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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Life of our Venerable Father Ephraim the Syrian (St. Theophan the Recluse)


By St. Theophan the Recluse

The holy Ephraim was a native of the city of Nisibis in Mesopotamia. He was born at the very beginning of the reign of Saint Constantine the Great (reigned 306-337), of Christian parents, for in later life he said: "Those who gave me birth instilled within me the fear of the Lord. My ancestors confessed Christ before the judges' tribunals; I am kinsman to martyrs. My grandfathers, who lived to a ripe old age, were tillers of the soil, and my parents followed the same way of life." The holy one reposed while Saint Theodosius the Great was emperor (reigned 379-395).

The venerable Ephraim received from God the gift of wisdom: from his lips grace flowed like a river of sweetness, watering with compunction the souls of all who listened to his instructions. This was evident very early in his life. When he was still a child, his parents had the following dream concerning him: a grapevine arose from the tongue of their son and, increasing in stature, filled the whole world with its branches and fruit. The birds of the heavens flocked together and ate the grapes, yet however many they consumed, the quantity of grapes increased accordingly.

Fiery of temperament, the young Ephraim did not pass his youth without encountering several obstacles. As he himself relates, he was short of temper: he would become involved in quarrels over petty matters, behave recklessly, involve himself in wicked schemes and prodigal thoughts. "My youth would almost have convinced me that what happeneth with us in this life transpireth by chance; but the providence of God brought hot-blooded youth to its senses."

Once, the young Ephraim was falsely accused of stealing a sheep, and was cast into prison. Two others, likewise innocent, were imprisoned after him. "Seven days passed," the venerable one recounted later in life, "and on the eighth I had a dream in which someone said to me: 'Be pious, and thou shalt comprehend the providence of God. Ponder in thy thoughts what thou hast thought and what thou hast done, and thou shalt come to the realization that these men are not suffering unjustly; the guilty cannot elude punishment.' Later that same night I saw the same person, who said to me: 'Return to thine own place, and repent of thine unrighteousness, in full awareness that there is an Eye which watcheth over all.' And having thus threatened me soundly, he withdrew." Ephraim was faithful to the instruction of the one who had appeared to him. While still in prison, he vowed an oath to dedicate his entire life to repentance, and he soon forsook the world and withdrew into the surrounding mountains, where he sought out the hermits who lived there. There he became a disciple of the holy James, who subsequently became the great hierarch of Nisibis [Jan. 12th].

Among the clergy of the Church of Nisibis, the pious disciple of Bishop James won the love and respect of others. The bishop's treasurer was also named Ephraim. Fearing that his illicit sexual relationship with the daughter of one of the most prominent citizens of Nisibis would be exposed, he instructed his partner in sin to place the blame on the venerable one when the consequence of what they had done became obvious. This she did. The word quickly spread throughout the city, and the parents of the young woman, together with many others, laid their accusation against the bishop's disciple before the hierarch, though the latter was reluctant to place any credence in it. But Ephraim, taught by experience not to argue with the judgements of the providence of God, Who permits temptations for the salvation of men's souls, fell at the bishop's feet and, his voice full of contrition, said: "O my father, I have indeed sinned!" The father of the young woman quickly brought the babe and in the presence of all the clergy handed him to Ephraim, who repeated in the hearing of all: "Truly, my fathers, I have sinned!" But the Lord, who was testing the obedience and steadfastness of Ephraim in the endurance of temptations, provided him the means to escape his trials with a glory worthy of his humility. One day, ascending the ambo of the church, Ephraim took the babe and asked him in the hearing of all the people: "Reveal the truth: Who is thy father?" And three times the child said: "Ephraim, the treasurer of the church!"; and then he died. Weeping, the perjurers begged forgiveness, and the glory of Ephraim's holiness spread even further.

The holy James, who more than all others knew the lofty attainments of his disciple, took him with him to the Council in Nicaea (325), whose divinely wise Symbol of Faith Ephraim was fated to defend against false teachers.

