Ephrem the Syrian

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'''Ephrem the Syrian''' was a prolific [[Syriac language]] hymn writer and theologian of the [[4th century]]. He is venerated by Christians throughout the world, but especially among [[Syriac Christianity|Syriac Christians]], as a [[saint]].
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Our Righteous Father '''Ephrem the Syrian''' was a prolific Syriac language hymn writer and theologian of the 4th century. He is venerated by Christians throughout the world, but especially among Syriac Christians, as a [[saint]]. His [[feast day]] in the [[Orthodox Church]] is [[January 28]].
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[[Image:Ephrem the Syrian.jpg|right|frame|St. Ephrem the Syrian]]
  
 
== Name ==
 
== Name ==
 
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Ephrem is also variously known as Ephraim (Hebrew and Greek), Ephraem (Latin), Aphrem and Afrem (both Syriac). However, "Ephrem" is the generally preferred spelling.
Ephrem is also variously known as Ephraim (Hebrew and Greek), Ephraem (Latin), Aphrem and Afrem (both Syriac). However, Ephrem is the generally preferred spelling.
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:Syriac &mdash; <big> &#1825;&#1834;&#1821; &#1808;&#1830;&#1834;&#1821;&#1825; &#1827;&#1816;&#1834;&#1821;&#1821;&#1808;</big> &mdash; ''Mâr Aphrêm Sûryâyâ''.
 
:Syriac &mdash; <big> &#1825;&#1834;&#1821; &#1808;&#1830;&#1834;&#1821;&#1825; &#1827;&#1816;&#1834;&#1821;&#1821;&#1808;</big> &mdash; ''Mâr Aphrêm Sûryâyâ''.
 
::Greek &mdash; &#902;&gamma;&iota;&omicron;&#962; &Epsilon;&phi;&rho;&alpha;&iota;&mu; &Sigma;&upsilon;&rho;&omicron;&#962; &mdash; ''Hagios Ephraim Syros''.
 
::Greek &mdash; &#902;&gamma;&iota;&omicron;&#962; &Epsilon;&phi;&rho;&alpha;&iota;&mu; &Sigma;&upsilon;&rho;&omicron;&#962; &mdash; ''Hagios Ephraim Syros''.
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== Life ==
 
== Life ==
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Ephrem was born around the year 306, in the city of Nisibis (the modern Turkish town of Nusaybin, on the border with Syria). Internal evidence from Ephrem's hymnody suggests that both his parents were part of the growing Christian community in the city, although later hagiographers wrote that his father was a pagan priest. Numerous languages were spoken in the Nisibis of Ephrem's day, mostly dialects of Aramaic. The Christian community used the Syriac dialect. Various pagan religions, [[Judaism]] and early Christian sects vied with one another for the hearts and minds of the populace. It was a time of great religious and political tension. The Roman Emperor [[Diocletian]] had signed a treaty with his Persian counterpart, Nerses in 298 that transferred Nisibis into Roman hands. The savage persecution and martyrdom of Christians under Diocletian were an important part of Nisibene church heritage as Ephrem grew up.
  
Ephrem was born around the year [[306]], in the city of [[Nisibis]] (the modern [[Turkey|Turkish]] town of Nusaybin, on the border with [[Syria]]). Internal evidence from Ephrem's hymnody suggests that both his parents were part of the growing Christian community in the city, although later hagiographers wrote that his father was a pagan priest. Numerous languages were spoken in the Nisibis of Ephrem's day, mostly dialects of [[Aramaic language|Aramaic]]. The Christian community used the [[Syriac language|Syriac dialect]]. Various pagan religions, [[Judaism]] and early Christian sects vied with one another for the hearts and minds of the populace. It was a time of great religious and political tension. The Roman Emperor, [[Diocletian]] had signed a treaty with his [[Persia]]n counterpart, [[Narseh of Persia|Nerses]] in [[298]] that transferred Nisibis into Roman hands. The savage persecution and martyrdom of Christians under Diocletian were an important part of Nisibene church heritage as Ephrem grew up.
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St. [[James of Nisibis|James]] (Mar Jacob), the first [[bishop]] of Nisibis, was appointed in 308, and Ephrem grew up under his leadership of the community. St. James is recorded as a signatory at the [[First Ecumenical Council]] in 325. Ephrem was [[baptism|baptized]] as a youth, and James appointed him as a teacher (Syriac ''malp&acirc;n&acirc;'', a title that still carries great respect for Syriac Christians). He was ordained as a [[deacon]] either at this time or later. He began to compose hymns and write biblical commentaries as part of his educational office. In his hymns, he sometimes refers to himself as a "herdsman" (''`all&acirc;n&acirc;''), to his bishop as the "shepherd" (''r&acirc;`y&acirc;'') and his community as a "fold" (''dayr&acirc;''). Ephrem is popularly credited as the founder of the School of Nisibis, which in later centuries was the centre of learning of the [[Assyrian Church of the East]] (i.e., the [[Nestorianism|Nestorians]].
  
