We celebrate the first Saturday of the Lent Memory of St Theodore and St Ephraim. Pray this short article on St. Ephraim by my friend Jacob Varghese of Sharjah will be helpful
Mar Aprem - ‘HARP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT’ - 1st Sat of Great Lent
St. Ephrem (Mar Aphrem) - the Syrian, is both a Father and a Doctor of the Church. Ephrem was born in the ancient city of Nisibis, in Mesopotamia, at the beginning of the fourth century. He was born of Christian parents before the Edict of Milan (313) was issued. Through humility, he refused to become a priest, and stayed a deacon all his life. He became a monk when he was only a young boy. He was one of the great defenders of the Divinity of Jesus Christ at the Council of Nicea, in 325.
Mar Aphrem remains one of the most influential fathers of the Syrian Churches and he is revered as the "Sun of the Syrians," the "Column of the Church". Ephrem was a prolific writer and gave the Church an abundance of sermons, commentaries and hymns. According to St. Jerome: "Ephraim, 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. If you read a volume, of his on the Holy Spirit; though it was only a translation, I recognized therein the sublime genius of the man". Because of this enormous amount of material, he was given the titles "Pillar of the Church. Saint Ephrem was a great hymn maker, and is called "Harp of the Holy Spirit" the "Lyre of the Holy Spirit". The Roman Catholic declared him as the ‘Spiritual Teacher of the Church”. Almost all the Churches of the world consider him as a saint. The body of his writing comprises a central part of the liturgical prayer life of many Churches. He was a great poet and teacher of priests. He wrote a sizeable part of our canonical prayers. He wrote countless hymns and prayers in love and praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Ephrem greeted her: “Hail, Reconciler of the whole world!”
When he was still a baby, his parents had a prophetic dream: from the boy's tongue sprang a lush vine, which produced abundant clusters of grapes. The more the birds ate the fruit, the more it multiplied. Later it was revealed that these clusters were his sermons, the leaves of the vine--his hymns.
Remember not O Lord the sins of my youth. (Ps. 25:7). Judging from his youth, however, one could never have guessed his future greatness. In spite of his parents' having educated him in Christian precepts, he was impetuous and even rather wild, like an unruly colt which resists the bridle: "I would quarrel over trifles, acted foolishly, gave in to bad impulses and lustful thoughts .... My youth nearly convinced me that life is ruled by chance. But God's Providence brought my impassioned youth to the light of wisdom." He relates the story of his conversion: "One day my parents sent me outer town and I found a pregnant cow feeding along the road. I took up stones and began pelting the cow, driving it into the woods. In the evening, it fell down dead and was eaten by wild beasts. On my way back, I met the poor owner of the cow. 'My son,' he asked, 'did you drive away my cow?' I not only denied it grass and drove into the woods, but heaped abuse and insult upon the poor man."
A few days later he was idling with some shepherds. When it grew too late to return home, he spent the night with them. That night some sheep were stolen and the boy was accused of being in league with the robbers. He was taken before the judge, who cast him into prison. In a dream an angel appeared to Ephraim and asked him why he was there. The boy began at once to declare that he was, innocent. "Yes," said the angel, "you are innocent of the crime imputed to you, but have you forgotten the poor man's cow?"
While in prison, when Ephraim saw the tortures to which criminals were subjected, he became terrified. He turned to God and vowed that he would become a monk if God would spare him such a cruel ordeal. The judge however, just laughed at the youth's tears and ordered that he be stretched on the rack. But just then a servant came to announce that dinner was ready. "Very well," said the magistrate, "I will examine the boy another day." And he ordered him back to prison. Although he was spared from the rack, Ephraim had learned his lesson and, like the Prophet David, he entreated the Lord to overlook his youthful folly. True to his vow, upon his release he went straightway to the hermits living in the mountains where he became a disciple of St. James (Jan. 12), who later became a great bishop of Nisibis.
To be Continued...