January 28, 2017

Saint Ephraim the Syrian as a Model for our Lives

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Ephraim was born in the early fourth century in Nisibis of Syria from parenta who were Confessors and Martyrs, as he wrote, "I am from a family of martyrs," for during the period of harsh persecution under Diocletian they gave their bold confession for the true God and they sealed it with the blood of their martyrdom. For a teacher he had Bishop James, a man of great theological education, who also ordained him a deacon. He received no other ordination. He was a true ascetic, a fiery orator and a famous writer. They called him a prophet of Syrians, a pillar of Orthodoxy, the mouth and lyre of the Spirit, and vessel of compunction. Shortly before his repose he visited Basil the Great in Caesarea of Cappadocia. He reposed in peace.

We will now enter the fragrant meadow of his inspired writings, in order to reap some flowers, which are full of exquisite fragrances, in order to offer them to those who are addicted to heavenly scents. In other words, we will list extracts from the writings of the Saint, which are always timely, instructive and beneficial.

1. "From the land comes the joy of harvest, from the vineyard fruits that give food, and from the Scriptures teaching that gives life. The land has one season for the harvest, and the vineyard has one season for the vintage, but the Scripture when read always overflows with teaching that gives life. The land when it has been harvested lies fallow and the vineyard when the grapes have been picked is unproductive, but when Scripture is harvested the grapes of those who expound it are not lacking in it. It is picked every day and the grape clusters of the hope in it are never exhausted."

Here the Saint wants to highlight the great value of Holy Scripture and the benefits one gets from studying it. Indeed, Holy Scripture is spiritual food and drink, which nourishes, refreshes and enlivens man, literally "intoxicate" him, and gives wings to hope. But no matter how many fruits one reaps from it, it remains inexhaustible of heavenly meanings and hopeful messages.

2. "Eight are the thoughts that cause sin: gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, despondency, despair, vainglory and pride. Gluttony is healed by temperance and the fear of God; lust by vigil, thirst and the remembrance of death; avarice by indigence and frugality; anger with gentleness, long-suffering, prayer and forgiveness; despondency by not grieving over temporal things, even if we are beaten, mocked, or persecuted, we are not to grieve, but to rejoice, and we should only grieve when we commit a sin. Even then, however, we should grieve within measure, lest we fall into despair and be led to destruction; despair with work, contemplation, prayer and unceasingly standing near God; vainglory by not loving the praises of people, nor leadership, and with self-reproach; and pride with no matter what you do, you should not say you did it by your own effort or bravery, but with God's strength."

Whoever defeats these passions, keeps their nous clear of thoughts. And the purified nous is illumined by the grace of God and acquires remembrance of God and uninterrupted prayer.

3. "Patience is not one, but is found within many other virtues. Because patience is associated with all the virtues. Rejoice then in your troubles, and progress in your sufferings; rejoice in your temptations... in long-suffering it is mature, in love it is perfect, insults it turns to blessings... in fasting it is willing, in prayer it is enduring, in service to others it is polite, in meetings it is pleasant. He who has gained patience, has gained hope, because such a man is adorned with every good work."

Nothing can be done without patience, either physically or spiritually. Patience gives birth to trust and love for God and gives birth to hope. It removes stress, this modern scourge, and gives us inner peace. Then a person becomes polite and pleasant.

4. "Speak much to God, and little to men. And if you spread you hand out to work, let your mouth chant and your mind pray. Psalmody is calm of soul, author of peace. Psalmody is convenor of friendship, union of the separated, reconciliation of enemies. Psalmody attracts the help of the Angels, is a weapon in night-time fears, repose of the day’s toils, safety for infants, adornment for the old, consolation for the elderly, most fitting embellishment for women. It make deserts into homes, market places sober. It is the ABC for beginners, progress for the more advanced, confirmation for the perfect, the voice of the Church. It makes festivals radiant; it creates mourning that is in accordance with God, for psalmody draws tears even from a heart of stone. Psalmody is the work of the Angels, the commonwealth of heaven, spiritual incense. Psalmody is enlightenment of souls, sanctification of bodies."

We usually do the opposite. We usually say many things to people, but speak little or not at all to God. If we want to prosper, we must learn to pray much and speak little. And when we work it would be good to chant, especially if our work is manual. Then our nous will be free of passionate thoughts and our souls will calm.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasis, "Ὅσιος Ἐφραίμ ὁ Σύρος", January 2017. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.