[[Mar Jacob]], the first [[bishop]] of Nisibis was appointed in [[308]], and Ephrem grew up under his leadership of the community. Jacob of Nisibis is recorded as a signatory at the [[First Council of Nicea]] in [[325]]. Ephrem was baptized as a youth, and Jacob appointed him as a teacher (Syriac ''malp&acirc;n&acirc;'', a title that still carries great respect for Syriac Christians). He was ordained as a [[deacon]] either at this time or later. He began to compose hymns and write biblical commentaries as part of his educational office. In his hymns, he sometimes refers to himself as a 'herdsman' (''`all&acirc;n&acirc;''), to his bishop as the 'shepherd' (''r&acirc;`y&acirc;'') and his community as a 'fold' (''dayr&acirc;''). Ephrem is popularly credited as the founder of the [[School of Nisibis]], which in later centuries was the centre of learning of the [[Assyrian Church of the East]].
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In 337, emperor [[Constantine the Great|Constantine I]], who had established Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire, died. Seizing on this opportunity, Shapur II of Persia began a series of attacks into Roman North Mesopotamia. Nisibis was besieged in 338, 346 and 350. During the first siege, Ephrem credits Bishop James as defending the city with his prayers. Ephrem's beloved bishop died soon after the event, and Babu led the church through the turbulent times of border skirmishes. In the third siege, of 350, Shapur rerouted the River Mygdonius to undermine the walls of Nisibis. The Nisibenes quickly repaired the walls while the Persian elephant cavalry became bogged down in the wet ground. Ephrem celebrated the miraculous salvation of the city in a hymn as being like Noah's Ark floating to safety on the flood.
  
In [[337]], emperor [[Constantine I]], who had established Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire, died. Seizing on this opportunity, [[Shapur II of Persia]] began a series of attacks into Roman North [[Mesopotamia]]. Nisibis was besieged in [[338]], [[346]] and [[350]]. During the first siege, Ephrem credits Bishop Jacob as defending the city with his prayers. Ephrem's beloved bishop died soon after the event, and Babu led the church through the turbulent times of border skirmishes. In the third siege, of 350, Shapur rerouted the River Mygdonius to undermine the walls of Nisibis. The Nisibenes quickly repaired the walls while the Persian elephant cavalry became bogged down in the wet ground. Ephrem celebrated the miraculous salvation of the city in a hymn as being like [[Noah's Ark]] floating to safety on the flood.
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One important physical link to Ephrem's lifetime is the baptistery of Nisibis. The inscription tells that it was constructed under Bishop Vologeses in 359. That was the year that Shapur began to harry the region once again. The cities around Nisibis were destroyed one by one, and their citizens killed or deported. The Roman Empire was preoccupied in the west, and [[Constantius]] and [[Julian the Apostate]] struggled for overall control. Eventually, with Constantius dead, Julian began his march into Mesopotamia. He brought with him his increasingly stringent persecutions on Christians. Julian began a foolhardy march against the Persian capital Ctesiphon, where, overstretched and outnumbered, he began an immediate retreat back along the same road. Julian was killed defending his retreat, and the army elected Jovian as the new emperor. Unlike his predecessor, Jovian was a Nicene Christian. He was forced by circumstances to ask for terms from Shapur, and conceded Nisibis to Persia, with the rule that the city's Christian community would leave. Bishop Abraham, the successor to Vologeses, led his people into exile.
  
One important physical link to Ephrem's lifetime is the [[baptistery]] of Nisibis. The inscription tells that it was constructed under Bishop Vologeses in [[359]]. That was the year that Shapur began to harry the region once again. The cities around Nisibis were destroyed one by one, and their citizens killed or deported. The Roman Empire was preoccupied in the west, and [[Constantius]] and [[Julian]], struggled for overall control. Eventually, with Constantius dead, Julian the Apostate began his march into Mesopotamia. He brought with him his increasingly stringent persecutions on Christians. Julian began a foolhardy march against the Persian capital [[Ctesiphon]], where, overstretched and outnumbered, he began an immediate retreat back along the same road. Julian was killed defending his retreat, and the army elected [[Jovian]] as the new emperor. Unlike his predecessor, Jovian was a Nicene Christian. He was forced by circumstances to ask for terms from Shapur, and conceded Nisibis to Persia, with the rule that the city's Christian community would leave. Bishop Abraham, the successor to Vologeses, led his people into exile.
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Ephrem found himself among a large group of refugees that fled west, first to Amida (Diyarbakir), and eventually settling in Edessa (modern Sanli Urfa) in 363. Ephrem, in his late fifties, applied himself to ministry in his new church, and seems to have continued his work as a teacher (perhaps in the School of Edessa). Edessa had always been at the heart of the Syriac-speaking world, and the city was full of rival philosophies and religions. Ephrem comments that Orthodox Nicene Christians were simply called "Palutians" in Edessa, after a former bishop. [[Arianism|Arians]], [[Marcionism|Marcionites]], [[Manichaeism|Manichees]], [[Bardaisan]]ites and various [[Gnosticism|Gnostic sects]] proclaimed themselves as the true Church. In this confusion, Ephrem wrote a great number of hymns defending Orthodoxy. A later Syriac writer, [[Jacob of Serugh]], wrote that Ephrem rehearsed all female choirs to sing his hymns set to Syriac folk tunes in the forum of Edessa.
  
