For our novena this week, the beginning of Lent in the Catholic Church, I have chosen a prayer that was not written specifically as a novena. The Prayer of Saint Ephrem the Syrian was written by--you guessed it--Saint Ephrem the Syrian, a deacon and doctor of the Church, in the fourth century and has been used continuously since then by Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as a Lenten and penitential prayer. It is very short and only takes a minute to pray, but Eastern Christians pray it several times per day during Lent.
Traditionally, a prostration is made after each verse of the prayer. To make a prostration, you go down on your right knee, then down on both knees, then place your forehead to the floor, before reversing the process. The physical action is itself a form of humility, and helps to underscore the words of the prayer, in which we ask the Lord to make us aware of our sins and to keep us from judging others.
Start this novena on Ash Wednesday, and if, at the end of nine days, you have found the prayer spiritually useful, consider continuing to pray it throughout Lent.
(Icon of Saint Ephrem the Syrian, from Meryemana Kilesesi, Diyarbakr, Turkey.)