holy fathers a prayer. His soul could not touch any divine object without expressing his sorrow in the prayer outpours. Therefore his writings are full of prayers. This Holy Father can justly be called the Christian Psalmist." [1].

For St. Reverend Ephraim Syrian is characteristic sense of inner dialectic of earthly life of a man which is on the whole inherent to the Orthodox zealots. St. Paul wrote: "I don`t do the good that I want, but the evil, which I do not want, I do. If I do what I don`t want it means that not I do it, but sin that dwells in me "(Rom. 7: 19-20).The words of St. Ephraim Syrian affirm that: " My heart groans, and my eyes want tears, but my sin holds captive my mind so that I wouldn`t come in contrition and beg God not to plunge me into the darkness" [2]. This damage of nature is not an excuse of self-justification for a Christian. According to St. Ephraim, "The Lord created me in everything perfect and made me the instrument of His glory, so that I should serve Him and consecrate His holy name, but I am miserable, I made my whole body the instrument of sin and did with it a lie in every way. Woe is me, because He will condemn me by rights " [3]. A dialectical choice between eternal life and eternal death extremely sharpens the sense of the severity of the human being and responsibility before God both for the use of God-given human right of free choice, and for its implementation:"You, the most Holy, You remind me of death and eternal damnation and involve me in life to save me, and I always shy away these thoughts of saving and drive them away, do what is for me useless. Therefore there is no excuse for me before You" [4].

Imperfection of the nature of the man damaged by sin leads to the fact that even those who decided to dedicate their life to serving to God and prayer can`t always dwell in them; the gracious gifts of God are lost due to the vanity of the flow of the earthly life; the ascetic sees the reasons for this in the loss of spiritual concentration: "Your Grace comforts me, or enlightens and strengthens me, and I, inadvertently indulging in anything vanity, always sink into the bile and bitterness of my passions" [5].

And the Holy Father realizes with horror that the distraction from the path of salvation to something, what passions of a man inherited of his nature instigate him to, finds a ready response and even sympathy in some part of his nature that is captivated by the multitude of their manifestations: "The evil skills entangle me, as a network, and I am happy to be associated. I plunge into the depths of evil, and it amuses me. The enemy daily updates my bonds, because he sees that diversity of these bonds rejoices me very much " [6]. It is the most appalling in this situation that joy brings to him something that pleases the devil: "That is worth weeping and crying, and that is infamous and shameful that I am associated with my own volition. And it is more horrible that I associate myself with those ties, which the enemy imposes on me, and kill myself by the passions which delight him" [7].

The outside righteousness of a man, which they see around, does not relieve him from the internal struggles that make the ascetic ask his conscience, whether there is hypocrisy in his life, why the same falls are unavoidable: "Knowing, however, how terrible these bonds are I carefully hide them from all spectators under a specious appearance. In appearance I am clothed in the fine clothes of reverence, and the soul is enmeshed in the shameful thoughts. Before the audience I'm reverent, but inside me I am full of lewdness. My conscience convicts me of this, and as if I want to be free from the bonds of my own and every day complain and groan about this, - but am still bound by the same networks" [8].

The recognition of own imperfection makes recognize the imperfection of own repentance, since it does not change the life:”I'm pitiful and my daily repentance is pitiful because it has no solid foundation. Every day I lay the foundation of the building – and I again ruin it with my own hands" [9]. But this everyday laying the base of the building is evidence that the seeker wants to go the way of Christ, in spite of everything: "Although I have a lot of sins and am not worthy, but I hit constantly on Your door, though I am negligent and lazy and don`t care for my salvation, but I want to go Your way. Save me for Your mercy, because You, O Lord, are good to everybody and Your generosities are in all Your affairs" [10].