Ephrem found himself among a large group of refugees that fled west, first to Amida ([[Diyarbakir]]), and eventually settling in [[Edessa, Mesopotamia|Edessa]] (modern [[Sanli Urfa]]) in [[363]]. Ephrem, in his late fifties, applied himself to ministry in his new church, and seems to have continued his work as a teacher (perhaps in the [[School of Edessa]]). Edessa had always been at the heart of the Syriac-speaking world, and the city was full of rival philosophies and religions. Ephrem comments that 'orthodox' Nicene Christians were simply called 'Palutians' in Edessa, after a former bishop. [[Arianism|Arians]], [[Marcion of Sinope|Marcionites]], [[Manichaeism|Manichees]], [[Bardaisan]]ites and various [[Gnosticism|Gnostic sects]] proclaimed themselves as the true church. In this confusion, Ephrem wrote a great number of hymns defending orthodoxy. A later Syriac writer, [[Jacob of Serugh]], wrote that Ephrem rehearsed all female choirs to sing his hymns set to Syriac folk tunes in the forum of Edessa.
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After a ten-year residency in Edessa, in his sixties, Ephrem reposed in peace, according to some in the year 373, according to others, 379.
 
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After a ten-year residency in Edessa, in his sixties, Ephrem succumbed to the plague as he ministered to its victims. The most reliable date for his death is [[9 June]] [[373]].
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== Writings ==
 
== Writings ==
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Over four hundred [[hymn]]s composed by Ephrem still exist. Granted that some have been lost to us, Ephrem's productivity is not in doubt. The church historian [[Sozomen]] credits Ephrem with having written over three million lines. Ephrem combines in his writing a threefold heritage: he draws on the models and methods of early Rabbinic [[Judaism]], he engages wonderfully with Greek science and philosophy, and he delights in the Mesopotamian/Persian tradition of mystery symbolism.
  
Over four hundred [[hymn]]s composed by Ephrem still exist. Granted that some have been lost to us, Ephrem's productivity is not in doubt. The church historian [[Sozomen]] credits Ephrem with having written over three million lines. Ephrem combines in his writing a threefold heritage: he draws on the models and methods of early [[Rabbinic Judaism]], he engages wonderfully with Greek science and philosophy, and he delights in the Mesopotamian/Persian tradition of mystery symbolism.
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The most important of his works are his lyric hymns (''madr&acirc;&#353;&ecirc;''). These hymns are full of rich imagery drawn for biblical sources, folk tradition, and other religions and philosophies. The madr&acirc;&#353;&ecirc; are written in stanzas of syllabic verse, and employ over fifty different metrical schemes. Each madr&acirc;&#353;&ecirc; has its ''q&acirc;l&acirc;'', a traditional tune identified by its opening line. All of these q&acirc;l&ecirc; are now lost. It seems that [[Bardaisan]] and [[Mani]] composed madr&acirc;&#353;&ecirc;, and Ephrem felt that the medium was a suitable tool to use against their claims. The madr&acirc;&#353;&ecirc; are gathered into various hymn cycles. Each group has a title &mdash; ''Carmina Nisibena'', ''On Faith'', ''On Paradise'', ''On Virginity'', ''Against Heresies''&mdash;but some of these titles do not do justice to the entirety of the collection (for instance, only the first half of the ''Carmina Nisibena'' is about Nisibis).  Each madr&acirc;&#353;&acirc; usually had a refrain (''`un&icirc;t&acirc;''), which was repeated after each stanza. Later writers have suggested that the madr&acirc;&#353;&ecirc; were sung by all women choirs with an accompanying lyre.
  
