Sunday, February 1, 2015

St. Ephrem on Christ and Chrism

St. Ephrem the Syrian was born c 306 and was baptized as a young man by Bishop James of Nisibis. He was ordained a deacon and pretended to be mad to avoid consecration as a bishop. When Jovianus ceded Nisibis to the Persians in 363, Ephrem and many other Christians moved to Edessa, northwest of Mosul, Iraq. He died there in 373 while he was ministering to people suffering from the plague.

St. Ephrem wrote over 1,000 works in all, over 3,000,000 lines. Many of his works are difficult to translate because of their complex structures, images, wordplays, and parallels. Some scholars question the authenticity of all texts attributed to the "Harp of the Faith," a name frequently given to Ephrem, since many exist in Latin or Greek translation only. Ephrem wrote polemical verse defending the faith against gnostics and Arians, as well as poems against specific people, like Bar-Daisan.

Ephrem was devoted to the the Virgin Mary - Blessed "Theotokos"- and wrote much in her praise. His Sermons on Faith are metrical homilies, and he wrote prose commentaries on the Old Testament and on the Epistles of St. Paul. He annotated the Greek-Syriac New Testament Diatessaron. His descriptions of heaven and hell are said to have inspired Dante.

Here is one of St. Ephrem's hymns. This one is on Christ and Chrism.

(Resp.— Christ with chrism, lo! He is sealing the newborn lambs in His flock!)

1. Christ and chrism are conjoined; the secret with the visible is mingled: the chrism anoints visibly—Christ seals secretly, the lambsnewborn and spiritual, the prize of His twofold victory; for He engendered it of the chrism, and He gave it birth of the water.

2. How exalted are your Orders! For she that was a sinner anointed, as a handmaid, the feet of her Lord. But for you, as though Hisminister, Christ by the hand of His servants, seals and anoints your bodies. It befits Him the Lord of the flock, that in His own personHe seal His sheep.

3. Since then she, that sinner, stood in need of forgiveness, the anointing was for her an offering, and by it her love reconciled herLord. But you who are the flock, among the profane and unbelievers, the Truth by the chrism is your seal, to separate you from the strayed.

4. From the peoples he separated the People, by the former seal of circumcision; but by the seal of anointing, the peoples He separates from the People. When the peoples were in error, the People He separated from the peoples; now when the People haserred from Him, He separates the peoples from thence.

5. Of the dust of the pure soil, Naaman bore away and returned to his place; that he by this holy dust, might be separated and known from the unclean. The chrism of Christ separates, the sons of the mystery from strangers: and by it they that are within are separated, and known from them that are without.

6. The oil which Elijah multiplied, might be tasted with the mouth; for the cruse was that of the widow, it was not that of the chrism. The oil of our Lord that is in the cruse, it is not food for the mouth: the sinner that was a wolf without, it makes him a lamb in the flock.

7. The chrism of the meek and lowly One, changes the stubborn to be like its Lord. The Gentiles were wolves and feared, the severe rod of Moses. Lo! The chrism seals them and makes, a flock of sheep out of the wolves! And the wolves that had fled from the rod, lo! They have taken refuge in the Cross!

8. The leaf of olive arrived, brought as a figure of the anointing; the sons of the Ark rejoiced to greet it, for it bore good tidings of deliverance. Thus also you rejoiced to greet it, even this holy anointing. The bodies of sinners were glad in it, for it brought goodtidings of deliverance.

9. The oil again that Jacob poured, upon the stone when he sealed it, that it should be between him and God, and that he might offerthere his tithes; lo! In it is a symbol of your bodies, how by chrism they are sealed as holy, and become temples for God, where He shall be served by your sacrifices.

10. When Moses had sealed and anointed, the sons of Aaron the Levite, the fire consumed their bodies; the fire spared theirvestments. But you my brethren blessed are you, for the fire of grace has come down, has consumed utterly your offenses, and cleansed and hallowed your bodies!

11. As for the anointing of Aaron my brethren, it was the vile blood of beasts, that it sprinkled in the horns of the altar. The anointingof truth is this; wherein the living and all-lifegiving Blood, is sprinkled inwardly in your bodies, is mingled in your understandings, is infused through your inmost chambers.