The awareness of their own weakness, their own inability to change themselves leads even to a greater realization that no one except God is able to heal a sick sinful man: "No one can heal my illness, except the One who knows the depths of the heart" [11]. The pawn of salvation of all humanity and every human person is in the Cross sacrifice of Christ the Savior: "Our falsehood is much stronger than our prayers. Our prayer is slight, and our trespass is great. What sacrifice could we bring that would reconcile us with You? We have nothing to give You. Therefore, reconcile us by Your blood, You, the Merciful God" [12]."Due to Thy mercy You protect us before Your Father because You are a selected sacrifice, brought for peace [13]. The incarnation of God opens the possibility of salvation, and so a grateful Christian`s heart can`t praise the incarnated God, "Praise the Good God who descended for us, became like us and cured our ulcers by His sanctifying flesh and His sanctifying Blood! Let all sing praise to You!” [14]

As the fall of the progenitors separated people from God, and so sins of an individual, after Christ the Savior has given to people salvation from the curse, sin and death, are a barrier between him and God, but this barrier can be destroyed by the God's mercy in response to a sincere repentance:" My sins are the wall between me and Thy goodness. Destroy it, so that I could come to Thy charity, pour Thy love on me and raise me to the height of Thy! But the wall of my sins can be ruined by my tears and contrition, therefore, give me all the days of my life to mourn my sins and collect for myself the fruits which will be useful to me in the Day of Judgment" [15]. The man should not try to justify his falls or shift his guilt for them to someone else: "I have one excuse for all this: the devil entangled me. But it did not serve as an excuse for Adam. Of course, the devil also taught Cain, but he did not escape the censure too. What will I do if the Lord visits me? I have no excuse in my negligence" [16]; the penitent should see the cause of his sins and misfortunes in himself: "I`m the most unfortunate of all people born by women, because I made myself miserable through my deeds and plunged into perdition. Every day I sinned and was comforted by it, not thinking that death was waiting for me. Alas, the angel of death is already near, sent with the command to bring me to the Court! Alas, all the unseen will be found there, and it`ll bring shame to me!" [17] The discrepancy between words and deeds is characteristic for the fallen nature of the man: "My words to others are very beautiful and my affairs are disgusting. I teach the others the order in the world, but I`m myself miserable and surrender to passions" [18]. Indulgence to myself and rigor to others - "if I go out to walk, so I speak as a righteous and a wise man; if I see that somebody sins, I laugh and make fun of him" [19] - lead to the fact that" Alas, my iniquity will be shown up and confound me!" [20]

Realizing the responsibility for every committed sin, the holy Father prays that the punishment for the sinful fall will befall him during his life on the earth, not in eternity: "Here, my Savior, punish me as a philoprogenitive and compassionate Father, and there forgive me as the single sinless and graceful God"  [21]. For the very punishment of God he sees as a blessing: "Your kicks are full of love, your punishment flames with generosities; due to Thy love You mean just only blessing, when you punish. The rods of Thy punishment are cut from the tree of Thy mercy: what Thy rod touches, everywhere the kick brings a great benefit". [22]

And the devotee has no doubt that the Lord will gladly accept every repentant sinner: "How they meet the merchant, who has returned home with great riches, so Your Grace accepts the sinner, who sincerely comes to You. For You love to see the tears, You are eager to see repentance, You rejoice at diligence of the sinners, trying to repent" [23].

The prayers of St. Ephraim are filled with images that take us back to the Gospel events and parables of Christ the Savior: "Like a piblican I groan, like a whore I shed tears, like a robber I cry, like the prodigal son I appeal to You, Christ, loving the whole mankind, my Savior!" [24]; "Behold the Day of the Lord suddenly will shine for the creation and the righteous will go to meet the Lord with burning lamps, and I am the darkness, there is no oil in my lamp to meet the Bridegroom when He comes," [25]; "Let me not stand near the goats, distressing You, and do not say me," Amen, amen, I say to you, I do not know you ", but due to Your goodness give me incessant tears, give me contrition and humility in my heart and cleanse it by Thy fear, let it be the temple of Thy grace " [26]; "You gave an advantage to the publican, and give it to me too, who (I confess) did more evil. Thou, O Lord, have forgiven Zacchaeus as a worthy, and have mercy on me as unworthy!" [27]

The complexity of the spiritual struggle sometimes bear by the ascetic such words: "Oh I'd better not to be born into the world! Then this transient world wouldn`t corrupt me; without seeing it, I would not have made me guilty, wouldn`t defile myself with sins and wouldn`t be afraid of torture, trial and suffering" [28]. But our prayer to God and repentance heal from such thoughts: "The sinful soul will give thanks unto You and thy Father and the Holy Spirit, because it cried – and it was heard, and, washed in the tears of repentance, it was made the temple, in which Deity settled who had created the worlds" [29].

