14 January 2008

Patristic Quote of the Day

If we have condemned ourselves, we will not be condemned, then, at the great and eternal judgment. - St. Ephrem the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #67

6 comments:

Doorman-Priest said...

St. Ephrem the Syrian? William: I think you make these people up.

orrologion said...

FYI, on St. Ephrem (+373):

Venerable Ephraim the Syrian

Commemorated on January 28

Saint Ephraim the Syrian, a teacher of repentance, was born at the beginning of the fourth century in the city of Nisibis (Mesopotamia) into the family of impoverished toilers of the soil. His parents raised their son in piety, but from his childhood he was known for his quick temper and impetuous character. He often had fights, acted thoughtlessly, and even doubted God's Providence. He finally recovered his senses by the grace of God, and embarked on the path of repentance and salvation.

Once, he was unjustly accused of stealing a sheep and was thrown into prison. He heard a voice in a dream calling him to repent and correct his life. After this, he was acquitted of the charges and set free.

The young man ran off to the mountains to join the hermits. This form of Christian asceticism had been introduced by a disciple of St Anthony the Great, the Egyptian desert dweller Eugenius.

St James of Nisibis (January 13) was a noted ascetic, a preacher of Christianity and denouncer of the Arians. St Ephraim became one of his disciples. Under the direction of the holy hierarch, St Ephraim attained Christian meekness, humility, submission to God's will, and the strength to undergo various temptations without complaint.

St James transformed the wayward youth into a humble and conrite monk. Realizing the great worth of his disciple, he made use of his talents. He trusted him to preach sermons, to instruct children in school, and he took Ephraim with him to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea (in the year 325). St Ephraim was in obedience to St James for fourteen years, until the bishop's death in 338.

After the capture of Nisibis by the Persians in 363, St Ephraim went to a monastery near the city of Edessa. Here he saw many great ascetics, passing their lives in prayer and psalmody. Their caves were solitary shelters, and they fed themselves with a certain plant.

He became especially close to the ascetic Julian (October 18), who was of one mind with him. St Ephraim combined asceticism with a ceaseless study of the Word of God, taking from it both solace and wisdom for his soul. The Lord gave him a gift of teaching, and people began to come to him, wanting to hear his counsel, which produced compunction in the soul, since he began with self-accusation. Both verbally and in writing, St Ephraim instructed everyone in repentance, faith and piety, and he denounced the Arian heresy, which at that time was causing great turmoil. Pagans who heard the preaching of the saint were converted to Christianity.

He also wrote the first Syriac commentary on the Pentateuch (i.e. "Five Books") of Moses. He wrote many prayers and hymns, thereby enriching the Church's liturgical services. Famous prayers of St Ephraim are to the Most Holy Trinity, to the Son of God, and to the Most Holy Theotokos. He composed hymns for the Twelve Great Feasts of the Lord (the Nativity of Christ, the Baptism, the Resurrection), and funeral hymns. St Ephraim's Prayer of Repentance, "O Lord and Master of my life...", is recited during Great Lent, and it summons Christians to spiritual renewal.

From ancient times the Church has valued the works of St Ephraim. His works were read publicly in certain churches after the Holy Scripture, as St Jerome tells us. At present, the Church Typikon prescribes certain of his instructions to be read on the days of Lent. Among the prophets, St David is the preeminent psalmodist; among the Fathers of the Church, St Ephraim the Syrian is the preeminent man of prayer. His spiritual experience made him a guide for monastics and a help to the pastors of Edessa. St Ephraim wrote in Syriac, but his works were very early translated into Greek and Armenian. Translations into Latin and Slavonic were made from the Greek text.

In many of St Ephraim's works we catch glimpses of the life of the Syrian ascetics, which was centered on prayer and working in various obediences for the common good of the brethren. The outlook of all the Syrian ascetics was the same. The monks believed that the goal of their efforts was communion with God and the acquisition of divine grace. For them, the present life was a time of tears, fasting and toil.

"If the Son of God is within you, then His Kingdom is also within you. Thus, the Kingdom of God is within you, a sinner. Enter into yourself, search diligently and without toil you shall find it. Outside of you is death, and the door to it is sin. Enter into yourself, dwell within your heart, for God is there."

Constant spiritual sobriety, the developing of good within man's soul gives him the possibility to take upon himself a task like blessedness, and a self-constraint like sanctity. The requital is presupposed in the earthly life of man, it is an undertaking of spiritual perfection by degrees. Whoever grows himself wings upon the earth, says St Ephraim, is one who soars up into the heights; whoever purifies his mind here below, there glimpses the Glory of God. In whatever measure each one loves God, he is, by God's love,satiated to fullness according to that measure. Man, cleansing himself and attaining the grace of the Holy Spirit while still here on earth, has a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven. To attain to life eternal, in the teachings of St Ephraim, does not mean to pass over from one realm of being into another, but rather to discover "the heavenly," spiritual condition of being. Eternal life is not bestown on man through God's one-sided efforts, but rather, it constantly grows like a seed within him by his efforts, toils and struggles.

