Ephrem the Syrian

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Saint Ephrem the Syrian
Ephrem the Syrian (mosaic in Nea Moni).jpg
Mosaic in Nea Moni of Chios (11th century)
Harp of the Spirit, Deacon, Confessor and Doctor of the Church; Venerable Father
Bornc. 306
Nisibis (modern-day Turkey)
Died9 June 373
Edessa (modern-day Turkey)
Venerated in Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Church of the East
Oriental Orthodoxy
Anglican Communion
Feast 28 January (Byzantine Christianity)

7th Saturday before Easter (Syriac Orthodox Church)
የካቲት 3 (Ethiopian Christianity) (translocation of relics)
June 9 (Catholic Church, Church of England)
June 18 (Maronite Church; pre-1969 Roman Calendar)
ሐምሌ 15 (Ethiopian Christianity)

Contents

Epip 15 (Coptic Christianity)
Attributes Vine and scroll, deacon's vestments and thurible; with Saint Basil the Great; composing hymns with a lyre
Patronage Spiritual directors and spiritual leaders

Ephrem the Syrian (Classical Syriac : ܡܪܝ ܐܦܪܝܡ ܣܘܪܝܝܐMār Ap̠rêm Suryāyâ, Classical Syriac pronunciation:  [mɒr aɸˈrem surˈjɒˌjɒ] ; Koinē Greek : Ἐφραίμ ὁ ΣῦροςEfrém o Sýros; Latin : Ephraem Syrus, also known as Saint Ephraem, Ephrem of Edessa, Ephrem, or Ephraim; c. 306 – 373) was a Syriac Christian deacon and a prolific Syriac-language hymnographer and theologian of the fourth century.

Syriac Christianity

Syriac Christianity is the form of Eastern Christianity whose formative theological writings and traditional liturgy are expressed in the Syriac language. Syriac Christianity consists of two liturgical rites, the East Syriac Rite and the West Syriac Rite. The main Anaphora of the East Syriac tradition is the Holy Qurbana of Saints Addai and Mari, while that of the West Syriac tradition is the Divine Liturgy of Saint James.

Christian theology is the theology of Christian belief and practice. Such study concentrates primarily upon the texts of the Old Testament and of the New Testament, as well as on Christian tradition. Christian theologians use biblical exegesis, rational analysis and argument. Theologians may undertake the study of Christian theology for a variety of reasons, such as in order to:

Ephrem is especially beloved in the Syriac Orthodox Church, and counted as a Venerable Father (i.e., a sainted Monk) in the Eastern Orthodox Church. His feast day is celebrated on 28 January and on the Saturday of the Venerable Fathers. He was declared a Doctor of the Church in the Catholic Church in 1920.

Syriac Orthodox Church The Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, or Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, is an Oriental Orthodox Church tracing its origin‎ to Antioch by Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the 1st century.

The Syriac Orthodox Church, or Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, is an autocephalous Oriental Orthodox church within the wider communion of Oriental Orthodoxy. It was established by Severus of Antioch in Antioch in 518 A.D., influenced by Jacob Baradaeus, while tracing its history to Antioch by Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the 1st century, according to its tradition. The Church uses the Divine Liturgy of Saint James, associated with Saint James, the "brother" of Jesus and patriarch among the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem. Syriac is the official and liturgical language of the Church based on Syriac Christianity. The primate of the church is the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch currently Ignatius Aphrem II since 2014, seated in the Cathedral of Saint George, Bab Tuma, Damascus, Syria.

Eastern Orthodox Church Christian Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, is the second-largest Christian church, with approximately 260 million baptised members. It operates as a communion of autocephalous churches, each governed by its bishops in local synods. Roughly half of Eastern Orthodox Christians live in Russia. The church has no central doctrinal or governmental authority analogous to the Bishop of Rome, but the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is recognised by all as primus inter pares of the bishops. As one of the oldest surviving religious institutions in the world, the Eastern Orthodox Church has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the Near East.

