Throughout Great Lent, we Orthodox recite the prayer of St. Ephrem while humbling ourselves before God by doing prostrations. We seek God’s help in attaining an inner spirit that will allow us to be faithful servants of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk.
Give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Your servant.
Yeah, O Lord and King,
Grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother,
For You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
St. Ephrem the Syrian (d. 379AD) was a prolific writer who composed many prayers, as well as theological poems and hymns in his life time. In one of his poetic writings he offers us some further thought for understanding the importance of being able to see our own sins. St. Eprhem writes:
good health in himself,
and is aware in his mind
of what sickness is,
has gained something beneficial
and he knows something profitable;
but a man who lies
and knows in his mind
what is good health,
is vexed by his sickness
and tormented in his mind.
(Hymns on Paradise, pg. 94)
It is those who are spiritually healthy who are able to see their own sins and who can benefit from this insight, for it brings them to repentance rather than to self loathing or denial of the sin. They are able to humble themselves before God to seek His mercy, knowing they are sickened by sin. The healthy person knows the suffering caused by the sickness of sin and uses that knowledge to repent and to endeavor to avoid further sinfulness. The spiritual healthy are able to use their knowledge and experience of spiritual illness to have compassion on others who are suffering.
If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. (1 John 5:16)
But Christians who find himself fallen in sin are vexed, for they know the joy of being spiritually healthy but find themselves estranged from God. Because of their condition they are sometimes unwilling to approach the Physician of Souls, for they feel shame, grief and self-loathing. They may feel then cannot be healed by the God whom they have rejected through their own decisions and behavior. They need the prayers of those who are spiritually healthy. To receive healing, they must be willing to humble themselves before God, acknowledging their own sins in confession and begging God to forgive them.
I acknowledged my sin to You, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; then You forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let every one who is godly offer prayer to You; at a time of distress, in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. (Psalm 32:5-6)