Faithful Friday: Ephrem the Syrian

By T.K. Wilson (Rated G)

Ephrem the Syrian was born in Nisibis, in the province of Mesopotamia (now Nusaybin, Turkey, lying 166 miles from Mosul, Iraq) in approximately 306 AD. Records are unclear, but it is believed that both his parents were Christians, however, some believe his father was a pagan priest. Ephrem was baptized as a youth and began right away in building up the Body of Christ in Nisibis as a deacon. It is also highly likely that he was a “son of the Covenant,” an early type of friar or lay brother.  As a deacon, he used his gift as a poet and composer to write instructional hymns, teaching the people to confront heresy through song. 

In the upheaval following the death of Constantine the First, the city of Nisibis was ceded to the Persians, who expelled all the Christians. The Christians, including Ephrem, fled to the city of Edessa (now Urfa, Turkey) a trek of about 138 miles. Edessa was a massive, important city on the banks of the Euphrates, filled with all sorts of people and ideas. It was here Ephram thrived, contending regularly with the ten heretical Christian sects in the city. As a Nicene Christian, he composed hymns and sermons to defend Orthodoxy and may have been a leader at the School of Edessa. It is even said that he arranged for a special choir of ladies from the church of Edessa to sing hymns set to folk-tunes in the local forum!

Ephram’s cause of death is uncertain, but he was in his sixties when he passed to Glory, likely on June 6, 373. He is honored in the Syriac, Orthodox, and Catholic churches, as the patron of the Syriac church and spiritual directors. Because all his hymns were composed in the Syrian Aramaic dialect, his hymns are still sung to this day. 

May we use our creative skills for the good of the church as St. Ephrem did. 

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