Today we celebrate the feast of St. Ephraem, a doctor of the church who left us a significant number of poems and hymns that have inspired the Church, but few facts about his own life.Download audio
Born at Nisibis, then under Roman rule, early in the fourth century; died June, 373. The name of his father is unknown, but he was a pagan and a priest of the goddess Abnil or Abizal. His mother was a native of Amid. Ephraem was instructed in the Christian mysteries by St. James, the famous Bishop of Nisibis, and was baptized at the age of eighteen. Thenceforth he became more intimate with the holy bishop, who availed himself of the services of Ephraem to renew the moral life of the citizens of Nisibis, especially during the sieges of 338, 346, and 350. One of his biographers relates that on a certain occasion he cursed from the city walls the Persian hosts, where upon a cloud of flies and mosquitoes settled on the army of Sapor II and compelled it to withdraw. The adventurous campaign of Julian the Apostate, which for a time menaced Persia, ended, as is well known, in disaster, and his successor, Jovianus, was only too happy to rescue from annihilation some remnant of the great army which his predecessor had led across the Euphrates. To accomplish even so much the emperor had to sign a disadvantageous treaty, by the terms of which Rome lost the Eastern provinces conquered at the end of the third century; among the cities retroceded to Persia was Nisibis. To escape the cruel persecution that was then raging in Persia, most of the Christian population abandoned Nisibis en masse. Ephraem went with his people, and settled first at Beit-Garbaya, then at Amid, finally at Edessa, the capital of Osrhoene, where he spent the remaining ten years of his life, a hermit remarkable for his severe asceticism. Nevertheless, he took an interest in all matters that closely concerned the population of Edessa. Several ancient writers say that he was a deacon; as such he could well have been authorized to preach in public. At this time some ten heretical sects were active in Edessa; Ephraem contended vigorously with all of them, notably with the disciples of the illustrious philosopher Bardesanes.
The relations of St. Ephraem and St. Basil are narrated by very reliable authors, like St. Gregory of Nyssa and Sozomen, according to whom the hermit of Edessa, attracted by the great reputation of St. Basil, resolved to visit him at Caesarea. He was warmly received and was ordained deacon by St. Basil; four years later he refused both the priesthood and the episcopate that St. Basil offered him through delegates sent for that purpose to Edessa. Though Ephraem seems to have been quite ignorant of Greek, this meeting with St. Basil is not improbable; some good critics, however, hold the evidence insufficient, and therefore reject it, or at least withhold their adhesion. The life of St. Ephraem, therefore, offers not a few obscure problems; only the general outline of his career is known to us. It is certain, however, that while he lived he was very influential among the Syrian Christians of Edessa, and that his memory was revered by all, Orthodox, Monophysites, and Nestorians. They call him the “sun of the Syrians,” the “column of the Church”, the “harp of the Holy Spirit”. More extraordinary still is the homage paid by the Greeks who rarely mention Syrian writers. Twenty years after the latter’s death St. Jerome mentions him as follows in his catalogue of illustrious Christians: “Ephraem, deacon of the Church of Edessa, wrote many works in Syriac, and became so famous that his writings are publicly read in some churches after the Sacred Scriptures”.
Today let’s remember one of St. Ephraem most memorable quotes: “I was born in the way of truth; though my childhood was unaware of the greatness of the benefit, I knew it when trial came”.
Heaven is out goal.
Source: Labourt, J. (1909). St. Ephraem. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved April 26, 2010 from New Advent