Ordained a deacon late in life, St. Ephrem the Syrian declined the priesthood and escaped being ordained a bishop by feigning madness.
I like him. God willing, on July 15, I will be ordained a deacon late in life – 69 years old. And I will resist any efforts to being more than a diakonos, a servant.
I like Saint Ephrem for other reasons.
He instructed the people in the faith with words but also with songs. He knew the value of music and how it forms us. So he composed a number of hymns that are still used in the Syriac liturgy.
A month before his death he left his cave and went to help the victims of a terrible famine.
He was a diakonos, a servant of the Word, the Altar, and charity. What all deacons should be.
But what I most treasure from Saint Ephrem are his prayers, especially this one which I encountered in 1975.
I had sent a donation to the Catholic Worker and received a thank you card back. On it is written this prayer of St. Ephrem, taken from Helen Waddell’s Desert Fathers:
Sorrow on me, beloved! that I unapt and reluctant in my will abide, and behold winter hath come upon me and the infinite tempest hath found me naked and spoiled and with no perfecting of good in me. I marvel at myself, O my beloved, how I daily default and daily do repent; I build up for an hour and an hour overthrows what I have builded.
At evening I say, tomorrow, I will repent, but when morning comes, joyous I water the day. Again at evening I say, I shall keep vigil all night and I shall entreat the Lord to have mercy on my sins. But when night is come I am full of sleep.
Behold, those who received their talent along with me, strive by day and night to trade with it, that they may win the word of praise and rule ten cities. But I in my sloth hid mine in the earth and my Lord makes haste to come, and behold my heart trembles and I weep the day of my negligence and know not what excuse to bring. Have mercy upon me, thou who alone are without sin, and save me, who alone art merciful and kind.
I still have that card and occasionally pray this prayer. I keep the card in a book of the Grail translation of the psalter, at Psalm 51, the psalm of repentance.
As I prepare for ordination as a permanent deacon, I think I need to pray this prayer even more. For even though some will say at the ordination day that “He is worthy,” I know that I am in continual need of the mercy of God who alone makes us worthy.
Another blog post on Saint Ephrem, with his Lenten prayer, can be found here.
Image taken from a Facebook post of the Catholic Peace Fellowship.