For more than thirteen years the holy one profited by the instructions of his bishop and spiritual father, and the latter's final benefaction to his city glorified the power of the prayer of his disciple, Ephraim. Sapor II, King of Persia, launched a siege against the city of Nisibis, during which the holy James encouraged all by his prayers and instructions; and his disciple Ephraim, mounting the city's walls with the blessing of his bishop, through his supplication raised up a multitude of insects which descended upon the enemy, so that the Persian army was cast into utter disarray and was put to fight. The venerable Ephraim did not leave his teacher's side until the latter departed this world.

After the repose of the holy James (338 A.D.), the holy one visited the native country of his mother, and then undertook a journey to Edessa. The city of Edessa was famous for possessing the Image of Christ Not-Made-by-Hands, and because the holy Apostle Thaddeus preached there, and his incorrupt relics and other holy things were preserved in it. Also, many Christian ascetics and spiritual fathers dwelt in its environs. For this reason, the venerable Ephraim addressed to God the following prayer: "O Lord Jesus Christ! Send me to behold Thy city, and when I shall enter it, send Thou to meet me such a man as might converse with me concerning the Sacred Scriptures unto my benefit." And having thus prayed, he drew nigh to the city and entered its gates, where he encountered a woman whose external appearance betrayed her immoral behavior and manner of life. Seeing her, the servant of God was grieved and turned to God in his thoughts, saying: "Lord, Thou hast disdained the supplication of Thy servant! For how can she converse with me concerning the wisdom written in books?" But the woman stood there and gazed upon him, so that the holy Ephraim asked her: "Tell me, woman: Why standest thou staring at me?" The woman replied: "I look at thee because woman hath been taken from man; but do thou look not upon me, but rather upon the earth, from whence thou wast taken." When he heard this, Ephraim marvelled at her answer and glorified God, Who had given the woman such reason. He understood that the Lord had not rejected his prayer, and, entering the city, he resided there for a long time.

To support himself in Edessa, the venerable Ephraim procured a position working for the owner of a bath-house. It so happened that, near the house in which the saint was dwelling, there lived another woman, a harlot, who was his neighbor. Opening her window, from which the habitation of the saint was visible, she saw Ephraim standing and cooking some food for his meal. The woman then loudly cried out to him: "Give me thy blessing, sir!" The venerable one looked out his window and, seeing that she was watching him, said to her: "May the Lord bless thee!" Then the woman continued: "What lackest thou for thy meal?" The saint replied: "Three stones and a little sand are all I need to block the window through which thou canst see me." To this, the woman shamelessly said: "I spake to thee first, and thou hast answered me. I wish to lie with thee, but thou dost refuse from the first word." Then the servant of Cod answered her, saying: "If thou wishest to lie with me, then go to the place which I shall indicate." The harlot said: "Show me the place, and I will come." The saint then said: "If thou hast chosen me, thou canst not lie with me in any place other than the middle of the city." The woman was astonished, and said: "Would it not be embarrassing for us to do so before all the people?" The holy one replied: "If we are ashamed before men, how much more should we be ashamed before God, and also fear Him, Who knoweth all the secrets of men? Know that He will judge the whole world and render unto each according to what he bath done." When she heard this, the harlot was moved to compunction by the words of the holy Ephraim. She came and fell at his feet, weeping and saying: "0 servant of God, guide me to the path of salvation, that I may be delivered from my many evil deeds!" Instructing her at length from the Sacred Scriptures, the venerable Ephraim made her steadfast in repentance and, sending her to a convent, saved her soul from iniquity and sin.

Later, another harlot, approaching the holy one while he was going somewhere, sought to tempt him to sin, if only to cause him to become angry; for no one had ever seen him wrathful, But the venerable one said to her: "Come with me." The woman followed him, and when they reached a certain populous place, the saint said to her: "Let us lie down here and commit fornication together." But seeing the people, she said to him: "How can we stop here, when there are so many people about? Would we not be ashamed?" Then said the venerable one to her: "If thou art ashamed before the people, how much more shame shouldst thou feel before God, Who knoweth all secrets which are hidden?" Thus the woman left him, ashamed, able neither to seduce the saint into sin, nor to incite him to anger, for he was truly a man without guile, meek and utterly incapable of wrath.

