O Lord and Master of my life, grant me not a spirit of sloth, restlessness (despondency), love of power, and idle talk.
But give to me, your servant, a spirit of sober-mindedness, humility, patience, and love.
Yes, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother, since you are blessed to the ages of ages. Amen.
Have you noticed anything unusual in this version of the famous penitential prayer of Ephrem the Syrian, which is read during the Lent?
Yes, indeed, in the first ask, immediately after the words “spirit of sloth”, instead of usual despondency, there is “restlessness”. Where does this innovation come from? Actually, it is not an innovation. The thing is, this is how the prayer sounds in Greek language, from which it was translated into Russian:
Κύριε και Δέσποτα τῆς ζωῆς μου,
πνεῦμα ἀργίας, περιεργίας, φιλαρχίας και ἀργολογίας μή μοι δῷς·
The famous penitential prayer was written in the 4th century AD. Its author, Saint Ephrem the Syrian, is one of the great Fathers of the Church, a Christian theologian and poet. He was a Syrian, and wrote accordingly in Syriac. During his lifetime, his works were translated into Greek. And it turned out that the Syrian original of his famous Lenten prayer did not reach us, only its Greek translation was preserved.
When translating the prayer into Russian, the ancient Greek word ἡ περιεργία (periergia) – “excessive work”, “restlessness”, “excessive activity”, which came second in the list of sins, was replaced by despondency. It is very difficult to say now why it was done. But, one way or another, because of this, this fragment of prayer in Russian acquired a slightly different meaning.
When explaining the Russian version of prayer, it is usually emphasized that sloth in the first place of sins inevitably gives rise to despondency. Sloth here is understood as spiritual sin, as neglect of oneself and one’s inner world, as a lack of spiritual work. So, there is a great element of truth in the proverb “idleness is the parent of vice”.
As for the Greek version, here we get amazing symmetry. The first word in the list of sins – ἡ ἀργία (argia) – “sloth”, “laziness” – literally means inaction. It is formed from the negative prefix ἀ — and the ancient Greek word τό ἔργον (ergon) – “work”, “labour”, “business”. And the second Greek word – περιεργία – is formed from the same word τό ἔργον and the prefix περι — with the meaning “over”, “excessive”. That is, in Greek, the first words literally sound like “do not give me the spirit of sloth, restlessness…”.
And it turns out that both spiritual sloth and restlessness are equally wrong; behind the whirlwind of cares and vanity of vanities, minor and insignificant things, “one thing needful” is forgotten. By the way, it is no coincidence that in Russian the words “излишество”(«excess») and “лишение”(«privation») has the same base. Both mean the absence of the only right attitude to the subject.
In addition, in the Greek version, the rhyme consonance of “negative spirits” is interesting:
πνεῦμα ἀργίας, περιεργίας, φιλαρχίας και ἀργολογίας μή μοι δῷς.
And yet, it is very curious that in his famous interpretation of Saint Ephrem’s prayer, A.S. Pushkin seemed to feel that the word “despondency” was not entirely authentic here, and he could “play” with it. He combines sloth and despondency into “despondent sloth”, and so of four sins listed in prayer, Pushkin has three:
Hermit fathers and immaculate women
To lift up their heart,
To strengthen it for thunderstorms and fights,
Created many divine prayers;
But none of them can move my heart,
As one repeated by a priest
During sad Lenten days;
My lips remember it very often;
It strengthens the fallen with unknown strengths.
Master of my days! Grant my soul not
A spirit of despondent sloth, love of power,
This hidden snake, and idle talk.
But give to me, o Lord, to see my own faults,
May my brother not be judged by me.
And liven a spirit of humility, patience, love,
And sober-mindedness up in my heart.
Full Greek text of the prayer of Ephrem the Syrian:
Κύριε καὶ Δέσποτα τῆς ζωῆς μου, πνεῦμα ἀργίας, περιεργίας, φιλαρχίας, καὶ ἀργολογίας μή μοι δῷς.
Πνεῦμα δὲ σωφροσύνης, ταπεινοφροσύνης, ὑπομονῆς, καὶ ἀγάπης χάρισαί μοι τῷ σῷ δούλῳ.
Ναί, Κύριε Βασιλεῦ, δώρησαι μοι τοῦ ὁρᾶν τὰ ἐμὰ πταίσματα, καὶ μὴ κατακρίνειν τὸν ἀδελφόν μου, ὅτι εὐλογητὸς εἶ, εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds