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Saint Ephrem, a Doctor in the Church

Ephrem was born in Nissibin, a city in Mesopotamia, in a devout Christian family. Since his early childhood Ephrem loved reading and sharing the Sacred Scriptures, and learned from it his theology and poetic style, which is quite visible in all his wonderful writings. Ephrem learned about Christian faith and holiness under the guidance of Saint Jacob, the bishop of Nissibin; who wanted to ordain him a priest, but out of humility Ephrem begged the bishop to remain an evangelic deacon. Then the bishop assigned him the chair of Sacred Theology in the famous school of Nissibin, where he showed great zeal, knowledge and virtue in teaching the Christian faith and tradition, writing down some excellent theological, apologetic, and liturgical essays and poems. Thus, thanks in large part to Saint Ephrem the Nissibin School became one among the best in the Church at that time, graduating some great theologians and saints in the Syrian Tradition.

In the year 369 Ephrem moved his school to Edessa, where he continued with a greater zeal his work in writing and teaching theology. And when the clergy and people of Edessa wanted him to become their bishop, the news terrified Ephrem who considered himself unworthy of such a great responsibility, and pretended to be foolish and insane until he was left in alone. Whenever Ephrem was tempted in pride, or pushed to gossip about other people’s imperfections, he would remind himself of a terrible accident that he caused as a child, when he chased out the cow of his parents neighbors so enthusiastically, that the cow fall down and died. He then would cry his sin saying: “the cow! What have you done to the cow, Eprhem? ... ”, asking for God’s mercy, considering himself a great sinner.

By nature Ephrem was quick to anger, however, he struggled in training himself in the virtue of patience, until he was famous to be a lamb-like in humbleness and sweet temper. Ephrem was also distinguished by his great love for needy and the poor and mercy toward his neighbor. He deserved to be called the harp of the Holy Spirit, and was singled out among the doctors of the Church, as the most compassionate, sensitive and poetic one. He left for the Catholic Church some very beautiful poems that are collected into six volumes, and excellent interpretations of the Old and New Testaments, which form a real spiritual treasure in sacramental, apologetic, biblical and Marian theology; which are still prayed and chanted in the liturgies of our Syrian Church.

When Ephrem knew that he was about to leave this earthly world, he recommended his disciples to always humble themselves, and to love one another, and not to praise or laud him after his death, rather to burry him in the strangers’ cemetery, wrapped up with his used monastic cloak, and to collect whatever offerings they receive in his funeral and distribute them to the poor afterwards. Then, after he said goodbye to his disciples, he died in the Lord in the year 373.

In the year 1925, Ephrem was declared a doctor in the Universal Church, by the Pope Benedict V. May his prayers be with us, Amen.