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Saint Ephrem, Deacon and Doctor of the Church.

'Lord, who can grasp all of the wealth of just one of Your words? What we understand is much less than we leave behind, like thirsty people who drink from a fountain. For Your word, Lord, has many shades of meaning, just as those who study have many different points of view.

'The Lord has colored His word with many views so that each person who studies it can see in it what He loves. He has hidden many treasures on His word so that each of us is enriched as we meditate on it. The word of God is a tree of life that from all its parts offer you fruit that is blessed.'

These are a few words on the 'profundity of the Holy Spirit' written by Saint Ephrem, who was declared Doctor of the Church in 1920, 1,547 years after his death-by far the longest interval for any of the doctors of the Church, John Fink commented. But the 'exceptionally humble man' that he is, 'This probably would please him.'

Harp of the Holy Spirit

The Catholic Church, however, has always acknowledged Saint Ephrem a 'great poet, orator, teacher, biblical exegete, theologian, composer of hymns and defender of faith.'

Considered as one of the most creative and prolific writer and composer in church history. He was called 'Harp of the Holy Spirit' because most of his writings were in verse.

According to Sozomen, the 5th-century Byzantine historian, Saint Ephrem wrote more than a thousand works during his lifetime, emphasizing it's a 'total of 3 million lines.'

As an ascetical writer, he presents 'spiritual teachings found in Christian scriptures to help the faithful 'live a life of perfection.'

In a commentary on Diatessaron, Ephrem said: 'To prevent his disciples from asking the time of his coming, Christ said: 'About that hour no one knows, neither the angels nor the Son.' He has kept those things hidden so that we may keep watch, each of us thinking that He will come in our own day.'

An exegetical writer, he explained and interpreted truths about the Catholic faith. In a sermon about Christ's death, he said: 'Death trampled upon our Lord underfoot, but He in His turn treated death as a highroad for His own feet... Death slew Him by means of the body He had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death.'

A chronologist and dogmatic writer, he wrote the history of patriarchs and kings from creation to the crucifixion of Christ.

A hymnographer, he composed hymns and songs to praise God and spread the faith. Nil Guilemette, in Stars Forever, narrated how the saint adopted tunes, replaced lyrics with church doctrines to counteract 'a famous heretic, Bardesanes,' who was 'propagating false doctrines by means of popular songs set to attractive tunes.'

Syrian 'malpana'

Ephrem was born in Nisibis, Mesopotamia, (Nusaybin, Iraq) in about 306. Hagiographers are divided in opinion if he belonged to a Christian or pagan family. He had a 'quick temper, impulsive and a bit hasty in making decisions.'

Accused of stealing a sheep, he was imprisoned. In the dark cell, in prayer, he fathomed the significance of repentance and forgiveness. He was proven innocent of the crime and was released.

Thanking God profusely, he considered his freedom as a gift of God. He metamorphosed to a contemplative man, narrated Larry Peters in Saint Ephrem the Syrian, Harp of the Holy Spirit.

He was baptized at 18 and grew under the influence of Saint Jacob, also called James, the Bishop of Nisibis, who became his teacher and spiritual director.

The humble deacon that he was, he refused to be ordained as a priest.

Acknowledged as one of the founders of the School of Nisibis, the Center of Learning in Syrian Orthodox Church, Bishop Jacob appointed him as Syrian malpana (teacher), a respectable title among Christians in the church. Bishop Jacob took him to attend the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea in 325.

When Emperor Constantine, who legalized Christianity as a religion in Roman Empires died in 337, Shapur II of Persia began a series of attacks in Nisibus. Rome started to lose its provinces and cities.

In 363 Nisibus was returned to Persia, and Christians were persecuted. The faithful fled to Edessa (Sanliurfa, Turkey), and Ephrem lived in caves and spent most of his time writing.

During the 372 famine in Edessa, Ephrem organized and coordinated the distribution of food in the city. When the famine ended, he returned to his cave.

After a month, he died, on June 9, 337.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Jun 10, 2018
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