Why St. Ephraim. Today is his feast day. Today, centuries ago, St. Ephrem fell asleep with the Lord. For me, just under two years ago, on the Saturday before Pascha I was chrismated and became an Orthodox Christian. Part of the process also entailed choosing a patron Saint, who for native Orthodox persons was chosen at your birth and that is normally also your given name. I had spent some months considering and reading about various Saints. Some of whom I had read somewhat extensively prior even witnessing an Orthodox liturgy. The choice of which Saint I might select was difficult. St. Mark was one choice, gospel author and witness to the Coptic peoples … and my first name is Mark (the patron Saint is sometimes called your “name” Saint as that is the name by which you are referred to at Eucharist).

Some of those I considered were:

  • St. John Cassian’s writings powerful and thought provoking.
  • St. John Chysostom’s homilies are also were accessible to modern sensibilities.
  • Metropolitan John Zizioulas wrote powerfully about the cosmic ontological theology of St. Maximus the Confessor echoed many centuries later by secular philosopher Sartre.
  • and St. Theophan the Recluse a Russian monastic and Bishop of the 19th century.

But … throughout Lent, through the poetic piercing stanzas of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete and in the presanctified liturgies and Vespers services always ending every service was the Lenten prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian:

O Lord and Master of my life!

Take from me the spirit of sloth,
faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity,
humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother,
for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

Many have talked and written about this prayer. Fr Schmeman wrote a little book, Great Lent, which talks about it at some length. But remembering that prayer, I looked at St. Ephrem’s body of work and found it extensive … and almost all of it Psalmody. St. Ephrem is referred to by some as the Psalmodist of the New Testament, where King David was the Psalmist of the Old Covenant. And psalm and psalmody connects with me through music. I am not a poet. But music, harmony and polyphony, chant and song connect. My harmony teacher in college often remarked that those in math and physics often did the best in music because of connections between music and mathematics. Between the prayer above, the music connection, and St. Ephrem’s life of asceticism, prayer, and example … my choice was made.

This book, Spiritual Psalter or Reflections on God, has a collection of prayers penned by St. Ephrem, translated and collated after the manner of the Psalms of David by St. Theophan the Recluse. This latter book is something of an scandal in my opinion. It is virtually unknown in the West … but should be in every Christian home and in every pew or prayer corner. The crime is that it is not a Christian best-seller only superseded by the Bible. Those prayers in that book, some of which you can find excerpted and remarked upon by me here … read like they were written about me, to me, for me by St. Ephrem. And I found this book months after having chosen St. Ephrem (or perhaps being chosen by St. Ephrem).

Filed under: ChristianityMark O.OrthodoxReligion

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!