Every human life is complex, but "the works of the righteous bring the fruit of life and the works of sinners are full of death". [30] Therefore, "approaching the first and going away from the second, do not give, however, place for empty works which do not give good fruits". [31] The Resurrection of Christ is the guaranty of a great hope for all Christians: "If death became to reign and destroyed our nature, because Adam had sinned and transgressed the commandment, so we would be able to be justified and saved through sufferings of Christ, who conquered death and justified our nature? God has given us, deceased, hope and comfort, because He himself had risen from the tomb, conquered death, got resurrection and life, showered with great blessings Adam and all his children. Praise and thanksgiving to the Father who created us, the Son, who saved us by His Cross, and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter - the praiseworthy incomprehensible Holy Trinity, resuscitating the dead and enveloping their bodies in glory!" [32]

Explaining the meaning of the Divine Liturgy to the believers coming to the temple I pay particular attention to the "Blessed" - the Mountain Sermon of Christ the Savior. I emphasize that it is the image of the person who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a program of life that the Savior has given us. We are so used to listen to these songs that we don`t perceive, how deep their content is. And sometimes we don`t understand the meaning, rather "somehow at all."The content of grace and the way to achieve it are given widely in the Psalter of St. Ephraim Syrian. By a deep research we find a deep connection of the Commandments of Moses, the Mountain Sermon and the Psalter of Ephraim Syrian. Taking all this spiritual foundation, we build our soul-saving way.

"The Psalter or reflections about God" of St. Ephraim Syrian is a unique in its depth and poignancy and useful for so many people loving prayers sample of the Orthodox hymnography showing how the Christian soul aspires to the Savior that wants to overcome the shackles of mortal world, seeing in the God the focus of its existence, and receives heavenly consolation already in the days of the earthly life; St. Theophan the Recluse wrote: " we accompany this Psalter with a very sincere desire that whoever opens it, always find in it for himself something useful according to the state of his spirit: admonition, contrition, encouragement, consolation" [33].

[1] St. Theophan the Recluse.The Preface to the first edition // The Psalter or reflections about God” extracted from the works of our Holy Father Ephraim Syrian and arranged in order of the Psalms of David. M.,2014. P. 5-7.

[2] Psalter or reflections.. P. 207.

[3] Psalter or reflections ... P 27-28.

[4] Ibid. P. 30-31.

[5] Ibid. P. 30.

[6] Ibid. P. 32.

[7] Ibid. P. 33.

[8] Ibid. P. 33.

[9] Ibid. P. 33.

[10] Ibid. P. 81.

[11] Ibid. P. 35.

[12] Ibid. P. 40.

[13] Ibid. S. 224.

[14] Ibid. P. 40.

[15] Ibid. P. 41.

[16] Ibid. P. 128.

[17] Ibid. P. 152.

[18] Ibid. P. 167.

[19] Ibid. P. 167.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid. P. 88.

[22] Ibid. P. 268.

[23] Ibid. P. 165.

[24] Ibid. P. 29.

[25] Ibid. P.38.

[26] Ibid. P. 80.

[27] Ibid. P. 114.

[28] Ibid. P. 167.

[29] Ibid. P. 174.

[30] Ibid. P. 97.

[31] Ibid. P. 98.

[32] Ibid. P. 317.

[33] St. Theophan the Recluse. The Preface to the first edition // The Psalter or reflections about God” extracted from the works of our Holy Father Ephraim Syrian and arranged in order of the Psalms of David. M. 2014. P. 9.