Ephraim of Syria
Syrian biblican exegete and ecclesiastical writer
Ephrem the Syrian was a Syriac and a prolific Syriac-language hymnographer and theologian of the 4th century. His works are hailed by Christians throughout the world and many denominations venerate him as a saint. He has been declared a Doctor of the Church in Roman Catholicism. He is especially beloved in the Syriac Orthodox Church. Ephrem wrote a wide variety of hymns, poems, and sermons in verse, as well as prose biblical exegesis.
Saint Ephraim was born to wealthy parents in Nisibis (Mesopotamia) at the beginning of the fourth century and brought up in the fear of the Lord. Because of his youthfulness, he was of the opinion that everything happens by chance, but the following unpleasant happening convinced him he was wrong. Once, the young Ephraim was accused of stealing sheep, for which the judge sent him to jail even though he was completely innocent. Finding himself in the dungeon and lamenting over what’s happened, Ephraim once saw in a dream how he was being punished for other sins that he truly committed. After a certain period, the judge found out about his innocence and released him. Ephraim realized that peoples’ lives were not directed by blind chance, but by Lord God. After this, Ephraim abandoned the world and withdrew into the mountains with the recluses, where he became a disciple of Saint James of Nisibis. Under his guidance, Ephraim changed and became meek, penitent and committed to God.
James became a bishop and made Ephraim his assistant. Later, Saint Ephraim went to Edessa and withdrew into the mountains. Here he committed himself to a strict routine of monastic ordeals and zealously studied the Word of God. God endowed Saint Ephraim with the gift of teaching and he became renowned for his inspirational sermons. He labored intensely in expounding the Holy Scripture and enunciating Orthodox teachings. At the close of his life, he visited the great Holy Fathers of the Nitria desert (in Egypt) as well as Caesarea in Cappadocia, where he met Saint Basil the Great. Upon returning to Edessa, he fell ill and peacefully died in the year 373.
Works by Ephraim of Syria
With over twenty volumes, the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers is a momentous achievement. Originally gathered by Philip Schaff, the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers is a collection of writings by classical and medieval Christian theologians. The purpose of such a collection is to make their writings readily available. The entire work is divided into two series, each with fourteen volumes. The second series focuses on a variety of important Church Fathers, ranging from the fourth century to the eighth century. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers are comprehensive in scope, and provide keen translations of instructive and illuminating texts from some of the great theologians of the Christian church. These spiritually enlightening texts have aided Christians for over a thousand years, and remain instructive and fruitful even today!
St. Ephraim, having written countless hymns and sermons exclusively in the Syriac language, is especially beloved within the Syriac Orthodox Church. The Pearl contains eight hymns praising God for his love and offer of salvation. The collection takes its name from Jesus’ parable of the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45-46). As in the parable, a beautiful pearl symbolizes God’s kingdom, irresistible and perfect. In verse that retains its beauty in translation, St. Ephraim explores how God’s grace changes lives.
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