St. Ephrem

Friends in Christ, today is the Feast of St. Ephrem. He was born about the year 406 to pagan parents, who, when he became a Christian as a boy was thrown out of their house. Eventually, at age 18 he was baptized, and for 25 years he assisted the work of the bishops at Nisibis through many difficult times. When the city fell to the Persians in 350AD, Ephrem retired to a cave in a rocky hill overlooking Edessa. Here he led an austere life of penance, eating little. It was in this cave that he wrote most of his spiritual works.
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Ephrem was very short, he had no hair or beard, and his fasting and penances caused him to look rather old. He was not a recluse however, and often visited the city of Edessa where he preached to the people. He had a fiery speech, and often spoke of the 2nd coming of Christ and the final judgment, leaving the congregation in tears.
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Ephrem noticed that Gnostic heretics would often use popular songs to teach the people false ideas about the faith. Seeing the power of music, he imitated the enemy’s tactics, and introduced sacred music into the Liturgy which was sung by a women’s choir. In this way, he completely supplanted the Gnostic hymns by hymns which taught the truth of the faith.
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Late in his life, he was ordained a Deacon, and so he is known as ‘St. Ephrem the Deacon.’
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In the winter of 372AD there was a famine in the land, and his heart was breaking for the poor. The rich were refusing to offer their grain to help others because they did not trust anyone to distribute the food. Ephrem himself therefore administered the distribution and payments of all the grain. After having tended to a great many sick people, he returned exhausted to his cave, where he died in 373AD.
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St. Ephrem was a prolific writer, and he is surely the greatest poet of the patristic age. In his writings, he emphasizes the true humanity and divinity of Christ, and he is an early witness to devotion to the Blessed Virgin. His poetry is generously sprinkled with praise of Mary. He even hints, in the 4th century, of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception: He writes: ‘Only you Jesus, and your Mother, are more beautiful than everything. For on you O Lord there is no mark; neither is there any stain on your Mother.’

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