The “Prayer of Saint Ephraim” is ubiquitous during Great Lent and is recited in all weekday services. In the Byzantine tradition, this prayer is considered to be the most succinct summation of the spirit of Great Lent and is hence the Lenten prayer par excellence.
“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.”
The Slavonic word унынія (unyniia) is translated as “despair”; another possible translation is “faint-heartedness”. In today’s terms we might think of it as “depression,” considered by many spiritual fathers and mothers as one of the principle sins, such as Saint Seraphim of Sarov:
“There is no worse sin, and nothing more terrible and pernicious than the spirit of despair. It is imperative to free oneself from despair and strive for a joyful spirit, rather than depressed. A person can accomplish anything in joy, however one can accomplish nothing if weighted with inner burdens.” (2)
A sad truth is that many believers suffer from despair but fear to admit it, because they think that would be admitting what is considered to be a grave spiritual problem or sin. So they suffer in silence, hoping and praying for deliverance; but the consequences of doing nothing often result in further complications. Depression can have its source in our body, soul or spirit. Our body can affect our soul and spirit and vice versa. Regardless, the soul suffers leading to depression which then affects one’s spiritual life.
When we suffer, our sufferings become worse when we think there is no end or purpose for them, and we become despondent and fall into despair. As long as we have this mindset, tough times are going to defeat us. But once we believe that God is sovereign, and that God doesn’t create evil—but that God can use evil for good and for a greater purpose—that transforms our view of suffering. Trust there’s a purpose in this suffering somewhere!
Not to sin is truly blessed; but those who sin must strive not to fall into despair, but rather to confess the sins they have committed, so that, through repentence and absolution, they may again attain blessedness and joy. It is good, then, to pray always and not to despair!
(1) “Господи и владыко живота моегω, духъ праздности, оунынїѧ, любоначалїѧ и празднословїѧ не даждь ми. Духъ же цѣломѹдрїѧ, смиренномѹдрїѧ, терпѣнїѧ и любве, дарѹй ми рабѹ твоемѹ. Ей Господи Царю, даруй ми зрѣти моѧ прегрѣшенїѧ, и не ωсуждати брата моегω, якω благословенъ еси во вѣки вѣковъ. Аминь”
(2) “Нет хуже греха, и ничего нет ужаснее и пагубнее духа уныния. Нужно удалять от себя уныние и стараться иметь радостный дух, а не печальный. От радости человек может что угодно совершить, от внутренней натуги – ничего.” – Преподобный Серафим Саровский