Friday, April 21, 2006
More from St. Ephraim the Syrian
Last month, I commented on my discovery of A Spiritual Psalter by St. Ephraim the Syrian. This book continues to be a blessing to me, and has really helped me through the Lenten season. The psalter contains 150 prayers and hymns. I started off bookmarking those that were especially meaningful to me, but I was soon bookmarking just about every other page.
Outside of Orthodoxy, I suspect St. Ephraim is a fairly unknown figure, and this is certainly the case within Protestant circles. Without criticizing the Prots (for I was one most of my life), it seemed we often acted as though church history began with the Reformation. My particular religious heritage did make a lot of noise about the "first century church," but there was no place in it for the writings of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th century saints and martyrs. St. Ephraim, and others such as St. Cyril, St. Athanasius, St. Gregory, St. Basil, St. John of Damascus were unknown to us (and if known, we would have never put the "St." in front of their names). Also, evangelicals have sometimes acted as if they "discovered" the concept of grace. St. Ephraim knew a thing or two about it in the 4th century, it seems.
Having thus exposed the wiles of the enemy, tell him with conviction: I have had enough of you, O devil. And leave the evil one and join yourself to the man-befriending God. Are you wounded? Despair not. Have you fallen? Get up and say bravely: now I have begun. Fall down before your merciful Master and confess your sins.
But before you say anything He will already know what you intend to say. Before you open your lips, He will see what is in your heart. You will not be able to say, "I have sinned," before you see Him stretch forth His hands to receive and embrace you.
Approach with faith and He will cleanse you straightway as He cleansed the leper, lift you from your bed as He lifted the paralytic, and raise your from the dead as He raised Lazarus.
One of my favorite old-time gospel hymns was "Marching to Zion." It still resonates with me and I love the mental picture it conveys. What I now realize is how impoverished that march is without being accompanied by, and encouraged by the likes of St. Ephraim and all the others.