All of his free time, after prayer and work, the venerable Ephraim used for conversation with the heathen, trying to turn them to the path of salvation. While he was thus engaged, there chanced upon him the pious elder Julian, who asked him: "Why is it that thou, who art a Christian, dost permit thyself to remain amid this mob of pagans? Or is it thine intention to live in the world?" To this Ephraim replied that to live the monastic life was his sole desire, and he withdrew to a wild mountain near Edessa to engage in ascetic struggle.

Though he dwelt in a solitary cave, the venerable Ephraim did not cease to study the word of God, drawing compunction and wisdom therefrom. And because of his humility, the treasures of his knowledge remained hidden from others. Before long, the elder Julian informed the brethren that one night, when he had left his cave, he beheld radiant angels descending from heaven at the command of God, bearing in their hands a scroll inscribed on both sides. And they said one to another: "Who can receive this scroll?" In reply, some uttered one name, and others mentioned another; but some said: "Truly, these are holy and righteous men whom ye have mentioned, yet not one of them can receive this scroll-only Ephraim, who is meek and humble of heart." Then the elder saw that Ephraim was given this scroll, and was then convinced that what proceeded from the mouth of the holy Ephraim was inspired by the Holy Spirit; and he glorified God, who had bestowed such grace upon His servants. When the blessed Ephraim was offering the brethren edifying talks, they were almost like a wellspring flowing from his lips. From his mouth issued forth rivers overflowing with spiritual benefits.

At this time, Ephraim began to write down an interpretation of the Pentateuch [the first five books of the Bible]. This first attempt at exegesis in the Syriac language attracted to Ephraim many Edessans, and the holy one made ready to depart, so as to avoid the people. "Ephraim! Whither fleest thou?" asked an angel who appeared to him. "I wish to live in solitude and stillness, and am fleeing the tumult and delusions of the world," replied Ephraim. But the angels said to him: "Beware lest the words of the Scriptures find their fulfillment in thee: Ephraim is a heifer taught to love liberty (Hos. 10:11]." After this, Ephraim returned to the ministry to which he had been called.

In the Church of Edessa during the venerable Ephraim's time Orthodoxy was attacked by false doctrines and heretical sects, a situation which impelled the holy one to wage war against them in exactly the same way in which they strove to delude the mind and soul of the people. Taking the Orthodox teachings concerning the Holy Trinity, the transcendence of God, the incarnation of the Word, the true, the prayer of the Church, steadfast hope in God in all things, His mighty works, and the moral free will of man, the venerable Ephraim cast them in poetical form as songs. And to execute these songs, the saint gathered together the maidens of Edessa who had consecrated themselves to God, and he himself taught them how they ought to sing them. These compositions by the venerable one spread quickly among the people and entered deeply into their mind and heart. Certain of them were even sung in church following the reading of the Gospel.

At that time, there lived the heretic Apollinarius, who taught falsely concerning the incarnation of the Lord. He was quick-witted in speech and skilled in Greek philosophy, and in consequence mightily vexed the Church of God and lured many into his heresy. This heretic bent all his labor and efforts, from his earliest youth to his old age, to the task of corrupting the Orthodox and drawing them into his error. He wrote many books against the Orthodox, of which two are particularly worthy of note, since all his soul-corrupting doctrines were most fully expressed in them. These he wielded like a sword, waging war on the Orthodox in the form of public debates. These books he entrusted to a certain woman, his mistress, for safekeeping. Learning of these books, the venerable Ephraim devised against the wiles of the heretic his own plan, which was even more astonishing: He went to that woman secretly and praised Apollinarius highly, referring to himself as the latter's disciple. Feigning a desire to study an aspect of the teaching of Apollinarius with which he was unfamiliar, he asked the woman to give him, for a short time, the books of Apollinarius which she was keeping, that he might transcribe from them the more noteworthy passages. The woman, convinced that Ephraim was indeed a disciple of her lover, gave him the books, on condition that he return them quickly and tell no one about them. The holy Ephraim, taking the books to his monastery, prepared glue and with it stuck all the pages together until the books were as solid as blocks of wood or slabs of stone. Then he brought the books back to the woman. Receiving the books without opening them, she restored them to their usual place. Some time later, there was a debate between the Orthodox and the heretic Apollinarius, who was then already advanced in years. No longer possessing the sharpness of wit and command of memory he had enjoyed in his youth, Apollinarius desired to best the Orthodox with the help of his books; but when he picked them up, he was unable to open them, for the pages had been firmly glued together and had become one solid mass. Filled with great shame, he left the assembly vanquished and abashed, and in his sorrow and embarrassment departed this life, casting forth his accursed soul in disgrace.

