“Judge not, that you not be judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Matthew 7:1-5

O Lord and Master of my life, do not permit the spirit of laziness and meddling, the lust for power and idle talk to come into me.
Instead, grant me, Your servant, the spirit of prudence, humility, patience, and love.
Yes, Lord and King, give me the power to see my own faults and not to judge my brother.
For You are blessed to the ages of ages. Amen.
(Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes, as found on AGES Digital Chant Stand of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, throughout the services of Great Compline and the Ninth Hour of Great Lent)

The last part of the Prayer of St. Ephraim again begins with a statement of the power and authority of God. This time again the word “Lord” is used followed by the word “King.” A king is ruler of things on earth, while the Lord is the ruler of both heaven and earth. For God to be King entrusts to Him everything we have on earth—our lives, our decisions, our relationships. For Him to be our Lord entrusts to Him our life journey and purpose, understanding that the end goal is salvation.

The first part of the prayer asked for God to not permit four specific things to come into our life. The second part asked for four specific things to be given to us. The third part includes one of each—one thing to do, and one thing to be avoided.

First, we ask God to give us the power to see our own faults. In order to do this, we need the aforementioned prudence, humility, patience and love. The word “pathology” comes to mind. This word is a combination of two Greek words—“pathos” meaning “suffering” and “logos” meaning “study of.” Pathology literally is the study of suffering. When a doctor takes a biopsy from a part of our body, it is sent to the lab for a pathology report, to let us know the source of our suffering. (i.e. is it cancer, is it a “nothing”?). Each of us has “pathologies”, or tendencies towards certain behaviors. Some of those behaviors are good and Godly, and some of them are not. I have a bad habit of eating too fast, which leads me to eat too much, which leads me to weigh more than I should. That comes from childhood. When I was a child, we didn’t carry around water bottles, nor were we encouraged to drink water like we are now. So drinking water often is not something I do. There were certain things that my parents did, or didn’t do, and I can see so many of my tendencies stem from those things.

Asking God for power to see our own faults, to understand our “pathologies” is helpful for finding focus and balance, as well as repenting from mistakes. Before we can repent from a mistake, we have to understand why it is a mistake, and why we make the mistake. Being able to see this will lead to understanding which will lead to correction and repentance.

Having given this a lot of thought, the sins I think we commit most are gossip and jealousy. Gossip is a temptation in every conversation. Looking with judgment or envy is possible any time we look at a neighbor. There is a bad combination of societal and personal expectations that make us more judgmental, and make us ask the question “why them and not me?” There is societal pressure to “keep up with the Joneses” when it comes to material wealth. Whether it is latest in technology, or newest car, or hottest name brand, we often judge our brothers and sisters as unworthy of the things we do not have.

From the personal perspective, we each have an idea of what we’re worth, what we want to achieve, and when we hope to achieve whatever we are working toward. When things don’t happen on our schedule, when we can’t achieve what we hope to achieve, when we don’t get what we feel we are entitled to receive, we also look with judgment at our neighbor, unable to be happy for what he has, and instead wishing for it for ourselves. I once heard a priest define sin as the “absence of love.” We cannot feel love and sin at the same time. We can love someone, but not at the moment we are sinning against them. Love pauses and then is restored through repentance. If we are supposed to love God and love our neighbor, the sin of judging our brother makes it difficult to love him. In asking God to give us a spirit of love, it is necessary to ask for Him to take away from us a spirit of judgment.

Jesus says in Matthew 15:11 that it is “not what goes into the mouth (that) defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” And in Matthew 15:18, He continues, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man.”  When we have bad thoughts, they ruminate in the heart, and then come out of the mouth as judgments on other people. In seeking to love our neighbors, we have to stop judging them, and in order to do that, we have to guard not only our mouths, but especially our minds and hearts.

The prayer concludes with a statement of glory to God, saying that He is blessed to the ages of ages.

People sometimes struggle for words to pray. A careful study of the Prayer of St. Ephraim reveals that all of the elements of prayer are there, and all the things we need to live a solid Christian life are offered through this prayer. We need to purge our minds and thoughts of our attraction to laziness, meddling, lust for power (and lust in general) and gossip. We need to ask God to give us wisdom, humility, patience and love. We need to pray for the discernment to see our own pathologies and understand them, so that we can repent of them. And we need to stop judging our brother and instead loving him, understanding him and being patient with him.

Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
For this I am condemned in my misery, for this I am convicted by the verdict of my own conscience, which is more compelling than all else in the world. O my Judge and Redeemer, Who knowest my heart, spare and deliver and save me in my wretchedness.
(Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode Four, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

The Prayer of St. Ephraim is a clear summary of the things we are to work to avoid as well as the things we are to do in our Christian life. Everything we need to work on can be found in this prayer. This is a beautiful and appropriate prayer for the Lenten season, and can be for the rest of the year as well.