January 28, 2022

Saint Ephraim the Syrian, the Saint of Repentance and Tears

By Professor Lambros K. Skontzos

Syria was the primordial cradle of Christianity. Besides, the name "Christian" was established there, from the name of Christ (Acts 11:25). Myriads of holy Syrian men and women illuminate our holy Church.

One of them is Saint Ephraim the Syrian, who was distinguished for his ascetic life and his struggles for Orthodoxy.

He is one of the great Fathers of the Church.

He came from parts of Syria, but was probably born in the city of Nisibis in Mesopotamia, around 306.

His parents were faithful Christians and probably lost their lives during the great persecution announced by the insane and fanatical emperor Diocletian (285-305), confessing their faith in Christ.

Ephraim, being orphaned, was brought in by the Bishop of Nisibis, James, who raised him with great affection and care, seeing the diamond character of the child.

He even made sure to have him educated, so that he became a wise teacher. This is evident from his great writings, which he bequeathed to the Church. He was fluent in Greek, Latin and Syriac, writing and translating his works in all these languages.

From an early age he had decided to become a monk. To dedicate himself to the service of the Church. Indeed, after completing his studies and feeling mature enough, he retired to the desert.

There, with unceasing prayer, fasting, vigilance and war against his passions, he purified himself and reached high spiritual realms.

He is considered the saint of tears. Endless tears flowed from his eyes. He cried loudly all his life, shedding rivers of tears.

He wept for himself, but also for other people, because he longed for the salvation of souls, which he considered to be the most precious thing in the world. This is clearly seen in his deeply thought out books.

Particularly moving are his references to the Future Judgment, through which he tried to raise the alarm for people about the tragic event of the impartial judgment, to arouse a spirit of true and sincere repentance in every soul.

To cause tears of repentance in every sinner, because there is no other way to be reunited with God than real and practical repentance, which will be accompanied by sighs and tears.

He had chosen a deserted place for his practice, away from the temptations and noises of the world, free from worldly worries.

But because he considered it his duty to help other people to be saved, he often left his favorite sanctuary, and traveled to various areas to benefit and be benefited.

At that time the Persians had occupied Nisibis and caused massacres and destruction. Ephraim was forced to leave his homeland and move safely to the city of Edessa in Mesopotamia.

On this occasion he also wanted to venerate the holy relics of the Martyrs and Saints, held by the Church there.

He also hoped that he would find there virtuous holy people to benefit from them. But on his way he met a notorious city prostitute. He became caught up in a conversation with her, resulting in her repentance and his own benefit.

After a while he left Edessa and went to Caesarea in Cappadocia to meet with Archbishop Basil, to discuss with him the great problems created by the heresies in the East and mainly the Arian tempest.

He was sure that the heavenly-appearing Bishop Basil had a lot to teach him.

According to him, when he arrived in Caesarea, he met Basil while he was teaching. He saw a dove on his right shoulder, whispering in his ear what the great Father was to say.

This meant to Ephraim that he was the mouth of the Holy Spirit. He talked to him and they examined the situation for days.

Ephraim left excited and benefited for his homeland, where he began to preach the Orthodox faith, with the eloquence that distinguished him.

In fact, as his biography mentions, he taught with such ease and speed, that it seemed that he saw the words on paper and read them!

He did not have time to say what his mind dictated!

He retired to the desert and lived with unceasing asceticism and prayer, which was accompanied by abundant tears. He expelled every material object, living in absolute non-possessiveness.

He lived in such voluntary poverty that no one else has ever surpassed him!

At that time the heretic Apollinarius had arrived in the East, who denied the incarnation of the Word of God. He had written his cacodoxies in a voluminous book.

Ephraim, with a clever energy, procured the cacodox book, which he soaked in glue and made useless, so that Apollinarius could not use it during the Second Ecumenical Synod!

He reposed peacefully in 379, asking for all his new clothes to be taken off and to buried with rags, as a sign of perfect humility. His memory is celebrated on January 28.

Saint Ephraim belongs to the great ascetics, Fathers and confessors of our Church. A shining example of a true monk, who lived his whole life shedding rivers of tears of repentance.

He is rightly described as the preeminent saint of tears. He shows by his example to us modern Christians the path of sincere repentance.

His soul-beneficial books are a valuable legacy for our Church and a source of rich spiritual replenishment for those who want to immerse themselves in Orthodox spirituality.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.