Ephrem the Syrian  

Posted by Joe Rawls


Today the Episcopal Church honors Ephrem the Syrian, also known as Ephrem of Edessa (his feast is observed by the Orthodox on January 28). Ephrem was born in Nisibis in the year 306 and is thought to have died in 373 (or maybe 379). He was ordained a deacon and also appointed a teacher. He founded the School of Nisibis, which survived him by several centuries. He is often described as a monk, though there is no evidence he actually took vows. He is known to have lived a very austere life. About ten years before Ephrem's death, Nisibis fell under the control of the Persian emperor, who promptly expelled all the Christians. Ephrem ended up in Edessa.

Ephrem's literary output consisted mainly of hymns, of which over 400 survive. They were written in Syriac, linguistically related to the Aramaic of Jesus and the apostles. He uses these hymns as a medium for the defense of Orthodox theology against Gnosticism, Arianism, Manicheanism, and other belief systems. They are full of rich, frequently earthy, imagery. The sample below is a nativity hymn translated by Sebastian Brock, the distinguished Oxford Syriac scholar (The Harp of the Spirit, Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, 1983).

Your mother is a cause of wonder:
the Lord entered into her
and became a servant; he who is the Word entered--
and became silent within her;
Thunder entered her and made no sounds;
there entered The Shepherd of all,
and in her He became the Lamb, bleating as He comes forth.
Praise to You to whom all things are easy, for You are almighty.

Your mother's womb has reversed the roles:
the Establisher of all entered into His richness,
but came forth poor; the Exalted one entered her,
but came forth meek; the Splendrous one entered her,
but came forth having put on a lowly hue.
Praise to You to whom all things are easy, for You are almighty.

The Mighty one entered, and put on insecurity
from her womb; the Provisioner of all entered--
and experienced hunger; He who gives drink to all entered--
and experienced thirst; naked and stripped
there came forth from her He who clothes all!
Praise to You to whom all things are easy, for You are almighty.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 10, 2008 at Tuesday, June 10, 2008 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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