Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ephrem of Edessa

I needed a little break from the sturm und drang of the contemporary church, so I was glad today is the feast of Ephrem of Edessa who lived in the fourth century when things were oh-so-settled, doctrinally speaking.

The website where I get biographical sketches for each saint includes this fasting prayer he wrote:

O Lord and Master of my life, do not give me the spirit of laziness, meddling, self-importance and idle talk. Instead, grace me, Your servant, with the spirit of modesty, humility, patience, and love. Indeed, my Lord and King, grant that I may see my own faults, and not condemn my brothers and sisters, for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

which was lovely. I decided to read a little more Ephrem, who wrote a lot! Hymns, homilies, prayers, letters--the works--much of it while living in a lovely cave outside Edessa (now Antakya) in Turkey. And though he spent a lot of time rebutting heresy, the thing I read today that touched me was a letter he wrote to a wanna-be monk.

It wasn't the theoretical part ("array thyself in humility"), which is mighty easy to write and not so easy to do, that got me. It was the nitty-gritty things to do that made Ephrem real to me.

For example:

When thou wishest to drink from the water-bottle do not let thy throat make a gurgling noise like a layman. When thou art sitting in the midst of the brethren, and phlegm riseth up in thee do not eject it in the midst of them, but go some distance away, and eject it there.

Isn't that fabulous? "Don't be gross" as advice for faithful people. You can just imagine that Ephrem had to deal with some folks who had no social graces. Baseball players, probably.

And then there's this one:

If thou art on a mountain, or in a place wherein there is a sick brother, visit him twice daily: in the morning before thou beginnest to work with thy hands and in the evening. For it is written, my beloved in the Lord, `I was sick and ye visited Me.'

What I love about this is that Ephrem clearly knew that being a monk, being a solitary, didn't mean you didn't stop caring for the people around you. And not just in an "I'll pray for you" sort of way, but in the very practical, hands-on, seeing, talking, visiting kind of a way. Twice a day. Every day. I can learn a lot from Ephrem's sermons, I know, but this letter is going to be the far greater challenge.

1 comment:

Lorin said...

Hopefully you already had the "no spitting in company" thing down! =)