Venerable Ephrem the Syrian

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yes, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.


Ephrem is also variously as Ephraim (Hebrew and Greek), Ephraem (Latin). Aphrem and Afrem (both Syriac). However, "Ephrem" is the generally preferred spelling. The Greek is ΄Αγιος Εφρραίμ ο Σύρος.

Saint Ephrem was born around the year 306 AD, in the city of Nisibis (the modern town of Nusaybin, on the border with Syria). Internal evidence from St. 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 St. 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 pagan Roman emperor Diocletian had signed a treaty with his Persian counterpart, Nerses in 298 AD that transferred Nisibis into Roman hands. The savage persecution and martyrdom of Christians under Diocletian were an important part of Nisibene church heritage as St. Ephrem grew up.

Saint James (Mar Jacob), the first bishop of Nisibis, was appointed in 308 AD, and St. Ephrem grew up under his leadership of the community. Saint James is recorded as a signatory at the First Ecumenical Council in 325 AD. St. Ephrem was baptized as a youth, and James appointed him as a teacher (Syriac malpana, 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," to his bishop as the "shepherd" and his community as a "fold." St. Ephrem is popularly credited as the founder of the School of Nisibis, which in later centuries was the center of learning of the Assyrian Church of the East (i.e., the Nestorians).

In 337 AD, 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, St. Ephrem credits Bishop James as defending the city with his prayers. St. 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 Nisibis quickly repaired the walls while the Persian elephant cavalry became bogged down in the wet ground. St. Ephrem celebrated the miraculous salvation of the city in a hymn as being like Noah's Ark floating to safety on the flood.

Saint James of Nisibis (January 13) was a noted ascetic, a preacher of Christianity and denouncer of the Arians. Saint Ephrem became one of his disciples. Under the direction of the holy hierarch, St. Ephrem attained Christian meekness, humility, submission to God's will, and the strength to undergo various temptations without complaint.

Saint James transformed the wayward youth into a humble and contrite monk. Realizing the great worth of his disciple, he made use of his talents. He trusted him to preach sermons, to instruct children in school, and he took Ephrem with him to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea. Saint Ephrem was in obedience to St. James for fourteen years, until the bishop's death in 338 AD.

After the capture of Nisibis by the Persians in 363 AD, St. Ephrem went to a monastery near the city of Edessa. Here he met many great ascetics, passing their lives in prayer and psalmody. Their caves were solitary shelters, and they fed themselves with a certain plant.

He became especially close to the ascetic Julian (October 18), who was of one mind with him. St. Ephrem combined asceticism with a ceaseless study of the Word of God, taking from it both solace and wisdom for his soul. The Lord gave him a gift of teaching, and people began to come to him, wanting to hear his counsel, which produced compunction in the soul, since he began with self-accusation. Both verbally and in writing, St. Ephrem instructed everyone in repentance, faith and piety, and he denounced the Arian heresy, which at that time was causing great turmoil. Pagans who heard the preaching of the Saint were converted to Christianity.

He also wrote the first Syriac commentary on the Penteateuch (i.e. "Five Books" of the Old Testament) of Moses. He wrote many prayers and hymns, thereby enriching the Church's liturgical services. Famous prayers of St. Ephrem are to the Most Holy Trinity, to the Son of God, and to the Most Holy Theotokos. He composed hymns for the Twelve Great Feasts of the Lord (the Nativity of Christ, the Baptism, the Resurrection), and funeral hymns. St. Ephrem's Prayer of Repentance, "O Lord and Master of my life..." is recited during the Great Lent, and it summons Christians to spiritual renewal.

In many of St. Ephrem's works we catch glimpses of the life of the Syrian ascetics, which was centered on prayer and working in various obediences for the common good of the brethren. The outlook of all the Syrian ascetics was the same. The monks believed that the goal of their efforts was communion with God and the acquisition of Divine grace. For them the present life was a time of tears, fasting and toil.

"If the Son of God is within you, then his Kingdom is also within you. Thus, the Kingdom of God is within you, a sinner. Enter into yourself, search diligently and without toil you shall find it. Outside of you is death, and the door to it is sin. Enter into yourself, dwell within your heart, for God is there."