Doctor of the Church one of the early Christian theologians regarded as especially authoritative in the Western Church

Doctor of the Church is a title given by the Catholic Church to saints recognized as having made significant contribution to theology or doctrine through their research, study, or writing.

Ephrem wrote a wide variety of hymns, poems, and sermons in verse, as well as prose exegesis. These were works of practical theology for the edification of the Church in troubled times. So popular were his works, that, for centuries after his death, Christian authors wrote hundreds of pseudepigraphal works in his name. He has been called the most significant of all of the fathers of the Syriac-speaking church tradition. [1]

Exegesis Critical explanation or interpretation of a text

Exegesis is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, particularly a religious text. Traditionally the term was used primarily for work with the Bible; however, in modern usage "biblical exegesis" is used for greater specificity to distinguish it from any other broader critical text explanation.

Christian Church Term used to refer to the whole group of people belonging to the Christian religious tradition

The Christian Church, also called the holy catholic church, is a Protestant ecclesiological concept of a church invisible comprising all Christians. In this understanding, "Christian Church" or "catholic church" does not refer to a particular Christian denomination but to the "body" of all "believers", both defined in various ways. Other Christian traditions believe that these terms apply only to a specific concrete Christian institution, such as the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, or the Assyrian Church of the East; or to a group of institutions, as in the branch theory taught by some Anglicans.

Pseudepigrapha apocrypha

Pseudepigrapha are falsely attributed works, texts whose claimed author is not the true author, or a work whose real author attributed it to a figure of the past.

Life

Ephrem was born around the year 306 in the city of Nisibis (now Nusaybin in Turkey), in the contested border region between Sassanid Assyria and Roman Mesopotamia, then-recently acquired by Rome. [2] [3] [4] [5]

The Peace of Nisibis of 299, also known as the First Peace of Nisibis, was a peace treaty signed in 299 by the Roman and Sassanian empires, and concluded the Roman-Sassanian War of 296-299. The border established as a result of the treaty was maintained until the Second Peace of Nisibis of 363.

Internal evidence from 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. [6] Numerous languages were spoken in the Nisibis of Ephrem's day, mostly dialects of Aramaic. The Christian community used the Syriac dialect. The culture included pagan religions, Judaism and early Christian sects.

Syriac language dialect of Middle Aramaic

Syriac, also known as Syrian/Syriac Aramaic, Syro-Aramaic or Classical Syriac, is a dialect of Middle Aramaic of the Northwest Semitic languages of the Afroasiatic family that is written in the Syriac alphabet, a derivation of the Aramaic alphabet. Having first appeared in the early first century CE in Edessa, classical Syriac became a major literary language throughout the Middle East from the 4th to the 8th centuries, preserved in a large body of Syriac literature. Indeed, Syriac literature comprises roughly 90% of the extant Aramaic literature. Syriac was once spoken across much of the Near East as well as Anatolia and Eastern Arabia. Syriac originated in Mesopotamia and eventually spread west of Iraq in which it became the lingua franca of the region during the Mesopotamian Neo-Assyrian period.

Judaism The ethnic religion of the Jewish people

Judaism is the ethnic religion of the Jewish people. It is an ancient, monotheistic, Abrahamic religion with the Torah as its foundational text. It encompasses the religion, philosophy, and culture of the Jewish people. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that God established with the Children of Israel. It encompasses a wide body of texts, practices, theological positions, and forms of organization. The Torah is part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible, and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. With between 14.5 and 17.4 million adherents worldwide, Judaism is the tenth largest religion in the world.

Jacob, the second bishop of Nisibis, [7] was appointed in 308, and Ephrem grew up under his leadership of the community. Jacob of Nisibis is recorded as a signatory at the First Council of Nicea in 325. Ephrem was baptized as a youth and almost certainly became a son of the covenant, an unusual form of syriac proto-monasticism. Jacob appointed Ephrem as a teacher (Syriac malp̄ānâ, a title that still carries great respect for Syriac Christians). He was ordained as a deacon either at his baptism or later. [8] 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" (ܥܠܢܐ, ‘allānâ), to his bishop as the "shepherd" (ܪܥܝܐ, rā‘yâ), and to his community as a 'fold' (ܕܝܪܐ, dayrâ). Ephrem is popularly credited as the founder of the School of Nisibis, which, in later centuries, was the centre of learning of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

Jacob of Nisibis Syrian saint

Saint Jacob of Nisibis, also known as Saint Jacob of Mygdonia,, Saint Jacob the Great, and Saint James of Nisibis, was the Bishop of Nisibis until his death.

