Acta Sanctorum: St. Ephrem the Syrian (June 9)
June 09, 2023
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.


June 9

St. Ephrem the Syrian

Life  (306?-373 A.D.)

Ephrem the Syrian was a native of Nisibis (now Nusaybin, Turkey). His parents were most likely pagan, but he was baptized at 18, and entered the service of the church. He was probably head of the famous Christian school at Nisibis, and there began to write the hymns for which he became famous. When the Christians were ousted from Nisibis, he went with them to Edessa (now Urfa, Turkey). There he embraced the life of a hermit and became a deacon. Out of humility he declined to ask for priestly orders. Despite his status of hermit, however, he remained active in the local church.

His learning was not broad, but was insightful. Hence he was called on to preach frequently, especially against current errors. He likewise wrote much on Catholic doctrine.

Heretics of his day often cleverly communicated their false tenets by teaching the people to sing hymns doctrinally erroneous. Ephrem took a leaf out of their books, writing and popularizing hymns that were doctrinally correct. While his commentaries on scripture were in prose, most of his doctrinal writings were in this hymn format. They had special appeal in that the author infused them with his own warm and winsome spirit - one that has been compared to that of St. Francis of Assisi.

In one of his “Nisbene Hymns”, for instance, St. Ephrem wrote:

"You 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?

In another writing he praised the Upper Room of the Last Supper: “O blessed spot! No man hath seen or shall see the things which thou hast seen. In thee the Lord Himself became true altar, priest and bread and chalice of salvation. He alone sufficeth for all, yet none for Him sufficeth. Altar He is and lamb, victim and sacrificer, priest as well as food.”

These two hymns bear witness to the tradition of Mary’s sinlessness and to the real presence in the Eucharist. Equally profound is the saint’s hymn on the nature of God:

“To Moses He revealed His name: WHO AM, He called Himself, Which is the name of His essence. And never did He name any other with this name, as He did with His other names, with which they were named; therefore by this one exclusive name He let it be known that He alone is BEING, which can be said of no other.”

In short, God is the only one who IS, of Himself. Whatever being we creatures have is a sharing He has given us in His own being.

About 370 A.D. Ephrem journeyed to Caesarea in Cappadocia, Asia Minor to pay a visit to its famous bishop, St. Basil the Great, and his brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa. All three would eventually be designated Doctors of the Church. There must have been a happy meeting of minds.

The last time that St. Ephrem left his hermitage for duty’s sake was in the winter of 372-73, after a terrible famine had stricken the land. Local men of wealth refused to aid the starving on the pretext that they didn’t know anybody trustworthy to supervise the relief work. Ephrem came in without delay, and capably administered food to the hungry. He even rounded up 300 litters on which to carry the disabled. Everybody was satisfied with the efficiency with which he met the emergency. His success was all the more notable in that he was by then well on in years.

As a matter of fact, Deacon Ephrem died in his hermitage just a month after the crisis was over. As an early biographer said of this “Harp of the Holy Spirit”, “God gave him this occasion to win the crown in the close of his life.”

--Father Robert F. McNamara

Scripture Col. 3:12-17
You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful.
  Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

(Year A) At the birth of the Son, there came a great clamor in Bethlehem;
for Angels descended and gave praise there.
Their voices were a great thunder;
And along with that voice of praise
the silent ones [i.e. the animals] came and gave praise to the Son.

Refrain:  Blessed be the Babe by whom Adam and Eve were restored to youth!

The shepherds also came, laden with
the best gifts of their flock: sweet milk,
fresh meat, and befitting praise!
Dividing the gifts, they gave to Joseph the meat,
to Mary the milk, and to the Son the praise.

They brought and presented to Him: a suckling lamb
to the Paschal Lamb, a first-born to the First-born,
a sacrifice to the Sacrifice, a lamb of time
to the Lamb of Truth. A fair sight to see
the lamb offered to The Lamb!

The lamb bleated as it was offered
to the First-born. It praised the Lamb,
that had come to set free the flocks and the oxen
from sacrifices1—even the paschal lamb,
who was handed down to serve as a symbol of the Son.

The shepherds came near and worshiped Him.
With their staffs, they saluted Him,
prophesying: “Peace, O Prince
of the Shepherds. The staff of Moses2
acknowledges Your staff, O Shepherd of all.”

For Moses acknowledged You
—he whose lambs became wolves, and his flocks
like dragons, and his sheep like
savage beasts. For in the fearful wilderness
his flocks became furious, and attacked him.

You, then, the Shepherds praise,
for You reconciled wolves and lambs
within the fold; O Newborn One,
Who are older than Noah and younger than Noah,
Who reconciled all within the ark amid the billows!

Your father David, for a lamb’s sake
killed a lion. You, O Son of David,
have killed the unseen wolf
that killed Adam, the innocent lamb
who grazed and bleated in Paradise.

At that voice of praise, brides were moved
to hallow themselves, and virgins
to be chaste, and even young girls
were purified: they rose early, and coming
in multitudes, they worshipped the Son.

Aged women of the city of David came
to the daughter of David; they gave thanks and said,
“Blessed be our country, whose streets are made light
with the rays of Jesse! Today is the throne of David
established by You, O Son of David.

The old men cried out, “Blessed be the Babe
Who restored Adam to youth, he who was vexed to see
that he had grown old and wasted away, while the serpent who had killed him,
had shed his skin and had gotten away. Blessed be the Babe
by Whom Eve and Adam and  were restored to youth.”

The chaste women said, “O Blessed Fruit,
bless the fruit of our wombs; given to You
as first fruits.” They waxed fervent and prophesied
concerning their children, who, when they were killed for Him,
were to be plucked by Him as first-fruits.4

The barren women also hovered over Him, and held Him;
they rejoiced and said, Blessed Fruit
born without marriage, bless the wombs of us that are married;
have mercy on our barrenness,
You wonderful Child of Virginity!  (Hymn on the Nativity)

Musical Selection
The Light of the just and joy of the upright is Christ Jesus our Lord.
Begotten of the Father, He manifested himself to us.
He came to rescue us from darkness and to fill us with the radiance of His light.
Day is dawning upon us; the power of darkness is fading away.
From the true Light there arises for us the light which illumines our darkened eyes.
His glory shines upon the world and enlightens the very depths of the abyss.
Death is annihilated, night has vanished, and the gates of Sheol are broken.
Creatures lying in darkness from ancient times are clothed in light.
The dead arise from the dust and sing because they have a Savior.
He brings salvation and grants us life. He ascends to his Father on high.
He will return in glorious splendor and shed His light on those gazing upon Him.
Our King comes in majestic glory.
Let us light our lamps and go forth to meet Him.
Let us find our joy in Him, for He has found joy in us.
He will indeed rejoice us with His marvelous light.
Let us glorify the majesty of the Son and give thanks to the almighty Father
Who, in an outpouring of love, sent Him to us, to fill us with hope and salvation.
When He manifests Himself, the saints awaiting Him in weariness and sorrow,
will go forth to meet Him with lighted lamps.
The angels and guardians of heaven will rejoice 
in the glory of the just and upright people of earth;
Together crowned with victory,
they will sing hymns and psalms.
Stand up then and be ready!
Give thanks to our King and Savior,
Who will come in great glory to gladden us
with His marvelous light in His kingdom.
In your goodness, Lord,
pour into our hearts the Holy Spirit,
who inspired the deacon Saint Ephrem
to celebrate your mysteries in song
and devote himself entirely to your service.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.  Amen.