Saint Ephraim, the Syrian
Today the church remembers St. Ephraim, a very good man, a solid contributor to the early church. At a time when many seem to be in fear that Syrians are coming to our shore, I think a reading about Saint Ephraim is timely. He wrote some of the earliest church hymns. He very likely contributed some of the verbiage in our Nicene creed.
I also smile; I remember my Arabic instructors at the Qatar Center for the Presentation of Islam, truly gentle women who knew the bible better than I did, and inspired me to know it better in self defense. While they didn’t expect me to cover, i.e. to wear a scarf over my hair, or to wear an abaya, they could point out to me verses in the bible where women are instructed to cover, and they could show me biblical pictures in which the women were cloaked and their hair covered.
They also pointed out the many places in the Bible where praying was done by prostrating oneself face down before God, as Ephraim instructs in the prayer at the bottom of the reading.
I never felt pressured. They were like my Mormon sisters, my Baptist sisters; they only wanted me to have what they had found, the best way to worship.
EPHREM OF EDESSA
DEACON AND HYMN-WRITER (10 JUNE 373)
Ephrem (or Ephren or Ephraim or Ephrain) of Edessa was a teacher, poet, orator, and defender of the Faith. (To English-speakers, the most familiar form of his name will be “Ephraim.” It is the name of the younger son of Joseph, son of Jacob (see Genesis 41:52), and is thus the name of one of the largest of the twelve tribes of Israel.) Edessa (now Urfa), a city in modern Turkey about 100 kilometers from Antioch (now Antakya), was a an early center for the spread of Christian teaching in the East. It is said that in 325 he accompanied his bishop, James of Nisibis, to the Council of Nicea. Certainly his writings are an eloquent defense of the Nicene faith in the Deity of Jesus Christ. He countered the Gnostics’ practice of spreading their message through popular songs by composing Christian songs and hymns of his own, with great effect. He is known to the Syrian church as “the harp of the Holy Spirit.”
Ephrem retired to a cave outside Edessa, where he lived in great simplicity and devoted himself to writing. He frequently went into the city to preach. During a famine in 372-3 he worked distributing food to the hungry, and organizing a sort of ambulance service for the sick. He worked long hours at this, and became exhausted and sick, and so died.
Of his writings there remain 72 hymns, commentaries on the Old and New Testaments, and numerous sermons.
Several hymns are available at:
Among Orthodox he is best known for a fasting prayer:
THE PRAYER OF ST EPHRAIM THE SYRIAN
O Lord and Master of my life, do not give me the spirit of laziness, meddling, self-importance and idle talk. (prostration)
Instead, grace me, Your servant, with the spirit of modesty, humility, patience, and love. (prostration)
Indeed, my Lord and King, grant that I may see my own faults, and not condemn my brothers and sisters, for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen. (prostration)
(Twelve deep bows, saying each time: O God, be gracious to me, a sinner.)
[Translation by Fr James Silver, Drew University; posted on the Orthodox list]
by James Kiefer
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