A bishop is an ordained, consecrated, or appointed member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight.

The Members of the Covenant were an important part of early Syriac Christianity. Before the advent of monasticism proper, most Syriac churches would consist of a community focused around the members of the covenant: men and women who had committed themselves to sexual abstinence and the service of the church. This name is the English translation of the Syriac bnay qyāmâ, literally sons of the covenant. A male member of the covenant was called bar qyāmâ, or son of the covenant; a female member was bat qyāmâ, or daughter of the covenant.

Newly excavated Church of Saint Jacob in Nisibis, where Ephrem taught and ministered Mar Jacob Church, Nisibis.jpg
Newly excavated Church of Saint Jacob in Nisibis, where Ephrem taught and ministered

In 337, Emperor Constantine I, who had legalised and promoted the practice of Christianity in 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, Ephrem credits Bishop Jacob as defending the city with his prayers. In the third siege, of 350, Shapur rerouted the River Mygdonius to undermine the walls of Nisibis. The Nisibenes quickly repaired the walls while the Persian elephant cavalry became bogged down in the wet ground. Ephrem celebrated what he saw as the miraculous salvation of the city in a hymn that portrayed Nisibis as being like Noah's Ark, floating to safety on the flood.

One important physical link to Ephrem's lifetime is the baptistery of Nisibis. The inscription tells that it was constructed under Bishop Vologeses in 359. In that year, Shapur attacked again. The cities around Nisibis were destroyed one by one, and their citizens killed or deported. Constantius II was unable to respond; the campaign of Julian in 363 ended with his death in battle. His army elected Jovian as the new emperor, and to rescue his army, he was forced to surrender Nisibis to Persia [6] (also in 363) and to permit the expulsion of the entire Christian population.

Ephrem, with the others, went first to Amida (Diyarbakır), eventually settling in Edessa [6] (modern Şanlıurfa) in 363. Ephrem, in his late fifties, applied himself to ministry in his new church and seems to have continued his work as a teacher, perhaps in the School of Edessa. Edessa had always been at the heart of the Syriac-speaking world, and the city was full of rival philosophies and religions. Ephrem comments that orthodox Nicene Christians were simply called "Palutians" in Edessa, after a former bishop. Arians, Marcionites, Manichees, Bardaisanites and various gnostic sects proclaimed themselves as the true church. In this confusion, Ephrem wrote a great number of hymns defending Nicene orthodoxy. A later Syriac writer, Jacob of Serugh, wrote that Ephrem rehearsed all-female choirs to sing his hymns set to Syriac folk tunes in the forum of Edessa. After a ten-year residency in Edessa, in his sixties, Ephrem succumbed to the plague as he ministered to its victims. The most reliable date for his death is 9 June 373.

Writings

Ephrem the Syrian in a 16th-century Russian illustration Ephrem miniature 16c.jpg
Ephrem the Syrian in a 16th-century Russian illustration
The interior of the Church of Saint Jacob in Nisibis Nisibis Church interior.jpg
The interior of the Church of Saint Jacob in Nisibis

Over four hundred hymns composed by Ephrem still exist. Granted that some have been lost, Ephrem's productivity is not in doubt. The church historian Sozomen credits Ephrem with having written over three million lines. Ephrem 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 (ܡܕܖ̈ܫܐ, madrāšê). These hymns are full of rich, poetic imagery drawn from biblical sources, folk tradition, and other religions and philosophies. The madrāšê are written in stanzas of syllabic verse and employ over fifty different metrical schemes. Each madrāšâ had its qālâ (ܩܠܐ), a traditional tune identified by its opening line. All of these qālê are now lost. It seems that Bardaisan and Mani composed madrāšê, and Ephrem felt that the medium was a suitable tool to use against their claims. [9] The madrāšê are gathered into various hymn cycles. Each group has a title — Carmina Nisibena, 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). Each madrāšâ usually had a refrain (ܥܘܢܝܬܐ, ‘ûnîṯâ), which was repeated after each stanza. Later writers have suggested that the madrāšê were sung by all-women choirs with an accompanying lyre.