The pledge within us of "theosis" (or "deification") is the Baptism of Christ, and the main force that drives the Christian life is repentance. St Ephraim was a great teacher of repentance. The forgiveness of sins in the Mystery of Repentance, according to his teaching, is not an external exoneration, not a forgetting of the sins, but rather their complete undoing, their annihilation. The tears of repentance wash away and burn away the sin. Moreover, they (i.e. the tears) enliven, they transfigure sinful nature, they give the strength "to walk in the way of the the Lord's commandments," encouraging hope in God. In the fiery font of repentance, the saint wrote, "you sail yourself across, O sinner, you resurrect yourself from the dead."

St Ephraim, accounting himself as the least and worst of all, went to Egypt at the end of his life to see the efforts of the great ascetics. He was accepted there as a welcome guest and received great solace from conversing with them. On his return journey he visited at Caesarea in Cappadocia with St Basil the Great (January 1), who wanted to ordain him a priest, but he considered himself unworthy of the priesthood. At the insistence of St Basil, he consented only to be ordained as a deacon, in which rank he remained until his death. Later on, St Basil invited St Ephraim to accept a bishop's throne, but the saint feigned madness in order to avoid this honor, humbly regarding himself as unworthy of it.

After his return to his own Edessa wilderness, St Ephraim hoped to spend the rest of his life in solitude, but divine Providence again summoned him to serve his neighbor. The inhabitants of Edessa were suffering from a devastating famine. By the influence of his word, the saint persuaded the wealthy to render aid to those in need. From the offerings of believers he built a poor-house for the poor and sick. St Ephraim then withdrew to a cave near Edessa, where he remained to the end of his days.

Troparion - Tone 8

By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile,
and your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance.
By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe!
Our Father Ephraim, pray to Christ God to save our souls!

Kontakion - Tone 2

Ever anticipating the hour of Judgment,
you lamented bitterly, venerable Ephraim.
Through your deeds you were a teacher by example;
therefore, universal Father, you rouse the slothful to repentance.

http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=100328

St. Ephraem
(EPHREM, EPHRAIM).

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 (or twenty-eight). 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, whereupon 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 (363). 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. To this period belongs nearly all his literary work; apart from some poems composed at Nisibis, the rest of his writings-sermons, hymns, exegetical treatises-date from his sojourn at Edessa. It is not improbable that he is one of the chief founders of the theological "School of the Persians", so called because its first students and original masters were Persian Christian refugees of 363. At his death St. Ephraem was borne without pomp to the cemetery "of the foreigners". The Armenian monks of the monastery of St. Sergius at Edessa claim to possess his body.

The aforesaid facts represent all that is historically certain concerning the career of Ephraem (see BOUVY, "Les sources historiques de la vie de S. Ephrem" in "Revue Augustinienne", 1903, 155-61). All details added later by Syrian biographers are at best of doubtful value. To this class belong not only the legendary and occasionally puerile traits so dear to Oriental writers, but also others seemingly reliable, e.g. an alleged journey to Egypt with a sojourn of eight years, during which he is said to have confuted publicly certain spokesmen of the Arian heretics. The relations of St. Ephraem and St. Basil are narrated by very reliable authors, e.g. St. Gregory of Nyssa (the Pseudo?) 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. Among the works of St. Gregory of Nyssa (P.G., XLVI, 819) is a sermon (though not acknowledged by some) which is a real panegyric of St. Ephraem. 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 [opuscula] in Syriac, and became so famous that his writings are publicly read in some churches after the Sacred Scriptures. I have read in Greek a volume of his on the Holy Spirit; though it was only a translation, I recognized therein the sublime genius of the man" (De viris illustr., c. cxv). Theodoret of Cyrus also praised his poetic genius and theological knowledge (Hist. Eccl., IV, xxvi). Sozomen pretends that Ephraem wrote 3,000,000 verses, and gives the names of some of his disciples, some of whom remained orthodox, while others fell into heresy (Hist. Eccl., III, xvi). From the Syrian and Byzantine Churches the fame of Ephraem spread among all Christians. The Roman Martyrology mentions him on 1 February. In their menologies and synaxaria Greeks and Russians, Jacobites, Chaldeans, Copts, and Armenians honour the holy deacon of Edessa.

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05498a.htm

orrologion said...

If you think Ephrem is weird and made-up, check out the Georgian and Persian saints, or Greco-Russian saints like Paphnutius, Onouphrius and Barsanuphius - St Barsanuphius of Optina is one of my favorites (though 'of Gaza' is very interesting to read, too) even if my wife usually refers to him as St. Barf.

One man's Neil is another man's Nilus.

William Weedon said...

Was it a Georgian or a Russian saint that had that funny dog head? I think I saw it in Ouspensky's *Theology of the Icon*? Or am I just misremembering it?

orrologion said...

You are referring to my patron saint: St. Christopher of Lycia. I guess he was Greco-Roman. See his Life from OCA.org:

http://orrologion.blogspot.com/2006/01/st-christopher-of-lycia-250.html

and an interesting reference to him from 'Road to Emmaus' with a different take on his origins:

http://orrologion.blogspot.com/2006/01/st-andrew-cynocefaloi-st-christopher.html

Doorman-Priest said...

Thanks for the info. That'll teach me to question. I only wanted the thumbnail though. It took me as long to read it as the events took in real time!