Friday, June 09, 2006

Two great saints today

"Lord, grant me to see my own sins, and not to judge my brother"

Lord Jesus Christ, King of kings, you have power over life and death. You know even things that are uncertain and obscure, and our very thoughts and feelings are not hidden from you. Cleanse me from my secret faults, and I have done wrong and you saw it. You know how weak I am, both in soul and in body. Give me strength, O Lord, in my frailty and sustain me in my sufferings. Grant me a prudent judgment, dear Lord, and let me always be mindful of your blessings. Let me retain until the end your grace that has protected me till now. ---- St Ephrem's prayer for strength in weakness

Today the Church celebrates the deacon and doctor, the desert Christian Ephrem the Syrian. He wrote great volumes of prayers, devotional poetry, and works of theology. He was one of the periti at the Council of Nicea, having accompanied his bishop, +James of Nisibis, there. Post-conciliarly, he dedicated much of his writings to the defense and propagation of the rulings of the Council. He also worked against the Gnostics; they were propagating their heresy by writing popular music, Ephrem countered by writing orthodox pop tunes of his own, becoming known as "the harp of the Holy Spirit."

He retired to a cave hermitage in the vicinity of Edessa, continuing to write, and occasionally going to the city to preach. During a famine in 372-3 he coordinated the food distribution, operated a string of soup kitchens, and also opened and ran several hospitals for the ill, until he fell ill, probably a result of overwork, and died in 373.

St. Ephrem's most well-known work, known as his "Great Prayer", isa treasure in my life and I believe it will be fruitful in the lives of all of us.

St. Ephrem's Great Prayer

[Making a prostration]

O LORD, Master of my life, grant that I may not be infected with the spirit of slothfulness and inquisitiveness, with the spirit of ambition and vain talking.

[Making a prostration]

Grant instead to me, your servant, the spirit of purity and of humility, the spirit of patience and neighborly love.

[Making a prostration]

O Lord and King, grant me the grace of being aware of my sins and of not thinking evil of those of my brethren.

For you are blessed, now and ever, and forever. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings, You have power over life and death. You know what is secret and hidden, and neither our thoughts nor our feelings are concealed from You. Cure me of duplicity; I have done evil before You.

Now my life declines from day to day and my sins increase. O Lord, God of souls and bodies, You know the extreme frailty of my soul and my flesh. Grant me strength in my weakness, O Lord, and sustain me in my misery.

Give me a grateful soul that I may never cease to recall Your benefits, O Lord most bountiful. Be not mindful of my many sins, but forgive me all my misdeeds.

O Lord, disdain not my prayer - the prayer of a wretched sinner; sustain me with Your grace until the end, that it may protect me as in the paSaint It is Your grace which has taught me wisdom; blessed are they who follow her ways, for they shall receive the crown of glory.

In spite of my unworthiness, I praise You and I glorify You, O Lord, for Your mercy to me is without limit. You have been my help and my protection. May the name of Your majesty be praised forever. To you, our God, be glory. Amen.


Great sinner, greater saint: Columba, the one who loved books

O Lord, grant us that love which can never die, which will enkindle our lamps but not extinguish them, so that they may shine in us and bring light to others. Most dear Savior, enkindle our lamps that they may shine forever in your temple. May we receive unquenchable light from you so that our darkness will be illuminated and the darkness of the world will be made less. Amen. --- a prayer of St. Columba

Today the Church also remembers Columba, bard, monk, missioner, and penitent, and just plain interesting character.

He was born in Ireland, at about the same time that the young Patrick was a slave there, to a noble family, direct descendants of the great Niall. He had a great love for all kinds of learning from childhood. The legendary version of his life attributes this to the toddler Columba having eaten a cake with the alphabet letters baked inside it. He studied the bardic arts, and then, after he became a Christian, apprenticed in the monastic life under two hermits who also became saints, both of them named Finian. Then, he took up the life of a wandering bard, monastic variety, going all over Ireland wherever there were souls to be saved and new books to be read, priorities not necessarily in that order.

Now word came to Columba that a new book had arrived at the hermitage of Finian (who may have been one of the two he apprenticed under --- but Finian was a extremely common name at that time). So he went to the place where Finian, and his new book, dwelled; publicly preaching and praying and reading the new book during the day, and secretly copying the book at night, against the command of Finian, who was very attached to having an only copy. On the night Columba finished copying the last page of the book, he was discovered, and Finian claimed the copy for himself, since there was no permission to copy. After much arguing, the case was appealed to the High King of all Ireland, who ruled in favor of Finian in this very first copyright case --- "To every cow its calf, and to every book its child book."

Columba lost his temper entirely, and called down the wrath of the O'Neills (his ancestral clan) against the High King and his armies. There was a great battle, which was won by the O'Neill forces, but at the cost of a thousand dead. Every soul of whom was a millstone on the soul of Columba. One thousand souls killed, for the sake of a book and bruised pride. In penitence, he vowed to never look upon his beloved land again.

With a few companions, he sailed away; and kept sailing until they came to an island where, even at the top of the highest hill on the clearest day, there was no sight of Ireland --- Iona. There, he did penance, and he established a monastic community. From there, he sent missionaries to spread the Christian faith among the Picts and the Angles in the place now called Scotland.

And, he did once visit Ireland again, blindfolded. Many years after his exile, messengers came to him, informing him that the High King was attempting to outlaw the bardic arts, upset at certain bards' misbehavior and also peeved at the bards' parodies of his exalted self. After much pleading, Columba agreed to be taken back to his land, to defend its stories and songs and the people who created and preserved them before the throne of the High King. Having successfully defended the bards, and having read the riot act to those individual bards who had triggered the trouble, never having looked upon the land he still loved, he returned to his exile, and lived in holiness and penitence to a revered old age.

For a beautiful book on this, go to your local public library, to the children's section, and borrow The Man Who Loved Books, by Jean Fritz. And remember that great sinners can be redeemed and restored, and become even greater saints.



Anonymous said...

Karen, thanks so much for this cool information about St Columba ! My parish is actually named for this saint - St Columba - and although there is a little book at the office, nothing like this. Now, knowing his love of books, and his great remorse over sin, I can finally relate to him.

Pro Ecclesia said...

I'm glad that at least one other blogger noted the feast day of St. Columba, my patron saint.