Homily by Archbishop Elpidophoros of America Vespers of Contrition April 14, 2024 Saints Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church

His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America

Vespers of Contrition

April 14, 2024

Saints Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church

Jamaica, New York


Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,


We have now arrived at another Vespers of Contrition – ὁ Κατανυκτικὸς Ἑσπερινὸς. These services provide a way for us to move from the relaxation of the Fast that we experienced over the weekend, into the rigors we encounter the other five days of the week. Tonight at this Vespers, the next day commences and we engage again in our intentions and our ἄσκησις for the Holy Fast.

I am fully aware that it is not easy to apply oneself to the strenuous application of Lent in our modern lives. One of our dear sisters was assaulted just the other morning on the way to this very Church, a horrific incident that was covered extensively in our local news sources. We are so very relieved that she is recovering and will not bear permanent injury from the assault, but this shows us how fragile our lives can be, and how ailing our society is. Our sister was not going from Jerusalem to Jericho, like the man assaulted in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, but from Jericho to Jerusalem! She was on her way to perform prayers and acts of virtue and goodness, and we should all hold her in a special place in our hearts.

This incident reminds us why we pray the Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian during the Lenten Season, and especially tonight at the Vespers of Contrition, For it sums up our approach to Lent with profound simplicity, and orients us away from judgment of others – especially those who merit it – and directs us to compassion and kindness.

It is not surprising that Saint Ephraim composed such a prayer, if you know anything about his life. It is said that when he was still an infant, his mother and father had a dream. And in this dream, from the little boy’s mouth there came forth an abundant vine, filled with a magnificent clusters of grapes. The birds of the air came to feed upon the fruit, and the more they fed, the more the vine produced.

Well, my friends – we are the birds who are being fed by his words. Listen to them closely:

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.

O Lord and Master of my life, give me not the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust for power and idle talk.

But grant unto me, Your servant, a spirit of purity, humility, patience and love.

Yes, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults, and not judge my brother or sister. For You are blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Beloved Brothers and Sisters:

We could spend a lifetime – maybe more – unpacking this wonderful prayer, which is so rich and textured with the truth of our Orthodox Faith.

But what I want to draw your attention to, is the last thought in the prayer:

… grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brother or sister.

Here, my friends, we have the entirety of the meaning of our Lenten Fast. For to see only one’s faults – no one else’s – and not to judge or condemn anyone – no matter what – is the essence of humility. It is the one virtue that contains all the others, because it is the Ladder by which our Lord Jesus Christ descended from Heaven into the womb of the Virgin. Saint Paul puts it beautifully in his Letter to the Philippians:

Christ Jesus, Who, existing in the form of God, did not regard being equal to God as something to be grasped; rather, He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, and was born in the likeness of humankind. *

Humility places us in the lineage of our Lord Jesus Christ more than all our ascetical practices, for it empties us of pride, of anger, of self-conceit, and of false confidence. It does not replace fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Rather, it makes them all possible, and indeed, it makes them all efficacious.

Therefore, let us learn this prayer with all our heart and soul and mind. Let us say it daily throughout the Fast, and even numerous times every day. It will protect your Fast and strengthen your resolve, even if you have been attacked for your Faith – in the body or by speech.

It will grant you to arrive in peace of mind, and in the faith of God’s forgiveness for your sins, at the Holy Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ – Who is forever blessed and glorified with His Eternal Father, and the All-Holy, Good and Life-creating Spirit; now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

* Philippians 2:6-7.

Photos: GOARCH/Dimitrios Panagos

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