On His Life
Poet, teacher, orator and
defender of the faith, Ephrem is the only Syrian
recognized as a doctor of the Church. He took upon
himself the special task of opposing the many false
doctrines rampant at his time, always remaining a
true and forceful defender of the Catholic Church.
Born in Nisibis, Mesopotamia, he was baptized as a
young man and became famous as a teacher in his
native city. When the Christian emperor had to cede
Nisibis to the Persians, Ephrem, along with many
Christians, fled as a refugee to Edessa. He is
credited with attracting great glory to the biblical
school there. He was ordained a deacon but declined
becoming a priest (and was said to have avoided
episcopal consecration by feigning madness!).
He had a prolific pen and his writings best illumine
his holiness. Although he was not a man of great
scholarship, his works reflect deep insight and
knowledge of the Scriptures. In writing about the
mysteries of humanity’s redemption, Ephrem reveals a
realistic and humanly sympathetic spirit and a great
devotion to the humanity of Jesus. It is said that
his poetic account of the Last Judgment inspired
It is surprising to read that he wrote hymns against
the heretics of his day. He would take the popular
songs of the heretical groups and, using their
melodies, compose beautiful hymns embodying orthodox
doctrine. Ephrem became one of the first to
introduce song into the Church’s public worship as a
means of instruction for the faithful. His many
hymns have earned him the title “Harp of the Holy
He preferred a simple, austere life, living in a
small cave overlooking the city of Edessa.
It was here he died around 373.
Prayer by St. Ephrem
O Lord and Master of my life,
Grant not unto me a spirit of idleness,
of lust for power,
and of vain speaking.
But bestow upon me, Thy servant,
the spirit of chastity,
and of love.
Yea, O Lord and King,
grant that I may perceive
my own transgressions,
and judge not my brother,
for blessed art Thou
unto ages of ages.