Constant spiritual sobriety, the developing of good within man's soul gives him the possibility to take upon himself a task like blessedness, and a self-constraint like sanctity. The requital is presupposed in the earthly life of man, it is an undertaking of spiritual perfection by degrees. Whoever grows himself wings upon the earth, says St. Ephrem, is one who soars up into the heights; whoever purifies his mind here below, there glimpses the Glory of God. In whatever measure each one loves God, he is, by God's love, satiated to fullness according to that measure. Man, cleansing himself and attaining the grace of the Holy Spirit while still here on earth, has a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven. To attain to life eternal, in the teachings of St. Ephrem, does not mean to pass over from one realm of being into another, but rather to discover "the heavenly", spiritual condition of being. Eternal life is not bestowed on man through God's one-sided efforts, but rather, it constantly grows like a seed within him by his efforts, toils and struggles.

The pledge within us of "theosis (or "deification") is the Baptism of Christ, and the main force that drives the Christian life is repentance. Saint Ephrem was a great teacher of repentance. The forgiveness of sins in the Mystery of Repentance, according to his teaching, is not an external exoneration, not a forgetting of the sins, but rather their complete undoing, the annihilation. The tears of repentance wash away and burn away the sin. Moreover, they (i.e., the tears) enliven, they transfigure sinful nature, they give the strength "to walk in the way of the Lord's Commandments," encouraging hope in God. In the fiery font of repentance, the Saint wrote, "you sail yourself across, O sinner, you resurrect yourself from the dead."

Saint Ephrem, accounting himself as the least and worst of all, went to Egypt at the end of his life to see the efforts of the great ascetics. He was accepted there as a welcome guest and received great solace from conversing with them. On his return journey he visited at Caearea in Cappadocia with Saint Basil the Great, who wanted to ordain him a priest, but he considered himself unworthy of the priesthood. At the insistence of Saint Basil, he consented only to be ordained a deacon, in which rank he remained until his death. Later on, Saint Basil invited St. Ephrem to accept a bishop's throne, but the Saint feigned madness in order to avoid this honor, humbly regarding himself as unworthy of it.

After his return to his own Edessa wilderness, St. Ephrem hoped to spend the rest of life in solitude, but Divine Providence again summoned him to serve his neighbor. The inhabitants of Edessa were suffering from a devastating famine. By the influence of his word, the Saint persuaded the wealthy to render aid to those in need. From the offerings of believers he built a poor-house for the poor and sick. Saint Ephrem then withdrew to a cave near Edessa, where he remained to the end of his days.

Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of St. Ephrem. Tone Eight

By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile, and your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance. By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe! Our Father Ephrem, pray to Christ God to save our souls!

Kontakion Hymn. Tone Two

Ever anticipating the hour of Judgment, you lamented bitterly, venerable Ephrem. Through your deeds you were a teacher by example; therefore, universal Father, you rouse the slothful to repentance.



"Whenever I have meditated upon You I have acquired a veritable treasure from You; whatever aspect of You I have contemplated, a stream has flowed from You; there is no way I can contain it. Your fountain, Lord, is hidden from the person who does not thirst for You" (Faith 32:2-3).

"The hutzpah of our love is pleasing to You, O Lord, just as it pleased You that we should steal from Your bounty."

"The hater of mankind, in his shameless impudence, attacks the Holy Church in the person of her servers, O Lord, do not leave Thy Holy Church without They care, that the promise that Thou didst utter concerning her invincibility may not be shown false."

"Blessed is the person who has consented to become the close friend of faith and of prayer: he lives in single-mindedness and makes prayer and faith stop by with him. Prayer that rises up in someone's heart serves to open us for us the door of heaven: that person stands in converse with the Divinity and gives pleasure to the Son of God. Prayer makes peace with the Lord's anger and with the vehemence of His wrath. In this way too, tears that well up in the eyes can open the door of compassion."

"The Seraph could not touch the fire's coal with his fingers. But just brought it close to Isaiah's mouth: the Seraph did not hold it, Isaiah did not consume it, but us our Lord has allowed to do both."

(Source: OrthodoxWiki and Orthodox Church of America)


The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+Father George