Ephrem the Syrian
|Harp of the Spirit, Deacon, Confessor and Doctor of the Church; Venerable Father|
Hymn Writer, Teacher of the Faith
Nisibis (modern-day Turkey)
|Died||9 June 373|
Edessa (modern-day Turkey)
|Venerated in|| Catholic Church |
Eastern Orthodox Church
Church of the East
Oriental Orthodox Churches
|Feast||28 January (Byzantine Christianity)|
7th Saturday before Easter (Syriac Orthodox Church)
|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|
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Ephrem the Syrian (Classical Syriac : ܡܪܝ ܐܦܪܝܡ ܣܘܪܝܝܐ, romanized: Mār ʾAp̄rêm Sūryāyā, Classical Syriac pronunciation: [mɑr ʔafˈrem surˈjɑjɑ] ; Koinē Greek : Ἐφραίμ ὁ Σῦρος, romanized: Efrém o Sýros; Latin : Ephraem Syrus; c. 306 – 373), also known as Saint Ephrem, Ephrem of Edessa or Aprem of Nisibis, was a prominent Christian theologian and writer, who is revered as one of the most notable hymnographers of Eastern Christianity. He was born in Nisibis, served as a deacon and later lived in Edessa.
Ephrem is venerated as a saint by all traditional Churches. He is especially revered in Syriac Christianity, both in East Syriac tradition and West Syriac tradition, and also 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 Roman Catholic Church in 1920.
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.
Ephrem was born around the year 306 in the city of Nisibis (modern Nusaybin, Turkey), in the Roman province of Mesopotamia, that was recently acquired by the Roman Empire.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. In those days, religious culture in the region of Nisibis included local polytheism, Judaism and several varieties of the Early Christianity. Majority of population spoke Aramaic language, while Greek and Latin were languages of administration. The city had a complex ethnic composition, consisted of "Assyrian, Arabs, Greeks, Jews, Parthians, Romans, and Iranians".
Jacob, the second bishop of Nisibis, 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 Church of the East.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. 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" (
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 (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 (Urhay, in Aramaic) 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 been an important center of the Aramaic-speaking world, and the birthplace of a specific Middle Aramaic dialect that came to be known as the Syriac language. The city was rich with rivaling 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.
Ephrem wrote exclusively in his native Aramaic language, using the local Edessan (Urhaya) dialect, that later came to be known as the Classical Syriac.Ephrem's works contain several endonymic (native) references to his language (Aramaic), homeland (Aram) and people (Arameans). He is therefore known as "the authentic voice of Aramaic Christianity".
In the early stages of modern scholarly studies, it was believed that some examples of the long-standing Greek practice of labeling Aramaic as "Syriac", that are found in the "Cave of Treasures",can be attributed to Ephrem, but later scholarly analyses have shown that the work in question was written much later (c. 600) by an unknown author, thus also showing that Ephrem's original works still belonged to the tradition unaffected by exonymic (foreign) labeling.
One of the early admirers of Ephrem's works, theologian Jacob of Serugh (d. 521), who already belonged to the generation that accepted the custom of a double naming of their language not only as Aramaic (Ārāmāyā) but also as "Syriac" (Suryāyā), : ܐܳܪܳܡܳܝܘܬܐ), and the same praise was repeated in early liturgical texts. Only later, under the Greek influence, already prevalent in the works of Theodoret of Cyrus from the middle of the 5th century, it became customary to associate Ephrem with Syriac identity, and label him only as "the Syrian" (Koinē Greek : Ἐφραίμ ὁ Σῦρος), thus blurring his Aramaic self-identification, attested by his own writings and works of other Aramaic-speaking writers, and also by examples from the earliest liturgical tradition.wrote a homily (memrā) dedicated to Ephrem, praising him as the crown or wreath of the Arameans (Classical Syriac
Some of those problems persisted up to the recent times, even in scholarly literature, as a consequence of several methodological problems within the field of source editing. During the process of critical editing and translation of sources within Syriac studies, some scholars have practiced various forms of arbitrary (and often unexplained) interventions, including the occasional disregard for the importance of original terms, used as endonymic (native) designations for Arameans and their language (ārāmāyā). Such disregard was manifested primarily in translations and commentaries, by replacement of authentic terms with polysemic Syrian/Syriac labels. In previously mentioned memrā, dedicated to Ephrem, one of the terms for Aramean people (Classical Syriac : ܐܳܪܳܡܳܝܘܬܐ / Arameandom) was published correctly in original script of the source, but in the same time it was translated in English as "Syriac nation", and then enlisted among quotations related to "Syrian/Syriac" identity, without any mention of Aramean-related terms in the source. Even when noticed and corrected by some scholars, such replacements of terms continue to create problems for others.
Several translations of his writings exist in Classical Armenian, Coptic, Old Georgian, Koine Greek and other languages. Some of his works are extant only in translation (particularly in Armenian).
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. 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.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" (Eph 4:14). 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.
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.
