Saint Ephraim the Syrian (Part II)


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



Over 400 hymns composed by Saint Ephraim still exist. Granted that some have been lost, Saint Ephraim's productivity is not in doubt. The Church historian Sozomen credits Saint Ephraim with having written over 3,000,000 (three million) lines. Saint Ephraim combines in his writing a threefold heritage: he draws on the models and methods of early Rabbinic Judaism, he engages skillfully 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, teaching hymns. These hymns are full of rich, poetic imagery drawn from biblical sources, folk tradition, and other religions and philosophies. The madrase are written in stanzas of syllabic verse, and employ over fifty metrical schemes. Each madrasa had it qale, a traditional tune identified by its opening line. All of these qale are lost...Each group has a title--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)...

"...Particularly influential were his Hymns Against Heresies. Saint Ephraim used these to warn the flock of the heresies which threaten to divine the early church. He lamented that the faithful were "tossed to and fro and carried around with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness and deceitful wiles." He devised hymns laden with doctrinal details to inoculate right-thinking Christians against heresies such as docetism. The Hymns Against Heresies employ colorful metaphors to describe the Incarnation of Christ as fully human and divine. Saint Ephraim asserts that Christ's unity of humanity and Divinity represents peace, perfection and salvation; Docetism and other heresies sought to divide or reduce Christ's nature, and in doing so would rent and devalue Christ's followers with their false teaching.

Saint Ephraim also wrote verse homilies. These sermons in poetry are far fewer in number than the madrase.

The third category of Saint Ephraim'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 and others.

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

"Greek Ephraim"

Saint Ephraim'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 Saint Ephraim pseudepigraphy and legendary hagiography. Some of these compositions are in verse, often a version of Saint Ephraim's heptosyllabic couplets. Most of these works are considerably later composition in Greek.  Students of Saint Ephraim often refer to this corpus as having a single, imaginary author called "Greek Ephraim" or Ephraim Graecus (as opposed to the real Ephraim the Syrian). This is not to say that all texts ascribed to Saint Ephraim in Greek are by others, 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 a very little critical examination of these works, and many are still treasured by Churches as authentic.

The best known of these writings is the Prayer of Saint Ephraim which is recited at every service during Great Lent and other fasting periods in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Veneration as a Saint

Soon after Saint Ephraim's death, legendary accounts of his life began to circulate. One of the earlier 'modifications' is the statement that Saint Ephraim's father was a pagan priest. However, internal evidence from his authentic writings suggests that he was raised by Christian parents.

The second legend attached to Saint Ephraim is that he was a monk. In Saint Ephraim's day, monasticism was in its infancy in Egypt...internal evidence of his authentic writings show him to have had a very active role, both within his church community and through witness to those outside of it. Saint Ephraim is venerated as an example of monastic discipline in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. In the Eastern Orthodox scheme of hagiography, Saint Ephraim is counted as a venerable and righteous Father (i.e., a sainted monk). His feast day is celebrated on 28th January and on the Saturday of the Venerable Fathers (Cheesefare Saturday), which is the Saturday before the beginning of Holy and Great Lent.

Saint Ephraim is popularly believed to have taken legendary journeys. In one of these, he visits Saint Basil the Great of Caesarea. This links the Syrian Saint Ephraim with the Cappadocian Holy Fathers, and is an important theological bridge between the spiritual view of the two, who held much in common. Saint Ephraim is also supposed to have visited Saint Pishoy in the monasteries of Egypt. As with the legendary visit with Saint Basil the Great, this visit is a theological bridge between the origins of Monasticism and its spread throughout the Church. The most popular title for Saint Ephraim is the Harp of the Holy Spirit. He is also referred to as the Deacon of Edessa, the Sun of the Syrians and a Pillar of the Church.


"The greatest poet of the patristic age and perhaps, the only theologian-poet to rank beside Dante."--Robert Murray.

"The boldness of our love is pleasing to you, O Lord, just as it pleased you that we should steal from your bounty."--Saint Ephraim the Syrian, "Hymns on Faith" 16:5

"You (Jesus) alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others, for there is no blemish in you nor any stain upon Your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these?"--Saint Ephraim the Syrian. Nisibene Hymns. (Source: Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


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

+Father George