A strict zealot of the Faith and of piery, the holy Ephralm could not be indifferent to turmoil caused also by other false teachings. The sect of Bar-Daisan preached the doctrine of two principles: God and the eternal Mother; and those who proceed from the Godhead and create the world. The Messalians, or Euchites, the so-called "praying people", refused to believe in the power of the Mystery of Baptism and falsely taught that the soul could he freed from the spirit of evil only through interior prayer, without struggle, immersing itself in contemplation of the Godhead and Knowledge of the future. Such "men of prayer" did the venerable Ephraim accuse of laziness and corruption, which confirmed investigations of councils in Asia Minor and Syria. The Gnostics audaciously desired to attain unto that which is unapproachable, to obtain a knowledge of the hidden essence of God. Responding to them, the venerable one wrote: "Ask the wise, and weigh their words attentively: The body is given life by the spirit, and the spirit by faith: without faith it is a corpse." The venerable Ephraim also replied to the anthropomorphic concepts of the false teacher Audius, who preached that God possessed a physical body. "Let us praise," says Saint Ephraim, "Him who bath appropriated the names of our bodily members: ears - so that we may know that He hearkeneth to us; eves - so that we may know that He abideth among us and watcheth over us...," and so forth.

The holy Ephraim achieved great success in his battles against false teachings and heresies, so that the city of Edessa was soon resplendent with great piety and perfect dedication to the Lord. Iris known that when the Emperor Valens (reigned 364-378), the protector of the Arians, dispatched Modestus, the Praetorian Prefect, with an armed force to break up the Orthodox assemblies which refused to enter into communion with the emperor, a woman holding a baby ran across the road as he was approaching, and said: "I have learned of thine intentions and am hastening to those who share my Faith, that I might with them receive death at thy hands." When the tyrant asked why she was carting a baby, she said: "So that he also may partake of the death for which we long." When Valens heard of this from Modestus, he canceled his edict and contented himself with sending eighty-eight of the clergy of Edessa into exile.

For his Church, the venerable Ephraim composed hymns in verse for the great feasts of the Lord the Nativity of Christ, Theophany, Passion Week, Pascha, Ascension, etc. - and also for the feasts of the martyrs. He likewise wrote hymns of repentance and funeral hymns for the departed. According to the Typicon of the Church, the writings of the venerable Ephraim are to be read throughout the Great Fast, following the reading of the Psalter. Many of the hymns of another Syrian hymnographer who lived long afterwards, the venerable John of Damascus (8th cent.), and those of other hymnographers as well, are based on the writings and hymns of the venerable Ephraim. The famous magnification of the Theotokos, "More honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the cherubim" (the beginning of the canon of Great Friday composed by Saint Cosmas of Maiuma), is also ascribed to him, as are other church hymns and prayers, of which the most famous is that which is used repeatedly throughout the Great Fast: "O Lord and Master of my life! The spirit of slothfulness, despondency, love of power and idle speech grant me not; but do Thou grant the spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience and love unto Thy servant. Yea, 0 Lord and King, grant that I may see mine own transgressions and not judge my brother: for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen."

The heretics were so exasperated by the successes of Saint Ephraim that they once assaulted him with stones and swords, and all but slew him. Yet this in nowise diminished his zeal for the Faith.