The most important of his works are his lyric hymns (''madr&acirc;&#353;&ecirc;''). These hymns are full of rich imagery drawn for biblical sources, folk tradition, and other religions and philosophies. The madr&acirc;&#353;&ecirc; are written in stanzas of [[syllabic verse]], and employ over fifty different metrical schemes. Each madr&acirc;&#353;&ecirc; has its ''q&acirc;l&acirc;'', a traditional tune identified by its opening line. All of these q&acirc;l&ecirc; are now lost. It seems that [[Bardaisan]] and [[Mani (prophet)|Mani]] composed madr&acirc;&#353;&ecirc;, and Ephrem felt that the medium was a suitable tool to use against their claims. The madr&acirc;&#353;&ecirc; are gathered into various hymn cycles. Each group has a title &mdash; ''Carmina Nisibena'', ''On Faith'', ''On Paradise'', ''On Virginity'', ''Against Heresies'' &mdash; but some of these titles do not do justice to the entirety of the collection (for instance, only the first half of the Carmina Nisibena is about Nisibis). Each madr&acirc;&#353;&acirc; usually had a refrain (''`un&icirc;t&acirc;''), which was repeated after each stanza. Later writers have suggested that the madr&acirc;&#353;&ecirc; were sung by all women choirs with an accompanying lyre.
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Ephrem also wrote verse [[homily|homilies]] (''m&ecirc;mr&ecirc;''). These sermons in poetry are far fewer in number than the madr&acirc;&#353;&ecirc;. The m&ecirc;mr&ecirc; are written in a heptosyllabic couple]s (pairs of lines of seven syllables each).
  
Ephrem also wrote verse homilies (''m&ecirc;mr&ecirc;''). These sermons in poetry are far fewer in number than the madr&acirc;&#353;&ecirc;. The m&ecirc;mr&ecirc; are written in a heptosyllabic [[couplet]]s (pairs of lines of seven syllables each).
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The third category of Ephrem's writings is his prose work. He wrote biblical commentaries on [[Tatian]]'s [[Diatessaron]] (the single gospel harmony of the early Syriac church), on [[Genesis]] and [[Exodus]], and on the [[Acts of the Apostles]] and [[Pauline Epistles]]. He also wrote refutations against [[Bardaisan]], [[Mani]], [[Marcion]] and others.
  
The third category of Ephrem's writings is his prose work. He wrote biblical commentaries on the [[Diatessaron]] (the single gospel harmony of the early Syriac church), on [[Genesis]] and [[Exodus]], and on the [[Acts of the Apostles]] and [[Pauline Epistles]]. He also wrote refutations against [[Bardaisan]], [[Mani]], [[Marcion of Sinope|Marcion]] and others.
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Ephrem wrote exclusively in the [yriac language, but translations of his writings exist in Armenian, Coptic, Greek and other languages.  Some of his works are extant only in translation (particularly in Armenian). Syriac churches still use many of Ephrem's hymns as part of the annual cycle of worship. However, most of these liturgical hymns are edited and conflated versions of the originals.
  
Ephrem wrote exclusively in the [[Syriac language]], but translations of his writings exist in [[Armenian language|Armenian]], [[Coptic language|Coptic]], [[Greek language|Greek]] and other languages. Some of his works are only extant in translation (particularly in Armenian). Syriac churches still use many of Ephrem's hymns as part of the annual cycle of worship. However, most of these liturgical hymns are edited and conflated versions of the originals.
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The most complete, critical text of authentic Ephrem was compiled between 1955 and 1979 by Dom Edmund Beck, OSB as part of the ''Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium''.
  
The most complete, critical text of authentic Ephrem was compiled between [[1955]] and [[1979]] by Dom Edmund Beck OSB as part of the ''Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium''.
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=="Greek Ephrem"==
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Ephrem's artful meditations on the symbols of Christian faith and his stand against heresy made him a popular source of inspiration throughout the church. This occurred to the extent that there is a huge corpus of Ephrem [[pseudepigraphy]] and legendary [[hagiography]]. Some of these compositions are in verse, often a version of Ephrem's heptosyllabic couplets. Most of these works are considerably later compositions in Greek. Students of Ephrem often refer to this corpus as having a single, imaginary author called Greek Ephrem or Ephraem Graecus (as opposed to the real Ephrem the Syrian). This is not to say that all texts ascribed to Ephrem in Greek are false, but many are. Although Greek compositions are the main source of pseudepigraphal material, there are also works in Latin, Slavonic and Arabic. There has been very little critical examination of these works, and many are still treasured by churches as authentic.
  
