St. Ephrem: Doctor of the Church, “Harp of the Holy Spirit”
June 9 is the optional memorial of St. Ephrem of Syria, deacon, Doctor of the Church, hymnographer, and theologian of the 4th century. Known as the “Harp of the Holy Spirit”, St. Ephrem was born around 306 A.D. in Nisibis, Mesopotamia. He is the only Syrian Father who is honored as a Doctor of the Universal Church.
Ephrem was baptized at the age of eighteen and became a disciple of the famous bishop of Nisibis, St. Jacob. He also accompanied St. Jacob to the Council of Nicaea in 325. Due to his great knowledge of the Church and doctrine, Ephrem was put in charge of a school of theology in Nisibis. He lived through three sieges laid to Nisibis by the Persians. Although the Persians failed to capture the town by direct attack, they obtained it in 363 as part of the price of a peace settlement following the defeat and death of the Emperor Julian. The Christians then abandoned the city and Ephrem retired to a cave in a rocky height overlooking Edessa (present-day Turkey).
In Edessa, Ephrem led an austere life, sustained only by a little barley bread and a few vegetables. It was here that he wrote the greater part of his spiritual works. His appearance was that of an ascetic. He was of small stature, bald, beardless, and with skin shriveled and dried up. His gown was all patches and the color of dirt.
As a deacon at Edessa, he vigorously refuted the heresies of his time, and to do so more effectively wrote poems and hymns about the mysteries of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints. His works were described as “a storehouse of treasures,” and he was called — “Harp of the Holy Spirit,” “Doctor of the world,” and “Pillar of the Church.” He was a commentator on Scripture and a preacher as well as a poet, and has left a considerable number of works, which were translated into other Eastern languages as well as into Greek and Latin.
St. Ephrem was deeply devoted to Our Blessed Mother and no one in the early Church wrote more about Mary than Ephrem. He called devotion to her “the unlocking of the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem.”
Ephrem died in 373. Benedict XV proclaimed him a Doctor of the Church in 1920. Ephrem is the patron of spiritual directors and spiritual leaders.
“Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven.”
“In your sacrament we daily embrace you and receive you into our bodies; make us worthy to experience the resurrection for which we hope. We have had your treasure hidden within us ever since we received baptismal grace; it grows ever richer at your sacramental table. Teach us to find our joy in your favor! Lord, we have within us your memorial, received at your spiritual table; let us possess it in its full reality when all things shall be made new.”
Prayer of Saint Ephrem
O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter.
Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience, and love.
O Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother; for You are blessed now and ever and forever. Amen.