Ephrem is attributed with writing hagiographies such as The Life of Saint Mary the Harlot , though this credit is called into question.
One of works attributed to Ephrem was the Cave of Treasures , written by a much later but unknown author, who lived at the end of the 6th and the beginning of the 7th century.
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).
Ephrem's meditations on the symbols of Christian faith and his stand against heresy made him a popular source of inspiration throughout the church. There is a huge corpus of Ephrem pseudepigraphy and legendary hagiography in many languages. Some of these compositions are in verse, often mimicking Ephrem's heptasyllabic couplets.
There is a very large number of works by "Ephrem" extant in Greek. In the literature this material is often referred to as "Greek Ephrem", or Ephraem Graecus (as opposed to the real Ephrem the Syrian), as if it was by a single author. This is not the case, but the term is used for convenience. Some texts are in fact Greek translations of genuine works by Ephrem. Most are not. 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.
There are also works by "Ephrem" in Latin, Slavonic and Arabic. "Ephrem Latinus" is the term given to Latin translations of "Ephrem Graecus". None is by Ephrem the Syrian. "Pseudo Ephrem Latinus" is the name given to Latin works under the name of Ephrem which are imitations of the style of Ephrem Latinus.
There has been very little critical examination of any of these works. They were edited uncritically by Assemani, and there is also a modern Greek edition by Phrantzolas.
This section needs additional citations for verification .(June 2021)
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.
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"). [ citation needed ]This proclamation was made before critical editions of Ephrem's authentic writings were available.
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.
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.
Ephrem is remembered in the Church of England with a commemoration on 9 June.
The Syriac language, also known as Syriac Aramaic and Classical Syriac, is an Aramaic language that emerged during the first century AD from a local Aramaic dialect that was spoken in the ancient region of Osroene, centered in the city of Edessa. During the Early Christian period, it became the main literary language of various Aramaic-speaking Christian communities in the historical region of Ancient Syria and throughout the Near East. As a liturgical language of Syriac Christianity, it gained a prominent role among Eastern Christian communities that used both Eastern Syriac and Western Syriac rites. Following the spread of Syriac Christianity, it also became a liturgical language of eastern Christian communities as far as India and China. It flourished from the 4th to the 8th century, and continued to have an important role during the next centuries, but by the end of the Middle Ages it was gradually reduced to liturgical use, since the role of vernacular language among its native speakers was overtaken by several emerging Neo-Aramaic dialects.
Abgar V, called Ukkāmā, was the King of Osroene with his capital at Edessa.
Osroene was an ancient region and state in Upper Mesopotamia. The Kingdom of Osroene, also known as the "Kingdom of Edessa", according to the name of its capital city, existed from the 2nd century BCE, up to the 3rd century CE, and was ruled by the Abgarid dynasty. Generally allied with the Parthians, the Kingdom of Osroene enjoyed semi-autonomy to complete independence from the years of 132 BC to AD 214. Though ruled by a dynasty of Arab origin, the kingdom's population was mainly Aramean, with a Greek and Parthian admixture. In addition, the city's cultural setting was fundamentally Aramaic, alongside strong Parthian influences, though some Arab cults were also attested at Edessa.
Edessa was an ancient city (polis) in Upper Mesopotamia, founded during the Hellenistic period by King Seleucus I Nicator, founder of the Seleucid Empire. It later became capital of the Kingdom of Osroene, and continued as capital of the Roman province of Osroene. During the Late Antiquity, it became a prominent center of Christian learning and seat of the Catechetical School of Edessa. During the Crusades, it was the capital of the County of Edessa.
The Arameans were an ancient Semitic-speaking people in the Near East, first recorded in historical sources from the late 12th century BCE. Aramean homeland was known as the land of Aram, encompassing central regions of modern Syria. At the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE, a number of Aramean states were established throughout the western regions of the ancient Near East. The most notable among them was the Kingdom of Aram-Damascus, that reached its height in the second half of the 9th century BCE, during the reign of king Hazael. Distinctive Aramean alphabet was also developed, and used for writing in the old Aramean language.
The School of Nisibis, for a time absorbed into the School of Edessa, was an educational establishment in Nisibis. It was an important spiritual centre of the early Church of the East, and like the Academy of Gondishapur, it is sometimes referred to as the world's first university. The school had three primary departments teaching: theology, philosophy and medicine. Its most famous teacher was Narsai, formerly head of the School of Edessa.
The CatecheticalSchool of Edessa was a Christian theological school of great importance to the Syriac-speaking world. It had been founded as long ago as the 2nd century by the kings of the Abgar dynasty. In 363, Nisibis fell to the Persians, causing St. Ephrem the Syrian, accompanied by a number of teachers, to leave the School of Nisibis. They went to Edessa, where Ephrem took over the directorship of its school. Then, its importance grew still further. There were innumerable monasteries at Edessa housing many monks. Ephrem occupied a cell there, practicing the ascetic life, interpreting Holy Scripture, composing poetry and hymns and teaching in the school, as well as instructing young girls in church music.
