St Ephrem the Syrian

Today, the Church liturgically recalls the life and work of Our Holy Father Ephrem the Syrian.

As we have seen, the theology of Syrian was a fountain of teaching about the incarnation of our Lord, especially his baptism in the Jordan. The feast of Theophany was the foremost manifestation of the Triune God. Among the Syrian theologians, none was most important than St. Ephrem.

Born of pagan parents, he found the Christian faith, was baptized and eventually ordained a deacon. His life was marked by asceticism, as he imitated our Lord in the desert. He had the ascetic gift of tears, sorrow for sin and joy in the salvation of our Lord. His Troparion begins, “Your abundant tears made the wilderness sprout and bloom, and your deep sighings made your labor fruitful a hundredfold. “His theology was equal to the greatest fathers, but his style was entirely different. He wrote in verse, so that it might be sung in hymns, and so he is called the “Harp of the Holy Spirit.”

The corpus of his work was huge, and over 400 hymns still exist, many of which are used in the Syrian Liturgy. He writes of the mystery of the Incarnation:

“A tiny stream from your teaching, Lord,
For us below makes a flood of interpretations.
In your Bread is hidden a Spirit not to be eaten,
In your Wine dwells a Fire not to be drunk.
Spirit in your Bread, Fire in your Wine,
A wonder set apart, [yet] received by our lips!
See, Fire and Spirit in the womb that bore you!
See, Fire and Spirit in the river where you were baptized!
Fire and Spirit in our Baptism;
In the Bread and the Cup, Fire and Holy Spirit!” (Hymns on the Faith 10)

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras


The Virgin Mary in St Ephrem’s theology

The month of May is traditionally known on as the Month of Mary. The Church holds Mary in the highest esteem; she is venerated but not worshipped by Catholics and Orthodox. A Syrian Father, St Ephrem, –the Harp of the Holy Spirit– the fourth century hymnographer, theologian and deacon as something to offer about the Mother of God.

“As lightning illu­mi­na­tes what is hid­den, so also Christ puri­fies what is hid­den in the nature of things. He puri­fied the Vir­gin also and then was born, so as to show that where Christ is, there is mani­fest purity in all its power. He puri­fied the Vir­gin, having pre­pa­red Her by the Holy Spi­rit… having been born, He left Her vir­gin. I do not say that Mary became immor­tal, but that being illu­mi­na­ted by grace, She was not dis­tur­bed by sin­ful desi­res”

“Most holy Lady, Mother of God, alone most pure in soul and body, alone exceeding all perfection of purity… alone made in thy entirety the home of all the graces of the Most Holy Spirit, and hence exceeding beyond all compare even the angelic virtues in purity and sanctity of soul and body… my Lady most holy, all-pure, all-immaculate, all-stainless, all-undefiled, all-incorrupt, all inviolate spotless robe of Him Who clothes Himself with light as with a garment… flower unfading, purple woven by God, alone most immaculate.”

“There is in you, Lord, no stain, nor any spot in your mother.”

“You Jesus and your mother are the only ones who are beautiful in all aspects. Because in you, O Lord, there is no deformation, and in your mother, there is no stain.”

“The two women were pure and simple, Mary and Eve. One of them, however, became the cause of our death and the other, the cause of our life.”

St. Ephrem the Syrian