February 10 – Commemoration of St. Ephraim the Syrian (306-373)

February 10 – Commemoration of St. Ephraim the Syrian (306-373)

On February 10, the Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates the memory of St. Ephrem the Syrian (306-373), the most famous of the Church’s fathers, a theologian, one of the most important representatives of Syrian poetry, and the author of numerous Christian hymns. Ephraim was born into a poor family in the southeastern part of modern-day Turkey in the city of Nisibis. After an undeserved charge of sheep theft and imprisonment, the young man vowed to dedicate his life to repentance. Joining the hermits, he became a disciple of the ascetic Jacob of Nisibis, with whom in 325 he was present at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea.

Reverend Ephraim wrote a lot, was in literary controversy with heretics. He was the founder of the “School of the Persians” – a school in Edessa, where they studied the Holy Scriptures, which Ephraim interpreted and taught poetry and liturgical chant. Some of the graduates of the School in the following years played a significant role in the church life of Syria, Persia and Armenia.

Reverend Ephraim the Syrian had the rank of deacon, to which he was ordained, according to some sources, St. Basil the Great. Sam revered Ephraim called himself a “shepherd”, apparently referring to his sacred dignity.

The last years of the life of St. Ephraim spent time in prison, from which he was driven by famine in Edessa. Under the influence of St. Ephraim, local aristocrats allocated funds to open a hospital. Returning from Edessa and anticipating the impending death, Ephraim made a testament in which he testified to his faithfulness to the teachings of the Church and spoke of his ascetic deeds. Ephraim had no possessions, neither a staff nor a sack of goods, “for I have heard the words of the Lord: buy nothing in the earth. Bury me in my robe and in my koukoulion; do not lay incense, for they will not save me from the Judgment, burn incense in the sanctuary, and lay me to rest with psalms. Instead of wasting incense and fragrances, remember me in your prayers… Do not put me in your tombs, because your ornaments will be of no use to me. I made a vow to God to bury me with the pilgrims. I am the same pilgrim as they are. Put me with them… Put me in the cemetery, where the broken hearts are buried.”

For St. Ephraim’s thoughts on the Second Coming of the Lord and the trembling presence of the soul before the Court of God were one of the sources of purification of the heart. Creation of St. Ephraim urges the modern reader to work on the education of a “courageous soul” capable of “managing his life amidst all temptations” and to prepare in time for the Judgment Seat of God.

Ephraim the Syrian is traditionally credited with the authorship of the prayer, in which (according to Seraphim Vyrytskyi) all Orthodoxy and all the Gospel are:


“Lord and Master, do not give me the spirit of laziness, acedia, despair, love and vanity. Give me, Your servant, the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love. O Lord King, grant me to blot out my sins, and not to condemn my brother, for blessed for ever and ever, amen. God, cleanse me from being a sinner!”

Image of St. Ephraim the Syrian was widespread in Byzantine, Balkan and ancient Rus art. In Erminia, a priest Dionysius Furnoagrafiot (1730-1733) described him as “an old man with a rare beard, in a koukoulion, he says: audacity, mixed with laughter, easily exposes souls.” In ancient times, St. Ephraim the Syrian was most often depicted as a gray-haired old man with large bald spots on his forehead, sunken cheeks, a forked beard, in a monk’s mantle with his head uncovered, and later with a koukoulion on his head. In his left hand he often holds a scroll, his right – in a gesture of blessing. The figure of St. Ephraim is sometimes depicted in scenes from the Last Judgment, the iconographic plot of which in monumental sacred painting was inspired by his teachings.

Thus, on the southern plane of the central arch of the narthex of the Kyiv-Cyril’s Church, a fresco of the 12th century is preserved with the image of St. Ephraim the Syrian. He is depicted as a gray, slender old man in a monastic robe. The right hand is raised in a gesture of blessing, in the left the saint holds an unfolded scroll with an inscription. The text is executed by the uncial, all letters are almost the same size and their preservation is not bad, although 11 characters have been lost. In the scroll field, which is surrounded by a red line of demarcation, there are ten horizontal red stripes, which were used by the master fresco artist as a basis for placing letters. With a dividing into words and the reconstruction of lost passages, the text reads as follows: “If a brother knocks on your door in the night, that you may rise to the praise of God, stand up diligently <…>; The given text is a quotation of 16 words of “Homilies” of St. Ephraim the Syrian (translated from Ukrainian).

In the photo: Reverend Ephraim the Syrian. Fresco of the 12th century. St. Cyril’s Church.

Prepared by Maryna PRONINA