January 28, 2010

The Testament of Saint Ephraim the Syrian

The venerable Ephraim the Syrian left a Testament in which, besides instructions and blessings for his disciples, he boldly bore witness to God before all of the purity of his faith, in which he desired to make others also steadfast. We shall cite some of the more important passages of his Testament:

I Ephraim am at the point of death, and I write my testament, that I may leave for all men a memorial, of whatsoever is mine, that though it be for my words, they that know me may remember me.

Woe is me, for my times are ended:,and the length of my years is fulfilled; the spinning for me is shortened, the thread is nigh unto cutting; the oil fails in the lamp: my days are spent, yea, mine hours; the hireling has finished his year, and the sojourner has fulfilled his season. Around me are the summoners, on this side and that are they that lead me away. I cry aloud, none hears me, and I complain, none delivers.

Woe to you, Ephraim, for the judgment, when you shall stand before the Son's judgment-seat, and around you they that know you, on the right hand and the left, Lo! there shall you be confounded. Woe to him who is put to shame there! Jesus, do judge Ephraim, nor give his judgment to another; for whoso has God for his Judge, he finds mercy in judgment; for I have heard from the wise, yea, I have heard from men of knowledge, that whoso sees the face of the King, though he has offended, he shall not die.

By Him who came down on Mount Sinai, and by Him who spoke on the rock, by that Mouth which spake the "Eli, Eli", and made the bowels of creation tremble, by Him who was sold in Judah, and by Him who was scourged in Jerusalem, by the Might which was smitten on the cheek, and by the Glory which endured spitting, by the threefold Names of fire, and by the one Assent and will, I have not rebelled against the Church, nor against the might of God. If in my thought I have magnified the Father above the Son, let Him have no mercy on me! And if I have accounted the Holy Spirit less than God, let mine eyes be darkened! If as I have said, I confessed not, let me go into outer darkness! And if I speak in hypocrisy, let me burn with the wicked in fire!

I adjure you my disciples, with adjurations that may not be loosed, that my words be not set aside, that you loose not my commandments. Whoso lays me beneath the altar, he shall not see the Altar of heaven; for it is not meet that foul stench should be laid in the Holy Place; whoso has laid me within the temple, he shall not see the temple of the Kingdom.

Take nought from me as memorial, my beloved, my brothers, my sons, for as much as you have a memorial, that which you have heard of Jesus. For if you take aught from Ephraim, into reproach will Ephraim come; for He, my Lord, will say unto me: 'More than in Me they have trusted in you, for if they had relied on Me, they would not have sought a memorial from you.' Lay me not with the martyrs, for I am a sinner and unworthy, and because of my unworthiness I fear to be brought beside their bones; for if stubble comes near to fire, it will scorch it, yea, devour it. It is not that I hate their neighborhood, but because of mine unworthiness I fear it.

Whoso carries me on his fingers, may his hands be leprous as Gehazi! On your shoulders carry me, and in haste conduct me [to the grave], and as a mean man bury me, for I have worn out my days in sadness. Why do you glorify me, O men, who before our Lord am ashamed? And why do you give me [the name of] 'Blessed', who am disclosed in my works? Should one show you my transgressions, you would all of you spit in my face. For if the stench of the sinner could strike one that stood by him, you would all of you flee away from the loathsome stench of Ephraim. Whoso lays with me a pall, may he go forth into outer darkness! And whoso has laid with me a shroud, may he be cast into Gehenna of fire! In my coat and cowl shall ye bury me, for ornament beseems not the hateful, nor does praise profit the dead, who is laid and cast into the tomb.

Arise, my brethren of Edessa, my lords and my sons and my fathers! Bring whatsoever you have vowed to lay along with your brother, bring and set it before me, whatsoever you my brethren have vowed. While I have yet a little memory, let me set on it a price; and let there be bought pure vessels, and let there be hired workmen therewith, and distribution be made among the poor, the needy and them that are in want.

Blessed is the city wherein you dwell, Edessa, mother of the wise, which from the living mouth of the Son was blessed by His Disciple. This blessing shall abide in her, until the Holy One shall be revealed. Whoso withholds from me aught that he has vowed, shall die the death of Ananias, who sought to deceive the Apostles, and was stretched [dead] before their feet. Whoso carries before me a taper, may his fire be kindled beside him! For to what end avails fire, for him whose fire is from himself? For when the visible fire is kindled, in it is consumed the secret fire. Sufficient for me is the pain without, add not to me that which is within.

Lay me not with sweet spices, for this honor avails me not; nor yet incense and perfumes, for the honor benefits me not. Burn sweet spices in the Holy Place, and me, even me, conduct to the grave with prayer. Give incense to God, and over me send up hymns. Instead of perfumes of spices, in prayer make remembrance of me. What can goodly odour profit, to the dead who cannot perceive it? Bring them in and burn them in the Holy Place, that they which enter in may smell the savor. Wrap not the fetid dung in silk that profits it not. Cast it down upon the dunghill, for it cannot perceive honor.

Lay me not in your sepulchres, for your magnificence profits me not; for I have a covenant with God, that I shall be buried with strangers. I am a stranger, as they were, with them, O my brethren, lay me! For every bird loves its kind, and man loves him that is like himself. In the cemetery lay me, where are the broken of heart, that when the Son of God comes He may embrace me and raise me among them.

After blessing by name his five faithful disciples, he leaves an anathema on the two, Paulinus and Urit, who had erred from the faith; and against "Arians and Anomoeans, Cathari and those of the Serpent, Marcionites and Manicheans, Bardesanites and Kukites, Paulites and Vitalianites, Sabbatarians and Borborites, with all the other doctrines: of superstitious that are unseemly."

The dying Saint recalls in the following lines the vision of his childhood, and praises God for its fulfillment.

I swear by your lives I lie not, in this thing that I tell. For when I was a little child, and lay in my mother's bosom, I saw (I was as in a dream) a thing which has come to pass in truth. There grew a vine-shoot on my tongue, and increased and reached unto heaven, and it yielded fruit without measure, leaves likewise without number. It spread, it stretched wide, it bore fruit, all creation drew near, and the more they were that gathered, the more its clusters abounded. These clusters were the Homilies, and these leaves the Hymns. God was the giver of them: glory to Him for His grace! For He gave to me of His good pleasure, from the storehouse of His treasures.