12. The anointed priests used to offer, the slain bodies of beasts; You, O anointed and excelling, your offerings are your own bodies. The anointed Levites offered, the inward parts taken, from beasts: you have excelled the Levites, for your hearts you haveConsecrated.

13. The anointing of the People was— a foreshadowing of Christ; their rod a mystery of the Cross; their lamb a type of the Only begotten; their tabernacle a mystery of your Churches; their circumcision a sign of your sealing. Under the shadow of your goodly thing, sat the People of old.

14. Thus the truth is likened, to a great shadowing tree: it cast its shade on the People; it struck its root among the peoples. The People abode under its shadows, whose shadows were its mysteries; but the Gentiles lodged on its bough, and plucked and ate of its fruits.

15. As for the anointing of Saul to be king; the sweeter was its savour, so much fouler was the savour of his heart. The Spirit struck him and fled. Your anointing which you have is greater; for your minds are censers, in your temples the Spirit exults, a chamber forever shall you be unto Him.

16. As for the anointing of David my brethren; the Spirit came down and made sweet savour, in the heart of the man wherein He delighted; the savour of his heart was as the savour of his action. The Spirit dwelt in him and made song in him. Your anointing which you have is greater, for Father and Son and Holy Ghost, have moved and come down to dwell in you.

17. When the leper of old was cleansed, the priest used to seal him with oil, and to lead him to the waterspring. The type has passed and the truth has come; lo! With chrism have you been sealed, in baptism you are perfected, in the flock you are intermixed, from the Body you are nourished.

18. What leper when he has been cleansed, turns again and desires his leprosy? You have put off transgressions— forsake it! None puts on the leprosy he had put off. It has fallen and sunk— let it not be drawn out! It is wasted and worn— let it not be renewed! Let not corruption come out upon you, whom the chrism of Christ has anointed!

19. The vessel moulded of clay, gains beauty from the water, receives strength from the fire; but if it slips it is ruined, it cannot be afresh renewed. You are vessels of grace; beware of it, even of justice, for it grants not two renewals.

20. How like are you in comparison, with the Prophet whom the fish yielded up! The Devourer has given you back for he was constrained, by the Power Which constrained the fish. Jonah was for you as a mirror, since not again did the fish swallow him, let not again the Devourer swallow you: being yielded up be like Jonah!

21. Goodly ointment on the head of our Lord did Mary pour; its savour was fragrant through all the house. Likewise the savour of your anointing, has been fragrant and perfumed the heavens, to the Watchers on high; doing pleasure to Satan its savour isoverpowering; to God its odour is sweet.

22. The crowds in the desert were like sheep that have no shepherd. The Merciful became their shepherd, and multiplied to them the pasture of bread. Yea, blessed are you that are perfect, that are sealed as lambs of Christ, that of His Body and Blood are made worthy; the Pastor Himself has become pasture for you!

23. Out of water He made the wine, He gave it for drink to the youths in the feast. For you who are keeping the fast, better is the unction than drink. In His wine the betrothed are wedded, by His oil the wedded are sanctified. By His wine is union; by His oil sanctification.

24. The sheep of Christ leaped for joy, to receive the seal of life, that ensign of kings which has ever put sin to flight. The Wicked by Your ensign is routed, iniquities by Your sign are scattered. Come, you sheep, receive your seal, which puts to flight them that devour you!

25. Come, you lambs, receive your seal, for it is truth that is your seal! This is the seal that separates, them of the household from strangers. The steel circumcised alike, the gainsayers and the sons of Hagar. If circumcision be the sign of the sheep, lo! By it the goats are signed.

26. But you, who are the new flock, have put off the doings of wolves, and as lambs are made like to the Lamb. One by changing has changed all; the Lamb to the wolves gave Himself to be slain; the wolves rushed and devoured Him and became lambs; for theShepherd was changed into a Lamb; likewise the wolf forgot his nature.

27. Look on me also in Your mercy! Be not branded on me the seal, of the goats the sons of the left hand! let not Your sheep become a goat! For though to justify myself I sufficed not, yet to be a sinner I willed not. Turn your eyes, O my Lord, from what I have done, and seek not only what I have willed.

28. From them that write and them that preach, from them that hear and them that are sealed, let glory go up to Christ, and through Him to His Father be exaltation! He Who gives words to them that speak, and gives voice to them that preach, has given understanding to them that hear, and consecrates chrism for him that is sealed.

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