Wednesday, June 9, 2010

St. Ephrem the Syrian, Deacon and Mystical Poet - Sacramentum caritatis

Today, an optional memorial of St. Ephrem, Doctor of the Church, is permitted.

"The boldness of our love is pleasing to you, O Lord, just as it pleased you that we should steal from your bounty," — Ephrem the Syrian, "Hymns on Faith" 16:5.

Ephrem the Syrian, the great poet saint of the Syriac Church, was born in c. A.D. 306 in Nisibis (North-west of Mosul, Iraq). While some late sources claim that his father was a heathen priest who worshiped an idol called Abnil, his own writings affirm that he was raised in a Christian family.

(Adv. Haereses, XXVI):"I was born in the way of truth: though my boyhood understood not the greatness of the benefit, I knew it when trial came."

Again more explicitly, if we may trust a Confession which is extant only in Greek, "I had been early taught about Christ by my parents; they who begat me after the flesh, had trained me in the fear of the Lord... My parents were confessors before the judge: yea, I am the kindred of martyrs."

He was ordained deacon in c. A.D. 338 and served the Bishop of Nisibis, Mor Ya`qub, who participated in the Council of Nicaea (AD 325). He lived as a solitary and apparently never entered the priesthood. After the cession of Nisibis to Persia in AD 363, Ephrem withdrew into the Roman Empire and settled at Edessa where he composed the hymns that survive to this day. Though in the ecclesiastical hierarchy he was deacon, he is remembered as a great doctor of the universal Church.

Ephrem wrote exclusively in Syriac, the Edessene dialect of Aramaic, but his works were translated into Armenian and Greek, and via the latter into Latin and Slavonic. Many works in these languages attributed to him are, however, not genuine. Much of Ephrem's exegetical, dogmatic and ascetic works are in verse form. He wrote several polemical works refuting the heresies of Marcion, Bardaisan, Mani, the Arians and the Anomoeans.

Ephrem wrote widely-regarded biblical commentaries on Genesis and the Diatesseron. His writings extensively employ typology and symbolism. Over 500 genuine hymns survive, of great beauty and insight. His poetry is in two genres: madrãshe (hymns) and memre (verse homilies).

After his death, the hymns were arranged into hymn cycles, the most famous of which are those on Faith (including the five 'On the Pearl'), on Paradise and on Nisibis (the second half of which is on the Descent of Christ into Hell). His liturgical poetry had a great influence on Syriac and Greek hymnography. Syriac churches honor him as 'the lyre of the Holy Spirit'.

Ephrem departed to his heavenly abode on June 9, A.D. 373. His memory is commemorated on this day in the Latin Church, but in the Syriac Orthodox Church on the first Saturday of Great Lent.

"You (Jesus) alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others, for there is no blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these?" — Ephrem the Syrian, Nisibene Hymns 27:8; ca. 361 AD

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Celebrating after the Ordination Mass

On Saturday, I presided at the ordination of two Jesuits at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Toronto and on Sunday, after celebrating Confirmations at St. Hyacinth Parish, joined this strong Polish faith community in a procession around the block with the Blessed Sacrament (in a light rain).

I managed to take photos of two of the four altars of repose on the processional route and am waiting for photos of the vivid moments of this devotional exercise from the parish for the blog (perhaps next week).

Tomorrow`s blog posting will feature an extended treatment on priesthood with lovely photos of the ordination; meantime here are some photos of the celebration which followed, accompanied by an extract from paragraph 23 of Pope Benedict's February 22, 2007 post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist, "Sacrament of Love".

"I consider it important to recall several important points about the relationship between the sacrament of the Eucharist and Holy Orders.

"First of all, we need to stress once again that the connection between Holy Orders and the Eucharist is seen most clearly at Mass, when the Bishop or priest presides in the person of Christ the Head.

"The Church teaches that priestly ordination is the indispensable condition for the valid celebration of the Eucharist. Indeed, "in the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, High Priest of the redemptive sacrifice."

"Certainly the ordained minister also acts "in the name of the whole Church, when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the eucharistic sacrifice."

Father Teo Ugaban celebrates with family, friends

"As a result, priests should be conscious of the fact that in their ministry they must never put themselves or their personal opinions in first place, but Jesus Christ. Any attempt to make themselves the centre of the liturgical action contradicts their very identity as priests. The priest is above all a servant of others, and he must continually work at being a sign pointing to Christ, a docile instrument in the Lord's hands.

"This is seen particularly in his humility in leading the liturgical assembly, in obedience to the rite, uniting himself to it in mind and heart, and avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality.

Congratulating the parents of Father John Meehan

"I encourage the clergy always to see their eucharistic ministry as a humble service offered to Christ and his Church. The priesthood, as Saint Augustine said, is amoris officium [love's office], it is the office of the good shepherd, who offers his life for his sheep (cf. Jn 10:14-15)".

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