The holy Ephraim left behind him a great many treatises. In some he was a commentator on the Sacred Scriptures, beginning with the first chapter of Genesis and ending with the last divinely inspired book; in others he was a denouncer of heresies and a hymnographer of the Church; and in yet others he was an instructor in the Christian life, and in particular a preacher of the contrite heart. The treatises of the latter type comprise, as it were, the seal ofthe venerable Ephraim's soul, and his everlasting glory. Saint Gregory of Nyssa says that "Weeping was for Ephraim what breathing the air is for others. Day and night tears streamed from him, yet Ephraim's face shone with joy while the runnels of tears poured from his eyes" And where Ephraim speaketh of contrition, he is upborne in thought to the goodness of God; he poureth forth thanks and praise to the Most High." All of his moral instructions are redolent with compunction of heart. And many of his writings does he begin with the words: "Be contrite, 0 my soul; be contrite for those good things which thou didst receive from God and hast lost, Be contrite for the evil deeds thou hast committed. Be contrite for all in which God hath shown His long-suffering toward thee."

The following speaks to his kindness of heart. While he was fasting in the wilderness, his disciple would bring him food at a designated hour. One day, when he was carrying the food, he stumbled and dropped the vessel which held the food, so that it shattered. He was afraid that his elder would he angry, but the latter, seeing his abashed disciple, said: "Be not troubled, brother. If the food doth not want to come to us, we will go to the food." Then, going to where the accident had taken place, he sat down by the shattered vessel and, gathering the food together, began to eat. Such was his simplicity! It was said of him that, from the time he became a monk, he never became angry with anyone.

With his disciples, the holy Ephraim founded the School of Edessa, which flourished, and even long after his death provided an education of the Christians of Persia and Armenia. This School produced great preachers and ascetics like its founders.

Considering himself the least of all, the venerable Ephraim desired to see the great desert-dwellers of Egypt, from which country monasticism had spread throughout the world. One day, when he had been praying for some time, he pondered whether he had become equal with one of those who had pleased God. While he was meditating on these things, he heard a voice from above, which said to him: "Go into the desert, and there thou shalt find a struggler named Paisius, who possesseth humility and love for God like unto thine." The venerable elder Ephraim, undaunted by the distance of the journey, straightaway departed and went to Egypt. When he arrived at the road to Nitria, he inquired where he might find Paisius; and inasmuch as the name of Paisius was well known to all, his dwelling-place became quickly known to the elder. Nor was the venerable Ephraim's arrival unknown to Paisius; for the latter set out into the desert and headed straight to the elder. He met him on the way, and they recognized one another through divine grace. They embraced one another joyfully, exchanging greetings in Christ. Later, they went to the cell of Paisius and, praying, sat down.

The elder then began to talk to Paisius in the language of the Syrians; but Paisius, being Egyptian, knew only Coptic, the language of the Egyptians. For this cause he was extremely grieved that he could not understand the editing and salutary words of the elder. He lifted up his eyes and mind toward heaven and, sighing from the depths of his heart, said: "O Son and Word of God, bestow Thy grace upon me, Thy servant, that I may understand the strength and virtue of the words of this elder." And - 0 the wonder! The Lord was quick to visit him. At once, he understood and conversed in the tongue of the Syrians! Thus, they spoke of many things together. They recounted to one another the visions each had been deemed worthy to behold, and with which among the fathers they had spoken and kept company, and what virtues these fathers had. When six days had passed, they finished what they had to say, and the venerable Ephraim made ready to depart to his own country. Then Paisius called his disciples in and told them: "Beloved children, behold a holy man perfect in virtue, filled with the Holy Spirit and divine grace. Wherefore, receive his blessings with reverence, that ye may have them as towers of strength against the enemy." And straightway they all fell down to the ground and made obeisance before this holy elder, and fervently besought his prayers and blessing. And offering up a prayer in their behalf, he blessed them, and then bade all farewell and departed.

Not long afterward, a certain hermit came to the great Paisius, and the disciples of that blessed one said to him: "0 Father, thou wouldst have succeeded in receiving great profit hadst thou come a little earlier, for a godly man came to us from Syria, splendid and brilliant according to his mind and his heart, who supported us with salvific words; but he departed a little while ago. If thou desirest, thou mayest try to overtake him, for he cannot have gone very far." And so the hermit turned to hasten after the venerable Ephraim; but the godly Paisius said to him: "Stop, for he hath now traversed a distance of more than eighteen miles upon a cloud, which is bearing him to his home." And when the others heard these things, they marvelled and glorified God.

