Tag Archives: Ephrem the Syrian

A late diaconal vocation

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.

13434782_1175030119187411_8094246067143087954_nI 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.




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.

Ephrem the Syrian

Syria is being torn apart these days as the people rise up to remove a leader they find oppressive., whose forces have been involved in the killing of many innocent protestors.  And so it is good to remember today Saint Ephrem the Syrian, a deacon and doctor of the church, who lived in Edessa and died in 373.

He is known especially for the many hymns he wrote which are still used in the Syrian Church. A few months before his death he was asked by the people to distribute grain to people devastated by a winter famine. They would trust no one else with the task.

One of the prayers he wrote is prayed in the Orthodox Lenten liturgies. It is worth praying today, remembering the suffering people of Syria.

Lord and master of my life,
take from me the spirit of laziness,
of dejection, of domination, of empty words;
grant to me your servant
a spirit of chastity,
of humility, of patience and love;
Yes, Lord, permit me to see my sins
and not to judge my brother,
for you are blessed, world without end.