Particularly influential were his Hymns Against Heresies. [10] Ephrem used these to warn his flock of the heresies that threatened to divide 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." [11] He devised hymns laden with doctrinal details to inoculate right-thinking Christians against heresies such as docetism. The Hymns Against Heresies employ colourful metaphors to describe the Incarnation of Christ as fully human and divine. Ephrem asserts that Christ's unity of humanity and divinity represents peace, perfection and salvation; in contrast, docetism and other heresies sought to divide or reduce Christ's nature and, in doing so, rend and devalue Christ's followers with their false teachings.

Ephrem also wrote verse homilies (ܡܐܡܖ̈ܐ, mêmrê). These sermons in poetry are far fewer in number than the madrāšê. The mêmrê were written in a heptosyllabic couplets (pairs of lines of seven syllables each).

The third category of Ephrem's writings is his prose work. He wrote a biblical commentary on the Diatessaron (the single gospel harmony of the early Syriac church), the Syriac original of which was found in 1957. His Commentary on Genesis and Exodus is an exegesis of Genesis and Exodus. Some fragments exist in Armenian of his commentaries on the Acts of the Apostles and Pauline Epistles.

He also wrote refutations against Bardaisan, Mani, Marcion and others.

Ephrem is attributed with writing hagiographies such as The Life of Saint Mary the Harlot , though this credit is called into question. [12]

Ephrem wrote exclusively in the Syriac language, which is a dialect of middle Aramaic, but translations of his writings exist in Classical Armenian, Coptic, Old Georgian, Koine Greek and other languages. Some of his works are only extant in translation (particularly in Armenian). Syriac churches still use many of Ephrem's hymns as part of the annual cycle of worship. However, most of these liturgical hymns are edited and conflated versions of the originals.

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

As Chronologist, St. Ephrem the Syrian has composed the history of the Patriarchs and Kings from the Creation to the Crucifixion of Christ, The Book of the Cave of Treasure , translated by W. Budge from the Syriac text of the British Museum Mss Add. 25875, published by The Religious Tract Society, 1927.

Symbols and metaphors

Ephrem's writings contain a rich variety of symbols and metaphors. Christopher Buck gives a summary of analysis of a selection of six key scenarios (the way, robe of glory, sons and daughters of the Covenant, wedding feast, harrowing of hell, Noah’s Ark/Mariner) and six root metaphors (physician, medicine of life, mirror, pearl, Tree of life, paradise). [13]

Greek Ephrem

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

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

Veneration as a saint

Saints Ephrem (right) George (top) and John Damascene on a 14th-century triptych George John Ephraim Triptychon fragment Sinai 14th century.jpg
Saints Ephrem (right) George (top) and John Damascene on a 14th-century triptych
Contemporary Romanian icon (2005) Icone Ephrem le Syrien.jpg
Contemporary Romanian icon (2005)

Soon after Ephrem's death, legendary accounts of his life began to circulate. One of the earlier "modifications" is the statement that Ephrem's father was a pagan priest of Abnil or Abizal. However, internal evidence from his authentic writings suggest that he was raised by Christian parents. [14]

The second legend attached to Ephrem is that he was a monk. In Ephrem's day, monasticism was in its infancy in Egypt. He seems to have been a part of the members of the covenant, a close-knit, urban community of Christians that had "covenanted" themselves to service and had refrained from sexual activity.[ citation needed ] Some of the Syriac terms that Ephrem used to describe his community were later used to describe monastic communities, but the assertion that he was a monk is anachronistic.[ citation needed ] Later hagiographers often painted a picture of Ephrem as an extreme ascetic, but the 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.[ citation needed ]

Ephrem is venerated as an example of monastic discipline in Eastern Christianity. In the Eastern Orthodox scheme of hagiography, Ephrem is counted as a Venerable Father (i.e., a sainted Monk). His feast day is celebrated on 28 January and on the Saturday of the Venerable Fathers (Cheesefare Saturday), which is the Saturday before the beginning of Great Lent.