One day, the venerable Ephraim had had a vision of Saint Basil, Archbishop of Caesaria of Cappadocia. In a dream he beheld a pillar of fire which reached to heaven, and heard a voice, which said: "Ephraim! Ephraim! Just as is this pillar of fire which thou seest, such a one is Basil!" Then Ephraim conceived the desire to see the holy Basil. And so, on his return journey from Egypt, he made for the holy hierarch's city. when he arrived there, he took an interpreter with him (for he was unable to speak Greek) and went to the church, where he found the holy Basil teaching the people; and he began to praise him, saying aloud: "Truly great is Basil! Truly he is a pillar of fire! Truly doth the Holy Spirit speak through his lips!"

Then certain of the congregation began to say: 'Who is this stranger who praiseth the archbishop thus? Is he trying to deceive him, so as to receive something from his hands?" After the final dismissal of the service, the godly hierarch, informed of Ephraim by the Holy Spirit, called him to himself and asked him through his interpreter: "Art thou the Ephraim who hath beautifully bended his neck and taken upon himself the yoke of the saving Word?" To this the venerable one replied: "I am Ephraim who hinder myself from travelling the way to heaven." Basil asked him: "Wherefore hast thou praised me thus?" The venerable Ephraim answered: "Because I beheld a white dove sitting upon thy right shoulder, speaking into thine ear what thou didst say to the people. Moreover, a tongue of rite issued forth from thy mouth." To this the holy Basil said: "I now see in truth what I have heard of thee, 0 desert-dweller and lover of solitude! Thus is it written by the Prophet David: 'Ephraim is the strength of my head.' Of a truth, these words of the prophet apply equally to thee, for thou hast guided many on the path of virtue and hast strengthened them for their journey. Thy meekness and innocence of heart shine forth for all like a beacon."

Continuing his discourse, the holy Basil spoke of what manner of good works we can use to move the Lord to mercy toward us, how to ward off the sins which attack us, how to deny entry to the passions, how to obtain the virtue of the apostles, and who to plead before the Judge who cannot be suborned. Then Basil asked the holy Ephraim: "Honorable father, why dost thou not accept ordination to the priesthood, for of this thou art worthy?" "Because Jam sinful, Master," Ephraim answered him through his interpreter. And weeping, he cried out, saying: "Do thou, O father, be the preserver of me who am paralyzed and slothful! Guide me to the right path; bring my hardened heart to contrition, The God of spirits hath cast me down before thee, that thou mayest treat and heal my soul." "O, if only I had thy sin,." exclaimed Basil, and added: "Let us bow down to the ground together." When they had cast themselves to the ground, the holy Basil laid his hand on the head of the venerable Ephraim and intoned the prayer appointed for the ordination of a deacon. Thereafter, the venerable Ephraim spent three days with the holy Basil, in joy of spirit. Basil ordained him to the diaconate, and his interpreter to the priesthood, and then sped them on their way with peace.

The venerable Ephraim also had great love for the venerable Abramius the Recluse [commemorated October 29th]. They often visited one another and were mutually moved to compunction during their edifying friendly conversations. When the blessed Mary, the niece of Abramius, fell prey to the delusions of the enemy, the venerable Ephraim greatly aided her salvation by his prayers. He was exceedingly pained in heart over sinners and strove to correct them.

At times the venerable Ephraim abode in the wilderness, laboring for God in stillness of spirit, and gathered a multitude of disciples there; and at times, at God's command, he dwelt in the city of Edessa, leading many to repentance and winning lost souls for God through his teaching. So greatly did he abound in spiritually beneficial discourse, so greatly was he filled with the grace of God, that many times his throat would grow sore from the exercise he gave his voice, and his tongue would become tired from uttering words; yet his speeches did not grow shorter, for his mind was full to overflowing with an abyss of wisdom and understanding. Moreover, he was full of profound humility, a voiding human honors and transitory glory in every way possible.

Once, the people desired to praise him and have him consecrated to the episcopate by force. But Ephraim, learning of their intention, feigned madness and began to race about the public squares, casting his clothing off as though he were insane; and he seized loaves of bread and vegetables which were set out for sale, and ate them. Seeing this, the people assumed he was demented, and he was able to flee from the city and hide himself until they consecrated another man bishop in his stead.

