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Saint Ephrem the Syrian

“Have mercy, O Lord, on my children,

In my children,

Call to mind your childhood,

You who were a child.

Let them that are like your childhood

Be saved by your grace.”

Ephrem the Syrian

Saint Ephrem the Syrian was a Deacon, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church.

Sainte Ephrem (ܡܪܝ ܐܦܪܝܡ ܣܘܪܝܝܐ Syriac, Ἐφραίμ ὁ Σῦρος Koine Greek) was born in the city of Nisibis (now in modern Nusaybin, Turkey) in the year 306 AD. The province he was born in had just recently been integrated into the Roman Empire and his parents were part of the small but growing Christian community there. Saint Ephrem grew to age under the leadership of Jacob of Nisibis, the second Bishop of Nisibis and one of the signatories at the Frist Council of Nicaea. The Bishop appointed Saint Ephrem as a teacher (Specifically a Syriac title - malp̄ānâ , a title that still commands great respect for Syrian Christians). He was soon ordained as a Deacon and began to compose both hymns and biblical commentaries.

Then the Emperor Constantine the Great died in 337, Shapur II of Persia immediately began attacking the territory and laid siege to Nisibis in 338, 346 , and 350. Saint Ephrem would later write that the city was saved in the first siege of 338 by the reverent prayers of Bishop Jacob. During the third siege a Persian attempt to reroute the river was stopped by the quick rebuilding of the walls by the Nisibenes. This quick action resulted in the Persian cavalry being drowned by the rushing waters of the river, an event that Saint Ephrem saw as the miraculous salvation of the city.

Saint Ephrem settled in Edessa in 363 and taught in the School of Edessa. To defend the faith against the many gnostic and Arian sects in the city, Saint Ephrem wrote many hymns regarding Nicene orthodoxy. He rehearsed all-female choirs to sing his hymns set to Syriac folk songs in the forum of the city. After ten years living in the city, Saint Ephrem fell sick with a plague sweeping through the city. It is most likely that he caught the plague himself while ministering to those who had fallen ill. Saint Ephrem died on June 9th, 373 AD.

“Scripture brought me to the Gate of Paradise, and the mind stood in wonder as it entered.”
Ephrem the Syrian

There are over four hundred surviving hymns composed by Saint Ephrem. The historian Sozomen writes that Saint Ephrem wrote over three million lines. Most important of these hymns are his teaching hymns (ܡܕܖ̈ܫܐ) , hymns composed of rich poetic imagery drawn from Biblical sources, folk traditions and other religions that are written in stanzas of syllabic verse. Each has it's own ܩܠܐ , a traditional tune identified by it's opening tune. Several of his homilies still exist as does many of his commentaries, including his biblical commentary on the Diatessaron, his commentary on Genesis and Exodus and his commentaries on the Pauline Epistles.

“Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your mattress,/And you shall sleep restful nights”

Pope Benedict XV proclaimed Saint Ephrem a Doctor of the Church (Doctor of the Syrians) on October 5th, 1920. He is also known as Harp of the Spirit (ܟܢܪܐ ܕܪܘܚܐ), the Deacon of Odessa, and a Pillar of the Church. Today his feast day is celebrated on the date of his death, June 9th.

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