icon of St. Ephraim the Syrian - 14th c. (Panselinos) - (1EP12)

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St. Ephraim the Syrian (June 9, 373 or 379)

Commemorated January 28

St. Ephraim was born around the year 306, in the city of Nisibis (the modern Turkish town of Nusaybin, on the border with Syria). It is thought that both his parents were part of the growing Christian community in the city. It was a time of great religious and political tension. The savage persecution and martyrdom of Christians under the Roman Emperor Diocletian were an important part of church heritage as St. Ephraim grew up. 

St. Ephraim grew up under the leadership of St. James (Mar Jacob), the first bishop of Nisibis. St. James is recorded as a signatory at the First Ecumenical Councilin 325. St. Ephraim was baptizedas a youth, and James appointed him as a teacher, a title that still carries great respect for Syriac Christians). He was ordainedas a deaconeither at this time or later. He began to compose hymns and write biblical commentaries as part of his educational office. In his hymns, he sometimes refers to himself as a "herdsman", to his bishop as the "shepherd" and his community as a "fold". St. Ephraim is popularly credited as the founder of the School of Nisibis, which in later centuries was the centre of learning of the Assyrian Church of the East.

In 337 Emperor Constantine I, who had established Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire, died. Years of Christian persecution followed, the cities around Nisibis were destroyed one by one, and their citizens killed or deported. Eventually Nisibis was conceded to Persia, and the city's Christian community was forced to leave.   

St. Ephraim found himself among a large group of refugees that fled west eventually settling in Edessa (modern Sanli Urfa) in 363.  St. Ephraim, in his late fifties, applied himself to ministry in his new church, and seems to have continued his work as a teacher (perhaps in the School of Edessa). In the midst of this city full of rival philosophies and religions, St. Ephraim wrote a great number of hymns defending Orthodoxy. 

After a ten-year residency in Edessa, in his sixties, St. Ephraim reposed in peace, according to some in the year 373, according to others, 379. 

Over four hundred hymns composed by St. Ephraim still exist. The most important of his works are his lyric hymns full of rich imagery drawn from biblical sources, folk tradition, and other religions and philosophies. St. Ephraim also wrote versehomilies. The third category of St. Ephraim’s writings is his prose work.  

St. Ephraim’s meditations on the symbols of Christian faith and his stand against heresy made him a popular source of inspiration throughout the church. The best known of these writings is the Prayer of Saint Ephraimthat is a part of most days of fasting in Eastern Christianity: 

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power, and idle talk. 
But give rather the 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 judge my brother, for thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
O God, be gracious to me, a sinner.