The saint abode in prayer constantly, day and night. Possessed of the gift of compunction and tears, he always wept, mindful of the day of judgement, concerning which he wrote and spoke at length. He slept little, and ate little food, only enough so as not to grow feeble and die of starvation and deprivation of sleep. He was completely lacking in any desire to acquire possessions and loved poverty more than wealth, as he says of himself in his spiritual testament: Ephraim never had gold, or silver, or any valuable treasure, fulfilling the will of Christ, the good Teacher, who bath commanded: "Acquire nought on earth" [cf. Mt. 6: 25ff].

Through a spirit of meekness, great humility and ascetic struggles, the venerable Ephraim acquired the power to work miracles in prayer. In Egypt, he healed a woman, an inveterate Arian, by his word alone driving from her the evil spirit which blasphemed the Son of God through her mouth. In Samosata, an impudent youth, who was infected with heretical ideas, struck the venerable one, who was meekly passing by, and was shortly afterwards bitten by a serpent in the very hand he had used to smite the saint, and died. Those who shared the youth's false beliefs sought out the venerable one, and he prayed and restored the dead youth to life, and thus brought many back from error.

After his return to Edessa, the venerable Ephraim desired to spend the rest of his days in solitude. But the providence of God again called him to the service of his neighbors. When a great famine befell the city of Edessa, he had compassion for the whole countryside which was being ravaged, and went to those who were well-to-do and said unto them: "Why do ye not have pity on the people who are perishing, instead of letting your wealth rot, unto the condemnation of your own souls? Do ye not know," he said to the hard-hearted ones, "that ye are obligated to God for your riches? wretched ones, I beg you: have pity on your own souls. Now is the best time to erase the document of your debts to God." They looked about and said: "We have no one whom we should trust to care for those suffering from famine, for all of them make it into a business." He asked: "How do I seem to you?", for he had a great reputation among them for his goodness. They said: "We know that thou art a man of God." "Why then do ye not trust me?" he asked; "Behold, I will appoint myself your steward." And he took money and divided up the porticoes [of the estates of the rich], and installed in them about three hundred beds, and cared for the starving. The dead he buried, and he took care of those who had hope of life, daily providing sustenance and help to all who came to him each day because of the famine; and this he did with the money allotted to him. And when the year was over and prosperity followed and all had returned to their homes, he had no more to do.

A month after he had returned to his solitude, the venerable Ephraim reposed in the arms of his disciples, inheriting the blessed land of the meek. In the presence of a great multitude of the people, and clergymen and desert-dwellers, his body was committed to the earth in strict accordance with the saint's own instructions. The venerable Ephraim 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 swear by Him Who descended upon Mount Sinai and spake from the stone; I swear by the mouth which cried out; I swear by the might of Him who was smitten on His cheeks and by the greatness of Him Who deigned to be spit upon; I swear by the three fiery Persons and the one divine Essence and the one Will, that I have not separated myself from the Church and have not rebelled against the omnipotence of God. If in mind I have exalted the Father higher than the Son, let Him not have mercy upon me. If I have thought the Holy Spirit to be less than God, let my eyes be covered with darkness.... If I am saying this hypocritically, let me be in the place with the wicked, to burn in the flame. If I am saying this in order to please man, let the Lord not hearken to me at the judgement..."

Yet even more clearly to be found in the testament of the venerable Ephraim are the profound humility and contrition of heart which were the soul of his life: "Let him who placeth me under the altar not see the altar of God, for it is unseemly for vile impurity to lie in a holy place. If anyone place me in the temple, he will not see the temple of light, for vain glory doth not become him who is unworthy of glory. Why cry out honors to one who did not preserve his own honor?... I made a vow unto God that I would be buried with strangers for I am a stranger like them. Bury me among them. Bury me in the cemetery where the contrite of heart are buried."

No long time passed before the remains of the venerable Ephraim were discovered to be incorrupt. And to this day the works he wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit of God nourish the flock of Christ, imparting unto each searching heart the gift of true repentance. O, our venerable and God-bearing father Ephraim, pray to God for us!


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