Malankara World

Faith of the Church: Trinity

Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Hymn on Faith No. 40: On the Trinity

by St Ephrem

St. Ephrem - A Great Poet

St Ephrem the Syrian, is known as the “greatest poet of the patristic age.” He was born in or near Nisibis (modern Nusaybin, on the border between Syria and Turkey), and he spent most of his life in that town, serving local bishops in his role as deacon and teacher.

St Ephrem came to Natrun (Deir El-Sourian: The Monastery of the Holy Virgin and St John Kame). When he arrived, he was very weak and used a staff to lean upon. Some monks thought St Ephrem carried the staff desiring distinction. When he spiritually perceived their inner thoughts, he planted his staff into the ground a few meters from St Bishoy’s Hermitage. God, wanting St Ephrem to appear righteous in the eyes of the monks, made his staff bud out and develop until it became the famous tamarind tree.

In 373, when Nisibis was handed over to the Persian Empire, St Ephrem was forced to move about one hundred miles west, to Edessa (modern Urfa), the cradle of the Syriac-speaking Christianity, and it was there he spent the last ten years of his life. He died on June 9, 373.

Several collections of hymns by St Ephrem survive. The hymns were intended for liturgical use. He expected his hearers to be very familiar with the contents of the Holy Bible, both New and Old Testaments, and his hymns are full of illusions to Biblical passages.

In the St Ephrem’s Hymn on Faith no. 40, he compares the mystery of the Holy Trinity to the sun and to fire. In both of these familiar features of the created world there lies an indissoluble relationship between the fire itself, and the light, and the heat which it provides: each of these is separate yet they all combine as a single entity, each being a concomitant of the others; they thus can serve as an analogy, within the created world, to the mystery of the Holy Trinity— the fire corresponding to the Father, the light to the Son, and the heat to the Holy Spirit. His poetry is marked by a sense of profound wonder.

St. Ephrem’s Hymn on Faith No. 40: On the Trinity

The sun serves as our source of illumination and
none can grasp what it is like;
How much more is this the case if we are talking
about human kind and even more so,
If about God.

The light of the sun is not subsequent to the sun,
nor is there any time when it was not;
The sun’s light my be considered as second, and
its heat as third:
They are neither separate from it or identical with it.


Look at the sun in the sky: it is thought of as one;
lower you gaze and see its light,
A second element; then try it out, experience and
feel its warmth, a third.

They resemble one another, and at the same time,
they do not: the second element is commingled in
the sun, yet it is distinct from it; the third element is
mixed with it,
Yet separate at the same time as being
commingled and mixed.

Fire and the sun are individual entities, they
consist each of three things,
Mingled in three-fold fashion: fire itself, then
heat, and third, light.

One resides in the other in a balanced way,
ungrudgingly, mixed together,
But not confused, commingled, yet not bound,
joined together, but not under constraint, at the same
time free, but not divergent.

Let dictatorial people be silenced by what is quite
patent, for here we have one in three
And three in one, commingled, but not fixedly so,
distinct, yet not totally separate.
There is marvel in all this which makes us keep silent.

The human person too, is established in threefold
form, and arise at the Resurrection entirely perfect.
The sun is but one, a single entity, yet three things
are therein commingled, separate,

But not divided; each individually is entirely
perfect, and all of them are perfect as one;
The glory is one, yet it is not one. It is a wondrous
entity which generates all by itself,
Which gathers itself in collectively, and spreads
itself out in threefold form.

If someone rashly supposed that fire too is not
threefold, who would be led into error by him and
attach himself to stupidity, agreeing with his

For he denies the three elements which can be
seen to be both equal and distinct,
One glorious and full of awe, another hidden and
potent, another joyful and serene.

The first is entirely self-contained, the next is
separate, coming of its own will, while the third is
abundantly sent forth; in the fire there reigns a quality
whereby each element is neither commanded nor gives
a command, for they are all entirely in accord,
Acting in a unison of love.

Three names are thus to be seen in the fire, each
has its own authority, each exists individually, each
acts by itself and appears distinct:
Individual qualities which are commingled
together—fire wondrously, heat distinctly, and light
gloriously, each dwelling in harmony with the others.

If fire then has that wonderful nature, generating
and not diminishing, in a state of
Balance and not becoming cold, with its heat
quite distinct, but not cut off from it,

Passing through all things in ungrudging fashion,
winging itself into bread,
Mingling with water, residing in all things, while
all things reside in it.

Then in it is a symbol of the Spirit, a type of the
Holy Spirit, who is mingled in the baptism water so
that it may bring forgiveness, who is commingled in
The Eucharistic Bread so that it becomes the Offering.

The Spirit seems to be entirely in all of them, yet
He is also quite removed,
For it is not possible to depict the threefold
mysteries which have never been depicted.

If fire overwhelms us when we try to examine it,
to see how it is both one and at the same time three,
now the three elements live in one another, how its heat is distinct,

But not cut off; if fire has this effect, when fire is
just a natural entity which we have lovingly received
in threefold form, and with which we have no divisive dispute-

How much more, then, is it right that we should
accept in simplicity those Three Persons, receiving
them with love, and not with questions. Their nature should

Not have to chase after us and become like unto
us—for they are like only themselves in all respects.
Created beings are distinct and unlike one
another, so how much more is that Being,
Great beyond all, distinct from everything else.

(Translated by Sebastian P. Brock, 1989, p. 70-75)

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