Ephrem is popularly believed to have taken legendary journeys.[ citation needed ] In one of these he visits Basil of Caesarea. This links the Syrian Ephrem with the Cappadocian Fathers and is an important theological bridge between the spiritual view of the two, who held much in common. Ephrem is also supposed to have visited Saint Pishoy in the monasteries of Scetes in Egypt.[ citation needed ] As with the legendary visit with Basil, this visit is a theological bridge between the origins of monasticism and its spread throughout the church.[ citation needed ]

On 5 October 1920, Pope Benedict XV proclaimed Ephrem a Doctor of the Church ("Doctor of the Syrians"). [15] This proclamation was made before critical editions of Ephrem's authentic writings were available.[ citation needed ]

The most popular title for Ephrem is Harp of the Spirit (Syriac: ܟܢܪܐ ܕܪܘܚܐ, Kenārâ d-Rûḥâ). He is also referred to as the Deacon of Edessa, the Sun of the Syrians and a Pillar of the Church. [16]

His Roman Catholic feast day of 9 June conforms to his date of death. For 48 years (1920–1969), it was on 18 June, and this date is still observed in the Extraordinary Form.

Ephrem is honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on June 10.

Translations

See also

Notes

  1. Parry (1999), p. 180
  2. Karim, Cyril Aphrem (December 2004). Symbols of the cross in the writings of the early Syriac Fathers. Gorgias Press LLC. p. 3. ISBN   978-1-59333-230-3 . Retrieved 8 June 2011.
  3. Lipiński, Edward (2000). The Aramaeans: their ancient history, culture, religion. Peeters Publishers. p. 11. ISBN   978-90-429-0859-8 . Retrieved 8 June 2011.
  4. Possekel, Ute (1999). Evidence of Greek philosophical concepts in the writings of Ephrem the Syrian. Peeters Publishers. p. 1. ISBN   978-90-429-0759-1 . Retrieved 8 June 2011.
  5. Cameron, Averil; Kuhrt, Amélie (1993). Images of women in antiquity. Psychology Press. p. 288. ISBN   978-0-415-09095-7 . Retrieved 8 June 2011.
  6. 1 2 3 Labourt, Jérôme. "St. Ephraem." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 8 Mar. 2015
  7. Vailhé, Siméon. "Nisibis". Original Catholic Encyclopedia. El Cajon, California: Catholic Answers. Archived from the original on 2011-07-25. Retrieved 2010-12-10. The See of Nisibis was founded in 300 by Babu (d. 309). His successor, the celebrated St. James, defended the city by his prayers during the siege of Sapor II.
  8. Parry (1999), pp. 180-181
  9. Foley, Leonard. "St. Ephrem", Saint of the Day, Franciscan Media
  10. Mourachian, Mark. "Hymns Against Heresies: Comments on St. Ephrem the Syrian". Sophia 37:2, (Winter 2007), pp. 30-31.
  11. Eph 4:14, as quoted in Mourachian (2007)
  12. Brook, Sebastian P.; Harvey, Susan Ashbrook (1987). Holy Women of the Syrian Orient. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN   0-520-21366-1.
  13. Buck, Christopher (1999). Paradise and Paradigm. SUNY Press. pp. 77–109. ISBN   9780791497944.
  14. "Venerable Ephraim the Syrian", Orthodox Church in America
  15. PRINCIPI APOSTOLORUM PETRO at Vatican.va
  16. New Advent at newadvent.org

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