St. Ephraim the Syrian (306 – 373)
Mysterious Emblems of the Trinity in Nature
The sun is our light, and none is able to know it, much the less to know man, and still less God! … The sun itself and also the light and the heat, dwelling one in the other, and agreeing without grudging. Mingled, yet not confused; blended, yet not bound; assembled, yet not compelled; free, yet not divergent. There is a marvel in these things which silences us. For man is three, and will rise when he is perfected, as the sun which, though one, is a uniform nature with three mingled in him, distinct, yet not divided….~ The Fourtieth Rhythm, No. 1. In Librart of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church: Select works of St. Ephrem the Syrian, Vol. 41. Harvard University, John Henry Parker, 1847. Digitalized in 2007, p. 232.
The Holy Cross in Nature
The young of a bird, unless it be matured, is not able to break through its imperfect covering. Oh perfect it, Thou that perfects all things! The bird is brought first from the belly to the egg, and then to the nest. When it is perfected, it flies in the air: it spreads its wings in the mystery of the cross.
Faith too is perfected three-foldly — through the Father, through the Son, and through the Holy Spirit, and then flies to the four quarters, in the mystery of the cross.
The three-fold names are sown in the three-fold way: in the spirit and in the soul and in the body. The Trinity was perfected by the Threefold One and reigns unto the ends of the earth. If the spirit suffers, it becomes one with the Father; if the soul suffers, it is blended with the Son; if the body confesses, it communicates with the Spirit. And if the little bird drew in its wings and refused to use the silly mystery of the cross, the air would then refuse her, and not bear her up: But her wings praise the cross….
And if a ship spread her sail for the sea, in the mystery of the Cross, and from the yoke of wood, she makes a bosom for the wind; and when she has spread forth the Cross, then is the course spread out clearly for the voyage.
Neither does the land yield itself without the fair mystery of the Cross — it is the sign of the Cross which works the land and softens it, and scatters the seeds therein.
…And when wheat is hidden in the earth, the living seed preaches the Resurrection. The flock is kept by the Rod; the vineyard is full of his blood…
And when, upon his tree, the fruit hangs, it is a type of Cross, and the Fruit of his body: Yet that sleep, arise, be watchful! Lo! the Resurrection of the dead is proclaimed to the buried living man.
And if in her nest by mere touch her womb conceives from the warmth of the cherishing wings of her mate, then the bird also in his own house is a mirror of Mary!
~ The Eighteenth Rhythm, Sec. 1-4. In Librart of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church: Select works of St. Ephrem the Syrian, Vol. 41. Harvard University, John Henry Parker, 1847. Digitalized in 2007, p. 165-169.
As a young man, Ephraem appeared dull and uninspired. “Very ponderous” and “slow to learn” are terms a contemporary biographer used to characterize his early years. After his conversion and baptism, a profound change took place in his attitude and numerous mental and spiritual gifts came forth which allowed him to unravel difficult philosophical and metaphysical complexities. When Ephraem was confronted by theological adversaries, he appealed to their hearts rather than to their minds. His methods are strikingly different from most theologians: he expresses himself in visionary, apocalyptic, symbolic and especially poetical forms. Nearly all of St. Ephraem’s works are written in a poetical form of Syriac which makes them almost impossible to translate and preserve their original beauty and lyrical insight. His writings convey a unique blend of mystical experience with perceptions about the natural world. To this combination he brings an emphasis on how the Holy Trinity manifests throughout the created world. Since ancient times, he has been called the “Harp of the Holy Spirit” because of his inspired eloquence.
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