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Mar Ephrem

AN EASTERN SAINT

Mar Ephrem, “the Harp of the Spirit” was born around 309 in or around Nisibis, where he lived until 363, when he moved to Edessa after Nisibis had been taken by the Persian Empire.

His time in Nisibis was spent serving the Church faithfully as a writer, the head of its Christian theological school, a defender of the faith, and a counselor to the three successive bishops who were his close friends: Jacob, Babu and Vologeses. It is well known that Ephrem refused to be elevated to any Ecclesiastical office higher than that of deacon, despite pressures from the Church. After moving to Edessa, Ephrem continued to write, and even more prolifically than before.

There is also a tradition that he established a Christian school in Edessa similar to the one he had headed in Nisibis, where his Biblical commentaries became standard textbooks. Ephrem is considered one of the great religious poets of the world, officially recognized as a “Doctor” of the Catholic Church, and considered by many scholars to be the greatest hymnodist in Christian history. So powerful is his religious poetry that the historian Sozomen and St. Jerome both remark with surprise how beautiful Ephrem’s writings are even in translation.