Today, June 9th, the universal Church celebrates St. Ephrem, the only Syrian recognized as a Doctor of the Catholic Church.
Ephrem was born in Nisibis in Mesopotamia in or about 306, having been baptized as a young person, becoming a well-known and respected teacher there. Ephrem and many other Christians left Nisibis to live in Edessa when the Christian emperor ceded to the Persians. Whilst in Ephrem, he taught at the Biblical school, giving it substantial fame and credibility. Ephrem chose to serve as a deacon, but declined ordination as a priest.
His writings are prolific in his capacity as an orator, poet and defender of the Faith. These writings reflect his insight and enlightenment into the Holy Scriptures, especially about the nature of God and our redemption. Ephrem’s account of the Last Judgment even inspired Dante.
One of his most interesting talents was to turn around the heretical hymns of the day to orthodox and true Christian music. He used their melodies and drafted beautiful music, being one of the first individuals to introduce liturgical music into the Mass. He is often referred to as the “Harp of the Holy Spirit.”
Ephrem chose to live in simplicity, in a small cave which overlooked Edessa. He died there in or about 373.
The following is a quote from The Testament of St. Ephrem:
Lay me not with sweet spices,
For this honor avails me not,
Nor yet use incense and perfumes,
For the honor befits me not.
Burn yet the incense in the holy place;
As for me, escort me only with your prayers,
Give ye your incense to God,
And over me send up hymns.
Instead of perfumes and spices,
Be mindful of me in your intercessions.
St. Ephrem, Harp of the Holy Spirit, now we ask you to be mindful of us whilst you are in heaven, interceding for us in our daily lives to be faithful and loving followers of the Triune God. Remind us that we must be full of joy in order to serve and love God, and that in order to have joy, we must have gratitude. Remind us to love poetry, beauty and music as ways to give glory to God. Thank you for your example of simplicity and your constant and passionate defense of the Truth against falsehood and heresies. St. Ephrem, please pray for us and help us!
With love and respect,
Sources: Vatican website; Franciscan media