Saint Ephrem, Deacon and Doctor of the Universal Church

Icon of Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Between the great empires of Rome and Persia, in ancient Mesopotamia, Ephrem was born in the city Nisibis. The preaching of Saint Jacob, Bishop of Nisibis, drew Ephrem to the Faith as a moth to a flame and he was baptized in his eighteenth year. He grew in learning and piety, evangelizing the city that was still held in the grip of the pagan gods of Rome. In time Ephrem was appointed teacher and deacon by the bishop, even accompanying him to the great council of Nicea in 325.

Nisibis was a prize in the game of empires. When Constantine the Great passed, the emperor of Persia seized the opportunity and attacked the city. Within a handful of years Shapur II laid siege three times, attacking the walls first with floods then with elephants. But each time the prayers of Ephrem and Jacob were heard by God and city was spared.

But the empire was weakened and Jovian, heir of Constantine, was forced to come to terms with Shapur.

Nisibis was ceded to the Persians on the condition that the Christians in that city be allowed to leave in peace, for the tide of persecutions that ebbed in Rome, flowed throughout Persia. Ephrem led the community of the faithful in exodus to Edessa one hundred and fifty miles to the west, with women and children, the aged and infirm.

In Edessa, this “Harp of the Holy Ghost,” used his talents of prose and poetry to defend the Faith against the many heresies that continually worked at the souls of the faithful. His hymns still echo throughout the liturgy even to this day.

Saint Ephrem found eternal rest from his labors in A.D. 373 and was named a Doctor of the Church in 1920.

The Book of Saints: the Deacons