St Ephrem was born in 306 and he died on 9 June 373. He is also known asEphrem of Edessa or Aprem of Nisibis. He was born in Nisibis in modernday Turkey and he later lived in Edessa. His parents were part of agrowing Christian community although some hagiographers wrote that hisfather was a pagan priest.
Road to the Covenant
St Ephrem grew up during the times when Jacob had been appointed as thesecond bishop of Nisibis. He was baptized as a youth and became a son ofthe covenant which is an unusual form of Syriac proto-monasticism. Jacobalso appointed St Ephrem as a teacher, a title with great respect forSyriac Christians.
St Ephrem served as a deacon and he was also a writer and theologian whowas very prominent in his field. He is also one of the most notable hymncomposers of Eastern Christianity. He also wrote poems and sermons, allthis being part of his educational office. In his hymns he usuallyreferred to himself as a herdsman and to the bishop he referred to himas the shepherd. Besides all this, St Ephrem had the ability tocritically explain religious texts. These texts were works of practicaltheology for the edification of the Church in troubled times.
In 350, St Ephrem wrote a hymn in which he celebrated the miraculoussalvation of the Nisibis city after Shapur had rerouted the riverMygdonius in an attempt to undermine the walls of Nisibis. However theNisibenes were able to quickly repair the walls hence the celebration.In the hymn he portrayed himself as a being like Noah’s ark floatingsafely on the flood.
In 363 Shapur attacked again and Jovian who was now the new Emperorsurrendered Nisibis to Persia permitting the expulsion of the entireChristian community. During this time Ephrem went to Amida and then toEdessa where he finally settled. He applied himself to the church ofEdessa and continued his work as a teacher. This city was rich withrivaling philosophies and religions.
There was a time of great confusion when various gnostic sectsproclaimed themselves as the true church and Christians were now calledPalutians. St Ephrem then wrote a number of hymns defending the church.
In all his writings, St Ephrem wrote exclusively in his native Aramaiclanguage using the local Edessan dialect. In his writings he alsoreferred to his native homeland and people, the Aramites. Over fourhundred hymns written by St Ephrem are still in existence and he isaccredited for having written more than three million lines thereforehis productivity is not in doubt. St Ephrem’s writings also contain awide variety of symbols and metaphors
The most important of his works are his hymns which are full of richpoetic imagery drawn from biblical sources and other religions andphilosophies. Most of his hymns are also said to have been sung by allwomen choirs. Some of his most influential works were his hymns againstheresies that threatened to divide the early church. All this made him apopular inspiration throughout the church.
St Ephrem also preached of his great concern which was the coming of theantichrist. As indicated in his sermon on the antichrist, the antichristwere to persecute the church and he believed that the world was endingsoon as all the signs had been fulfilled by the fall of the RomanEmpire.
St Ephrem succumbed to a plague on the 9th of June whilst ministeringto its victims. He was in his sixties by then and it was after a tenyear stay in Edessa. At the time of his death, St Ephrem had been anactive member both in his church community as well as outside it.
- He is also referred to as the Deacon of Edessa, the Sun of the
Syrians and a Pillar of the Church
5 Interesting Facts About St. Ephrem
- He is venerated as a saint by all traditional churches especially
revered in Syriac Christianity.
- He is a sainted monk
- St Ephrem’s work was so popular such that for centuries after his
death, Christian authors wrote their works and falsely attributed them
- St Ephrem is accredited as the founder of the school of Nisibis
which was the center of learning of the church of the East.
- St Ephrem is known as the authentic voice of Aramaic
Prayer to St. Ephrem
O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, curiosity, ambition,and idle talking; give me not.But a spirit of chastity, patience, and love, bestow upon me, Thyservant.Yea, O Lord King: grant me to see mine own failings, and not to condemnothers; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages.Amen