Thursday, January 28, 2010

Commemoration of our Father Among the Saints, St. Ephraim the Syrian

Today, January 28, the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates two of our great Syrian saints, St. Ephraim and St. Isaac, both given the title "The Syrian." It is very important to realize that early Christianity may have been forged by the Greek language and with a lot of Greek thought, but that the vast majority of early adherents to the new faith were Semitic. The Syrians, in particular, had written many hymns and theological tractates which would later be translated into Greek and Latin for later faithful generations. The Syrian modal system is the main basis of Byzantine chant, not, as many suppose, the Greek system. Both have been synthesized into our wonderful music system. Christianity is and has never been a European phenomenon.

St. Ephraim is, whether for good or for bad, known mainly for one thing--his prayer which is said every day of the Great Fast (save for Saturdays and Sundays). Though St. Ephraim was quite a prolific writer--his spiritual psalter is one of the great treasures of church hymn writing--the prayer which bears his name is how most Orthodox and non-Orthodox know of this great saint.

This prayer so succintly sums up what should be our spiritual life:

O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of sloth, curiousity, lust for power and idle talk, give me not. But grant a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to condemn my brothers for blessed art Thou unto the ages. Amen.

We say this prayer with prostrations and bows. How sad that there are so many Orthodox who do not say it because it is never said on Saturdays or Sundays! Is there a more appropriate prayer for not only Lent but for the whole of our spiritual lives? Is this not what the spiritual life is? To be freed from our passions and desires so that we become more like Christ? Is that not why He came in the flesh?

As we approach the Great Fast, we should all take this prayer to heart and we should pray it reverently.

From the prologue of Ohrid: Ephrem was born in Syria of poor parents during the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great. He spent his young life rather tempestuously; but all at once a change took place in his soul and he began to burn with love for the Lord Jesus. Ephrem was a disciple of St. James Nisibis (January 13). From the enormous Grace of God, wisdom flowed from his tongue as a brook of honey and ceaseless tears flowed from his eyes. Industrious as a bee, Ephrem continually either wrote books or orally taught the monks in the monastery and the people in the town of Edessa or he dedicated himself to prayer and contemplation. Numerous are his books and beautiful are his prayers. The most famous is his prayer recited during the Honorable Fast Season. When they wanted to appoint him a bishop by force, he pretended to be insane and began to race through the city of Edessa dragging his garment behind him. Seeing this, the people left him in peace. Ephrem was a contemporary and friend of St. Basil the Great. Saint Ephrem is considered mainly to be the Apostle of Repentance. Even today his works soften many hearts hardened by sin and return them to Christ. He died in extreme old age in the year 378 A.D.

Through the intercessions of St. Ephraim, may Christ our God save our souls!

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