Malankara World

Church Fathers

St. Ephrem, Harp of the Holy Spirit

by George Aramath

Part 6

St. Ephrem also holds some similarities and differences with the Cappadocian Fathers of his time. The differences have already been discussed in the manner in which they viewed theology. Though these methods differed in looking at theology as definitions verses the use of symbolism, one can view these approaches as complementing, not contradicting each other. In using both of these methods, one gets a full understanding of fourth-century Christianity.

In looking into similarities, as mentioned earlier, the Byzantine tradition writes of St. Ephrem visiting St. Basil. Though historically this is untrue, it nevertheless holds symbolic value. "Ephrem and the Cappadocian Fathers (of whom Basil should here simply be seen as the representative) have a great deal in common in their fundamental interests and concerns" (22). St. Gregory of Nyssa best exemplifies the closeness of their understanding on theology. For example, St. Gregory writes of a similar concept between the hidden and revealed. He says,

In speaking of God, when there is a question of His Essence (or Being), then 'is the time to keep silence'. When, however, it is a question of His operation, a knowledge of which can come down even to us, that is the time to speak of His omnipotence by telling of His works and explaining His deeds, and to use words to this extent. In matters that go beyond this, however, the creature must not exceed the bounds of its nature, but must be content to know itself. (23)

This message is similar to St. Ephrem's belief that God's Being is held in hiddenness and silence. St. Ephrem and St. Gregory also hold similar viewpoints on the relevance of human freedom and free will. In addition, the imagery of Christ as the heavenly Bridegroom is used by both saints (24). In the end, though these writers approached theology through different means, their similar interpretations allow their ideas to complement each another.

The readings for the feast of St. Ephrem on the 28th of January for the Eastern Orthodox Church and the first Saturday for the Syriac Orthodox Church relate to and reveal aspects of the saint's life. The epistle reading from St. Paul comes from Romans 8:14-21. It focuses on receiving the Spirit of God, "because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (v. 14). St. Ephrem, known as the Harp of the Holy Spirit, definitely is a reflection of this verse. His words were so magnificent and majestic that many thought he was led by the Spirit. The Gospel reading comes from St. Luke 6:17-23. It writes about Jesus speaking with His disciples concerning those whom He considers blessed. Before Jesus speaks, St. Luke writes in verse 18 that the crowd "had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases". Symbolically, one can see how the words of St. Ephrem also brought spiritual healing to those who heard him. Furthermore, St. Ephrem can be included amongst those who are called blessed because he hungered to know God and in the process, revealed God to others, too.

For Eastern Christianity, the most well-known of St. Ephrem's hymns is the Prayer of Saint Ephrem or Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem. The Syriac church also sings many of his hymns during the Passion Week, but a common prayer on St. Ephrem that best summarizes this saint is given below.

Pour out on us, O Lord, that same Spirit by which your deacon Ephrem rejoiced to proclaim in sacred song the mysteries of faith; and so gladden our hearts that we, like him, may be devoted to you alone; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. (25)

St. Ephrem's fame is growing in all churches, no matter Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic. His writings and hymns have been an inspiration for many. But the beauty of his writings is that it will continue to be an inspiration for future generations to come.

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