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Saint Ephraem Syrus

Deacon, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church.  

Ephraem was born of Syrian parentage at the turn of the third century, at Nisibis in Mesopotamia, which at that time was still under Roman rule. And he became so renowned as a teacher, orator, poet, theologian, and defender of the Faith that by Western Catholics he is now reckoned amongst the Doctors of the Church, even as by all Eastern Catholics he hath ever been esteemed as one of the greatest of the early fathers, the only Syrian to be so generally honoured throughout all Christendom. Of him blessed Jerome wrote: Ephraem the Deacon of the Church of Edessa composed many works in Syriac, and became famous in such wise that his writings are publicly read in some churches after the Sacred Scriptures. A lasting debt is owed him by all Christians because of his accomplishments in hymnody, for the metrical songs composed by him for his own liturgy proved so popular that the custom of such hymn-singing spread from Edessa through all the liturgies of the East, and finally found a permanent place in the Western Liturgy also.

So completely was he a poet that nearly everything he wrote except his exegetical works, took poetic form, that is to say, his sermons and exhortations as well as his hymns; for which reason the Syrians call him The-sweet-stringed-instrument-of-the-Holy-Spirit. At the age of eighteen he was baptized by Saint Jacob the Bishop of Nisibus, and sometime thereafter was appointed master over the flourishing school which the Christians maintained in that city; where he remained during the time of the three succeeding bishops, until the Persians over-ran and took that country, whereafter Ephraem finally established himself in a cave on a mountain overlooking Edessa. Here he lived a most ascetic life, his small body shrivelled and dried up from much fasting and the heat of the sun, but his beardless face ever glowing with a strange inner fire. Since he was always known as the Deacon Ephraem it is believed that his humility made him refuse the priesthood. In the night-season he wrote his books, if so be he might, with all diligence, spread far and wide the mysteries of our Lord Jesus Christ, and destroy the many errors which at that time were creeping in and tearing asunder the Church of God.

But often he came down from his mountain to preach in the city, and so eloquent was he in speaking of the things of God that the sobs of the congregation sometimes made it well nigh impossible for him to continue. He had a great devotion to the sacred humanity of our Lord, and to the Blessed Virgin as his spotless Mother. Of the Upper Room he once wrote: O blessed spot! that which was contained in thee, though bounded in so strait a compass, filleth the universe! blessed dwelling-place wherein with holy hand the bread was broken, and the grape which grew on Mary's vine was crushed in the chalice of salvation! About the year 370 he undertook a journey to Caesarea in Cappadocia, to visit Saint Basil, and so fruitful was this conference between these two holy Doctors that Basil's brother Saint Gregory of Nyssa, as well as Ephraem himself, wrote accounts thereof. On his return to Edessa there was a famine in the land, and he undertook to organize all the agencies available for the relief of the poor, for whom he had a most tender compassion. Thereafter, worn out by his long labours for God and men, he went to heaven full of years, sometime around the third quarter of the fourth century, on the eighteenth of June.


O GOD, who hast vouchsafed to enlighten thy Church with the wondrous learning and singular holiness of thy blessed Confessor and Doctor Saint Ephraem: we humbly pray thee; that, at his intercession, thou wouldest with thine unfailing power defend the same against all the deceits of false doctrine, and all the assaults of iniquity. Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Anglican Breviary, Frank Gavin Liturgical Foundation, Inc., New York, 1955, pages 1246-1248

Additional Information:

For additional readings, or to learn more about the Anglican Breviary, visit The Anglican Breviary Website.

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