Ephrem, the mad deacon

[Ephrem] remained a deacon all his life,
and to escape episcopal consecration
he is supposed to have feigned madness.
Joseph N. Tylenda, S.J.

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Syrian deacon and doctor of the Church, Ephrem.

Ephrem is noted for his many hymns in which he used to teach the faith and to combat heretics, some of whom had written hymns for their cause.

He wrote commentaries on much of scripture and was renowned for his preaching – so much so that he was called the Harp of the Holy Spirit.

Though he lived in a cave outside Edessa, he did not separate himself completely from the world. In fact a few months before he died he organized a major relief effort for famine victims.

In many ways, his service of the Altar with his hymns, his service of the Word with his preaching and commentaries, and his service of Charity with his care for famine victims and others exemplify what a deacon is and what a deacon does.

He did not seek higher “rank” within the Church, finding his service as a deacon – as a servant – was his calling, his vocation.

He wrote a prayer which is used during Lent among the Orthodox and which expresses the spirituality of a servant of God:

O Lord and Master of my Life,
give me not a spirit of sloth, lust for power,
and idle talk.
But give me, your servant,
a spirit of charity, humility, patience, and love.
O Lord and King,
grant me to see my own faults
and not judge another,
for blessed are you forever.

There is not madness in such a prayer – but much wisdom.

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