== 'Greek Ephrem' ==
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The most well known of these writings is the ''Prayer of Saint Ephrem'' that is a part of most days of fasting in Eastern Christianity:
  
Ephrem's artful meditations on the symbols of Christian faith and his stand against heresy made him a popular source of inspiration throughout the church. This occurred to the extent that there is a huge corpus of Ephrem [[pseudepigraphy]] and legendary [[hagiography]]. Some of these compositions are in verse, often a version of Ephrem's heptosyllabic couplets. Most of these works are considerably later compositions in Greek. Students of Ephrem often refer to this corpus as having a single, imaginary author called Greek Ephrem or Ephraem Graecus (as opposed to the real Ephrem the Syrian). This is not to say that all texts ascribed to Ephrem in Greek are false, but many are. Although Greek compositions are the main source of pseudepigraphal material, there are also works in [[Latin]], [[Slavonic language|Slavonic]] and [[Arabic language|Arabic]]. There has been very little critical examination of these works, and many are still treasured by churches as authentic.
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:O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power, and idle talk.  
  
The most well known of these writings is the ''Prayer of Saint Ephrem'' that is a part of most days of fasting in [[eastern Christianity]]:
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:But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to thy servant.
<center>O Lord and Master of my life,<br>give me not a spirit of sloth,<br>vain curiosity, lust for power and idle talk,<br>but give to me, your servant,<br>a spirit of soberness, humility, patience and love.<br>O Lord and King,<br>grant me to see my own faults<br>and not to condemn my brother:<br>for you are blessed<br>for ever and ever.<br>Amen.<br>O God, cleanse me, a sinner.</center>
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== Veneration as a saint ==
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:Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
{| border="1" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="0" align="right" width="300" style="margin-left:1.0em;"
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! colspan="2" bgcolor="gold" style="font-size:120%"|'''''Saint Ephrem the Syrian'''''
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|-
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|align="center" colspan="2" |[[Image:Ephrem.jpg|thumb|none|[[Icon]] of Ephrem the Syrian]]
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|-
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|align="center" colspan="2" bgcolor="gold"|'''[[Doctor of the Church]] and Venerable Monk'''
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|-
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|'''Born'''
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|''c.'' [[306]], [[Nisibis]]
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|-
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|'''Died'''
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|[[9 June]] [[373]], [[Edessa]]
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|-
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|'''Venerated in'''
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|All [[Christianity]], especially [[Syraic Christianity]]
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|-
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|'''Major [[shrine]]'''
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|The [[Armenian]] monastery of Der Sarkis ([[Saint Sergius]])
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|-
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|'''[[Calendar of saints|Feast]]'''
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|7th Saturday before Easter ([[Syriac Orthodox Church|Syriac Orthodox]])<br>
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[[1 February]] (''Roman Martyrology'')<br>
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[[10 February]] ([[Eastern Orthodoxy]])<br>
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[[8 June]] ([[Scottish Episcopal Church]])<br>
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[[9 June]] ([[Church of England]]<br>
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[[9 June]] ([[Roman Catholic Church]])<br>
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[[10 June]] ([[Church in Wales]])<br>
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[[10 June]] ([[Episcopal Church in the United States of America|Episcopal Church in the USA]])<br>
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[[18 June]] ([[Maronite]] Church)<br>
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[[18 June]] (former Catholic date)
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|-
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|'''Attributes'''
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|Vine and scroll, deacon's habit and thurible, with [[Basil of Caesarea|St Basil]], composing with a harp
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|-
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|'''[[Patron saint|Patronage]]'''
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|Spiritual directors and spiritual leaders
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|-
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|colspan="2"|
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:''O Lord, may the works of your herdsman''
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::''not be squandered.''
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:''I will not then have troubled your sheep,''
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::''but as far as I was able,''
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:''I will have kept the wolves away from them,''
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::''and I will have built, as far as I was capable,''
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:''Enclosures of hymns''
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::''for the lambs of your flock.''
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:''I will have made a disciple''
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::''of the simple and unlearned,''
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:''And I will have given them a strong hold''
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::''on the shepherd's staff,''
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:''the healers' medicine,''
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::''and the combatants' armour''
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<small>Ephrem the Syrian. ''Hymns against Heresy'', LVI.</small>
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|}
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Soon after Ephrem's death, legendary accounts of his life began to circulate. One of the earlier 'modifications' is the statement that Ephrem's father was a [[pagan]] priest of Abnil or Abizal. However, internal evidence from his authentic writings suggest that he was raised by Christian parents. This legend may be anti-pagan polemic, or simply a borrowed biography.
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The second legend attached to Ephrem is that he was a [[monk]]. In Ephrem's day, monasticism was in its infancy in the [[Egypt]]. He seems to have been a part of a close-knit, urban community of Christians that had 'covenanted' themselves to service and refrained from sexual activity. Some of the Syriac terms that Ephrem used to describe his community were later used to describe monastic communities, but the assertion that he was monk is anachronistic. Later hagiographers often painted a picture of Ephrem as an extreme ascetic. Ephrem is venerated as an example of monastic discipline in [[Eastern Christianity]]. In the [[Eastern Orthodox]] scheme of hagiography, Ephrem is counted as a ''Venerable Monk''.
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:O God, be gracious to me, a sinner.
  
