[St. Pachomius Library]

St. Ephraim of Syria

IV Century
St. Ephrem was born c 306; some say his family was Christian, while others say it was pagan. He was baptized at 18 (or 28) by Bishop James of Nisibis. Ephrem was ordained a deacon and pretended to be mad to avoid consecration as a bishop. When Jovianus ceded Nisibis to the Persians in 363, Ephrem and many other Christians moved to Edessa. Ephrem died there in 373 while he was ministering to people who had the plague.

St. Ephrem wrote many poems--over 1,000 works in all, with a total of over 3,000,000 lines. Many of his works are difficult to translate because of their complex structures, images, wordplays, and parallels. Scholars question the authenticity of all texts attributed to the "Harp of the Faith," a name frequently given to Ephrem, since many exist in Latin or Greek translation only. Ephrem wrote polemical verse defending the faith against gnostics and Arians, as well as poems against specific people, like Bar-Daisan. Ephrem was devoted to the Theotokos and wrote much in her praise. His Sermons on Faith are metrical homilies, and he wrote prose commentaries on the Old Testament and on the Epistles of St. Paul. He annotated the Greek-Syriac New Testament Diatessaron. His descriptions of heaven and hell are said to have inspired Dante.

Karen Rae Keck


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