Syriac Christianity represents a distinctive branch of Eastern Christianity, whose formative theological writings and traditional liturgies are expressed in Classical Syriac language, a variation of Aramaic language. In a wider sense, the term can also refer to Aramaic Christianity in general, thus encompassing all Christian traditions that are based on liturgical uses of Aramaic language and its variations, both historical and modern.
Jacob of Edessa was Bishop of Edessa and prominent Christian writer in Classical Syriac language, also known as one of earliest Syriac grammarians. In various works, he treated theological, liturgical, canonical, philosophical and historical subjects, and contributed significantly to scholarly and literary development of Syriac Christianity. He is considered to be one of the most important scholars of the Christian-Aramean tradition.
Bardaisan, known in Arabic as Ibn Daisan and in Latin as Bardesanes, was a Syriac or Parthian gnostic and founder of the Bardaisanites. A scientist, scholar, astrologer, philosopher, hymnographer, and poet, Bardaisan was also renowned for his knowledge of India, on which he wrote a book, now lost.
Syriac literature is literature in the Syriac language. It is a tradition going back to the Late Antiquity. It is strongly associated with Syriac Christianity.
The Cave of Treasures, sometimes referred to simply as The Treasure, is an apocryphal and pseudoepigraphical work, that contains various narratives related to the Christian Bible. It was written in the Syriac language, approximately at the end of the 6th, or at the beginning of the 7th century. Its authorship was traditionally attributed to Ephrem of Edessa, but modern scholarly analyses have shown that the true author was some other person, who also lived in northern Mesopotamia, but much later.
Athanasius II Baldoyo, also known as Athanasius of Balad, and Athanasius of Nisibis, was the Patriarch of Antioch and head of the Syriac Orthodox Church from 684 until his death in 687.
Michael the Syrian ,(Classical Syriac: ܡܺܝܟ݂ܳܐܝܶܠ ܣܽܘܪܝܳܝܳܐ, romanized: Mīkhoʾēl Sūryoyo), died 1199 AD, also known as Michael the Great or Michael Syrus or Michael the Elder, to distinguish him from his nephew, was a patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church from 1166 to 1199. He is best known today as the author of the largest medieval Chronicle, which he composed in Syriac language. Some other works and fragments written by him have also survived.
Terms for Syriac Christians are endonymic (native) and exonymic (foreign) terms, that are used as designations for Syriac Christians, as adherents of Syriac Christianity. In its widest scope, Syriac Christianity encompass all Christian denominations that follow East Syriac Rite or West Syriac Rite, and thus use Classical Syriac as their main liturgical language. Traditional divisions among Syriac Christians along denominational lines are reflected in the use of various theological and ecclesiological designations, both historical and modern. Specific terms such as: Jacobites, Maronites, Melkites, Nasranis, and Nestorians have been used in reference to distinctive groups and branches of Eastern Christianity, including those of Syriac liturgical and linguistic traditions. Some of those terms are polysemic, and their uses have been a subject of terminological disputes between different communities, and also among scholars.
Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic. Portions of the Old Testament were written in Aramaic and there are Aramaic phrases in the New Testament. Syriac translations of the New Testament were among the first and date from the 2nd century. The whole Bible was translated by the 5th century. Besides Syriac, there are Bible translations into other Aramaic dialects.
Syriac studies is the study of the Syriac language and Syriac Christianity. A specialist in Syriac studies is known as a Syriacist. Specifically, British, French, and German scholars of the 18th and 19th centuries who were involved in the study of Syriac/Aramaic language and literature were commonly known by this designation, at a time when the Syriac language was little understood outside Assyrian, Syriac Christian and Maronite Christian communities. In Germany the field of study is distinguished between Aramaistik and Neuaramaistik.
Sidney H. Griffith is a professor of Early Christian Studies at the Catholic University of America. His main areas of interest are Arabic Christianity, Syriac monasticism, medieval Christian-Muslim encounters and ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.
Ashurian is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was once the dialect of the region encompassing the cities of Assur and Hatra and the Nineveh Plains in the centre, up to Tur Abdin in the north, Dura-Europos in the west and Tikrit in the south. The majority of the evidence of the language comes from inscriptions within the cities dating between 100 BC and the mid-3rd century AD, coinciding with Shapur I's destruction of Hatra in 241 AD and Assur in 257 AD. As a result of Hatra being the site with the most attestation, it is often referred to as Hatran Aramaic. Having conquered the Aramaen city-states to the west, the Neo-Assyrian Empire adopted Old Aramaic as the official language alongside the Assyrian Akkadian language. With the Achaemenid Empire succeeding them and adopting Old Aramaic, it rose to become the lingua franca of Iran, Mesopotamia and the Levant.
Aramaic studies are scientific studies of the Aramaic language and cultural history of Arameans. As a specific field within Semitic studies, Aramaic studies are closely related to similar disciplines, like Hebraic studies and Arabic studies.
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