Ephrem is popularly believed to have taken legendary journeys. In one of these he visits [[Basil of Caesarea]]. This links the Syrian Ephrem with the [[Cappadocian Fathers]], and is an important theological bridge between the spiritual view of the two, who held much in common.
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== Veneration as a saint ==
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[[Image:Ephrem the Syrian repose.jpg|left|frame|The repose of St. Ephrem]]
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Though St. Ephrem was probably not formally a [[monasticism|monk]], he was known to have practiced a severe ascetical life, ever increasing in holiness. In Ephrem's day, monasticism was in its infancy in the Egypt. He seems to have been a part of a close-knit, urban community of Christians that had "covenanted" themselves to service and refrained from sexual activity. Some of the Syriac terms that Ephrem used to describe his community were later used to describe monastic communities, but the assertion that he was monk is probably anachronistic.
  
Ephrem is also supposed to have visited Anba Bishoi (Pisoes) in the monasteries of the Wadi Natun, Egypt. As with the legendary visit with Basil, this visit is a theological bridge between the origins of monasticism and its spread throughout the church.
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Ephrem is popularly believed to have taken certain legendary journeys. In one of these he visits St. [[Basil of the Great]]. This links the Syrian Ephrem with the [[Cappadocian Fathers]], and is an important theological bridge between the spiritual view of the two, who held much in common.
  
On [[5 October]] [[1920]], Pope [[Benedict XV]] proclaimed that Ephrem is a [[Doctor of the Church]]. This proclamation was made before critical editions of Ephrem's authentic writings were available.
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Ephrem is also supposed to have visited Abba Bishoi (Pisoes) in the monasteries of the Wadi Natun, Egypt. As with the legendary visit with Basil, this visit is a theological bridge between the origins of monasticism and its spread throughout the church.
  
 
The most popular title for Ephrem is ''Harp of the Spirit'' (Syriac Ken&acirc;r&acirc; d-R&ucirc;h&acirc;). He is also referred to as the ''Deacon of Edessa'', the ''Sun of the Syrians'' and a ''Pillar of the Church''.
 
The most popular title for Ephrem is ''Harp of the Spirit'' (Syriac Ken&acirc;r&acirc; d-R&ucirc;h&acirc;). He is also referred to as the ''Deacon of Edessa'', the ''Sun of the Syrians'' and a ''Pillar of the Church''.
  
Today, Saint Ephrem presents an engaging model of Asian Christianity, which might prove a valuable source of theological insight for Christian communities that wish to break out of the European cultural mould. Ephrem also shows that poetry is not only a valid vehicle for theology, but in many ways superior to philosophical discourse. He also encourages a way of reading the [[Bible]] that is rooted in faith more than critical analysis. Ephrem displays a deep sense of the interconnectedness of all created things, which could develop his role in the church into that of a 'saint of ecology'. There are modern studies into Ephrem's view of women that see him as a champion of women in the church. Other studies have focused on the importance of 'healing' imagery in Ephrem. For the modern church, then, Ephrem is a saint of non-western, poetic, ecological, feminist, healing theology.
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With the [[Holy Tradition|Tradition of the Church]], Ephrem also shows that poetry is not only a valid vehicle for theology, but in many ways superior to philosophical discourse. He also encourages a way of reading the [[Holy Scripture]] that is rooted in faith more than critical analysis. Ephrem displays a deep sense of the interconnectedness of all created things, which leads some to see him as a "saint of ecology."
 
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== Appendices ==
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=== Quotations ===
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* ''The greatest poet of the patristic age and, perhaps, the only theologian-poet to rank beside Dante.'' &mdash; Robert Murray.
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== Quotations ==
* "“The hutzpah of our love is pleasing to you, O Lord, just as it pleased you that we should steal from your bounty.
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* "The greatest poet of the patristic age and, perhaps, the only theologian-poet to rank beside Dante." &mdash; Robert Murray.
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* "The hutzpah of our love is pleasing to you, O Lord, just as it pleased you that we should steal from your bounty.

Revision as of 06:16, January 29, 2005

Our Righteous Father Ephrem the Syrian was a prolific Syriac language hymn writer and theologian of the 4th century. He is venerated by Christians throughout the world, but especially among Syriac Christians, as a saint. His feast day in the Orthodox Church is January 28.

St. Ephrem the Syrian

Contents

Name

Ephrem is also variously known as Ephraim (Hebrew and Greek), Ephraem (Latin), Aphrem and Afrem (both Syriac). However, "Ephrem" is the generally preferred spelling.

