Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Snatches from St Ephrem the Syrian

St. Ephrem was a Syrian poet held in such high regard that he is called “The Harp of the Spirit.” His poems are rich in imagry and biblical allusions.

In his approach to Scripture, Ephrem avoids literalism by exploring type and symbol, teasing out the pattern of divine revelation through parallels and binary reversals. He finds types and symbols woven throughout creation.  They point to Christ God’s invitation to share in the divine life He offers. He wrote:

"Wherever you look, God’s symbol is there; wherever you read, there you will find His types. For by Him all creatures were created, and He stamped all His possessions with His symbols when He created the world.” (Hymns of Virginity 20.12)

“If God had not wished to reveal Himself to us there would have been nothing in creation that would be able to say anything at all about Him.” Hymns of Faith (44.7)

“This Jesus has so multiplied His symbols that I have fallen into their many waves.”  (Hymns on Nisibis 39.17)

Here are examples of the richness of St. Ephrem’s typology:

The Incarnation began when the Word was spoken into Mary’s ear as an antidote to the serpent’s venom put into Eve’s ear. The life-giving Word spoken to Mary undid the word of death spoken to Eve.

“Creation gives birth to the symbols of Christ, as Mary gave birth to His limbs.” (Hymns on Virginity 20.12)

St. Ephrem sees the 4 rivers that water Eden as types of the 4 Gospels that water the Kingdom. (Hymns of Faith 48.10)

Here are some lines from his beautiful Hymns on Paradise:

By those who are outside
the summit cannot be scaled,
but from inside Paradise inclines its whole self
to all who ascend it;
the whole of its interior
gazes upon the just with joy.
Paradise girds the loins
of the world,
encircling the great sea;
neighbor to the beings on high,
friendly to those within it,
hostile to those without.

At its boundary I saw
figs, growing in a sheltered place,
from which crowns were made that adorned
the brows of the guilty pair,
while their leaves blushed, as it were,
for him who was stripped naked:
their leves were required for those two
who had lost their garments;
although they covered Adam,
still they made him blush with shame and repent,
because, in a place of such splendor,
a man who is naked is filled with shame.

Who is capable of gazing
upon the Garden's splendor,
seeing how glorious it is in all its design,
how harmonious in its proportions,
how spacious for those who dwell there,
how radiant with its abodes?
Its fountains delight
with their fragrance,
but when they issue forth toward us
they become impoverished in our country,
since they put on the savors
of our land as we drink them.


poetreader said...

It's always good to hear from Mar Efrem. Too few in the West known him.


Alice C. Linsley said...

His works delight and challenge.