Syriac — ܡܪܝ ܐܦܪܝܡ ܣܘܪܝܝܐMâr Aphrêm Sûryâyâ.
Greek — Άγιος Εφραιμ Συρος — Hagios Ephraim Syros.
Latin — Sanctus Ephraem Syrus
English — Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Life

Ephrem was born around the year 306, in the city of Nisibis (the modern Turkish town of Nusaybin, on the border with Syria). Internal evidence from Ephrem's hymnody suggests that both his parents were part of the growing Christian community in the city, although later hagiographers wrote that his father was a pagan priest. Numerous languages were spoken in the Nisibis of Ephrem's day, mostly dialects of Aramaic. The Christian community used the Syriac dialect. Various pagan religions, Judaism and early Christian sects vied with one another for the hearts and minds of the populace. It was a time of great religious and political tension. The Roman Emperor Diocletian had signed a treaty with his Persian counterpart, Nerses in 298 that transferred Nisibis into Roman hands. The savage persecution and martyrdom of Christians under Diocletian were an important part of Nisibene church heritage as Ephrem grew up.

St. James (Mar Jacob), the first bishop of Nisibis, was appointed in 308, and Ephrem grew up under his leadership of the community. St. James is recorded as a signatory at the First Ecumenical Council in 325. Ephrem was baptized as a youth, and James appointed him as a teacher (Syriac malpânâ, a title that still carries great respect for Syriac Christians). He was ordained as a deacon either at this time or later. He began to compose hymns and write biblical commentaries as part of his educational office. In his hymns, he sometimes refers to himself as a "herdsman" (`allânâ), to his bishop as the "shepherd" (râ`yâ) and his community as a "fold" (dayrâ). Ephrem is popularly credited as the founder of the School of Nisibis, which in later centuries was the centre of learning of the Assyrian Church of the East (i.e., the Nestorians.

In 337, emperor Constantine I, who had established Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire, died. Seizing on this opportunity, Shapur II of Persia began a series of attacks into Roman North Mesopotamia. Nisibis was besieged in 338, 346 and 350. During the first siege, Ephrem credits Bishop James as defending the city with his prayers. Ephrem's beloved bishop died soon after the event, and Babu led the church through the turbulent times of border skirmishes. In the third siege, of 350, Shapur rerouted the River Mygdonius to undermine the walls of Nisibis. The Nisibenes quickly repaired the walls while the Persian elephant cavalry became bogged down in the wet ground. Ephrem celebrated the miraculous salvation of the city in a hymn as being like Noah's Ark floating to safety on the flood.

One important physical link to Ephrem's lifetime is the baptistery of Nisibis. The inscription tells that it was constructed under Bishop Vologeses in 359. That was the year that Shapur began to harry the region once again. The cities around Nisibis were destroyed one by one, and their citizens killed or deported. The Roman Empire was preoccupied in the west, and Constantius and Julian the Apostate struggled for overall control. Eventually, with Constantius dead, Julian began his march into Mesopotamia. He brought with him his increasingly stringent persecutions on Christians. Julian began a foolhardy march against the Persian capital Ctesiphon, where, overstretched and outnumbered, he began an immediate retreat back along the same road. Julian was killed defending his retreat, and the army elected Jovian as the new emperor. Unlike his predecessor, Jovian was a Nicene Christian. He was forced by circumstances to ask for terms from Shapur, and conceded Nisibis to Persia, with the rule that the city's Christian community would leave. Bishop Abraham, the successor to Vologeses, led his people into exile.

Ephrem found himself among a large group of refugees that fled west, first to Amida (Diyarbakir), and eventually settling in Edessa (modern Sanli Urfa) in 363. Ephrem, in his late fifties, applied himself to ministry in his new church, and seems to have continued his work as a teacher (perhaps in the School of Edessa). Edessa had always been at the heart of the Syriac-speaking world, and the city was full of rival philosophies and religions. Ephrem comments that Orthodox Nicene Christians were simply called "Palutians" in Edessa, after a former bishop. Arians, Marcionites, Manichees, Bardaisanites and various Gnostic sects proclaimed themselves as the true Church. In this confusion, Ephrem wrote a great number of hymns defending Orthodoxy. A later Syriac writer, Jacob of Serugh, wrote that Ephrem rehearsed all female choirs to sing his hymns set to Syriac folk tunes in the forum of Edessa.

After a ten-year residency in Edessa, in his sixties, Ephrem reposed in peace, according to some in the year 373, according to others, 379.

Writings

Over four hundred hymns composed by Ephrem still exist. Granted that some have been lost to us, Ephrem's productivity is not in doubt. The church historian Sozomen credits Ephrem with having written over three million lines. Ephrem combines in his writing a threefold heritage: he draws on the models and methods of early Rabbinic Judaism, he engages wonderfully with Greek science and philosophy, and he delights in the Mesopotamian/Persian tradition of mystery symbolism.

The most important of his works are his lyric hymns (madrâšê). These hymns are full of rich imagery drawn for biblical sources, folk tradition, and other religions and philosophies. The madrâšê are written in stanzas of syllabic verse, and employ over fifty different metrical schemes. Each madrâšê has its qâlâ, a traditional tune identified by its opening line. All of these qâlê are now lost. It seems that Bardaisan and Mani composed madrâšê, and Ephrem felt that the medium was a suitable tool to use against their claims. The madrâšê are gathered into various hymn cycles. Each group has a title — Carmina Nisibena, On Faith, On Paradise, On Virginity, Against Heresies—but some of these titles do not do justice to the entirety of the collection (for instance, only the first half of the Carmina Nisibena is about Nisibis). Each madrâšâ usually had a refrain (`unîtâ), which was repeated after each stanza. Later writers have suggested that the madrâšê were sung by all women choirs with an accompanying lyre.

Ephrem also wrote verse homilies (mêmrê). These sermons in poetry are far fewer in number than the madrâšê. The mêmrê are written in a heptosyllabic couple]s (pairs of lines of seven syllables each).

The third category of Ephrem's writings is his prose work. He wrote biblical commentaries on Tatian's Diatessaron (the single gospel harmony of the early Syriac church), on Genesis and Exodus, and on the Acts of the Apostles and Pauline Epistles. He also wrote refutations against Bardaisan, Mani, Marcion and others.

Ephrem wrote exclusively in the [yriac language, but translations of his writings exist in Armenian, Coptic, Greek and other languages. Some of his works are extant only in translation (particularly in Armenian). Syriac churches still use many of Ephrem's hymns as part of the annual cycle of worship. However, most of these liturgical hymns are edited and conflated versions of the originals.

The most complete, critical text of authentic Ephrem was compiled between 1955 and 1979 by Dom Edmund Beck, OSB as part of the Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium.

"Greek Ephrem"

Ephrem's artful meditations on the symbols of Christian faith and his stand against heresy made him a popular source of inspiration throughout the church. This occurred to the extent that there is a huge corpus of Ephrem pseudepigraphy and legendary hagiography. Some of these compositions are in verse, often a version of Ephrem's heptosyllabic couplets. Most of these works are considerably later compositions in Greek. Students of Ephrem often refer to this corpus as having a single, imaginary author called Greek Ephrem or Ephraem Graecus (as opposed to the real Ephrem the Syrian). This is not to say that all texts ascribed to Ephrem in Greek are false, but many are. Although Greek compositions are the main source of pseudepigraphal material, there are also works in Latin, Slavonic and Arabic. There has been very little critical examination of these works, and many are still treasured by churches as authentic.

The most well known of these writings is the Prayer of Saint Ephrem that is a part of most days of fasting in Eastern Christianity:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
O God, be gracious to me, a sinner.

Veneration as a saint

The repose of St. Ephrem

Though St. Ephrem was probably not formally a monk, he was known to have practiced a severe ascetical life, ever increasing in holiness. In Ephrem's day, monasticism was in its infancy in the Egypt. He seems to have been a part of a close-knit, urban community of Christians that had "covenanted" themselves to service and refrained from sexual activity. Some of the Syriac terms that Ephrem used to describe his community were later used to describe monastic communities, but the assertion that he was monk is probably anachronistic.

Ephrem is popularly believed to have taken certain legendary journeys. In one of these he visits St. Basil of the Great. This links the Syrian Ephrem with the Cappadocian Fathers, and is an important theological bridge between the spiritual view of the two, who held much in common.

Ephrem is also supposed to have visited Abba Bishoi (Pisoes) in the monasteries of the Wadi Natun, Egypt. As with the legendary visit with Basil, this visit is a theological bridge between the origins of monasticism and its spread throughout the church.

The most popular title for Ephrem is Harp of the Spirit (Syriac Kenârâ d-Rûhâ). He is also referred to as the Deacon of Edessa, the Sun of the Syrians and a Pillar of the Church.

With the Tradition of the Church, Ephrem also shows that poetry is not only a valid vehicle for theology, but in many ways superior to philosophical discourse. He also encourages a way of reading the Holy Scripture that is rooted in faith more than critical analysis. Ephrem displays a deep sense of the interconnectedness of all created things, which leads some to see him as a "saint of ecology."

Quotations

  • "The greatest poet of the patristic age and, perhaps, the only theologian-poet to rank beside Dante." — Robert Murray.
  • "The hutzpah of our love is pleasing to you, O Lord, just as it pleased you that we should steal from your bounty.
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