Ephrem the Syrian


Born in Nisibis, Ephrem lived on the far eastern border of the Roman Empire. He spent most of his life in his birthplace serving as a deacon. His father was probably a pagan priest of the goddess Abnil. Ephrem had been intiated in Christianity under the spiritual guidance of Saint James, bishop of Nisibis. It is said that in 323, he accompanied Saint James to the Council of Nicaea.

After the Persian occupation of Nisibis in 363, he moved to Edessa where he spent the last ten years of his life as a hermit famous for his severe asceticism. Ephrem is also associated with the founding of the Catechetical School of Edessa, a theological academy oriented to scriptural hermeneutic. Ephrem underlines the importance of the Holy Scriptures as God’s witnesses and instruments of Salvation.He combined the literal interpretation with poetic symbolism and lyrism. His descriptions of Heaven and Hell are said to have inspired Dante.

Ephrem was a prolific author and a vigorous apologist of the Nicene Faith against the heretical sects of Gnostics and Arians active in Edessa. His diverse writings (exegetical, dogmatic, polemical, ascetic), mostly in verse, were composed in Syriac but translated into Armenian, Greek and Latin. Photius (9th c.) mentions in his Bibliotheca (codex 196) fifty two works attributed to Ephrem and refers that more than a thousand were ascribed to him. The Church historian Sozomen (5th c.) states that the works of Ephraem were very early translated into Greek (Historia Ecclesiastica, 3. 16sq). The fornamed author and Gregory of Nyssa narrated the relation of Ephrem and Basil of Caesarea. Ephrem attracted by the reputation of Basil the Great resolved to visit him in Caesarea.

During his life Ephrem was very influential mainly among the Syrian Christians of Edessa, who called him “Sun of the Syrians” and “Harp of the Holy Spirit”. The Syrian theologian had a major impact on the development of Syriac and Byzantine hymnography and spirituality. A panegyric on him is attributed to Gregory of Nyssa where the Cappadocian Father compares Ephrem to Moses.


Other names - versions: 
Ἐφραίμ ὁ Σῦρος, Ephraim the Syrian, Ephraem Syrus, Éphrem le Syrien, Ephraem Grecus
Date and Place of Birth: 
c. 306 Nisibis, Mesopotamia
Date and Place of Death: 
373 Εdessa, Osrhoene

A. P. Kazdhan, Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, vol. 1 1991 708-709.

J. Labourt, “Saint Ephraem”, Catholic Encyclopedia, New York 1909

(=http:/ www.newadvent.org/cathe/05498a.htm).

H. Chisholm (ed), “EphraemSyrus”, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911


E. Bouvy, “Les sources historiques de la vie de Saint Ephrem”, Revue Augustinienne 2 (1903) 155-164.

Th. Stylianopoulos, “Ephraem of Syria”, Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 5, New York 1987 369-372.

C. Emereau, Saint Ephrem le Syrien. Son œuvre littéraire grecque [Syriac Studies Library 142], Paris 2011 (reed. of 1918).

A. Voobus, Literary, Critical and Historical Studies in Ephraem the Syrian, Stockholm 1958.

A. Voobus, ‘’Ephrem Syrus”, J. H. Crehan (ed), Catholic Dictionary of Theology, vol. 2, 1967 220-223.

P. Yousif, “Saint Ephrem on Symbols in Nature: Faith, the Trinity and the Cross (Hymns on Faith no 18)”, Eastern Churches Review 10 (1978) 52-60.

É. Des Places, “Ephrem the Syrian”, New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 5(The University of America, 1967) 463-464.

C. Rodiger, “Ephrem Syrus”, Ph. Schaff (ed), A Religious Encyclopedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd ed., vol. 2, Toronto-New York-London, 1894 742-743.

P. S. Russell, “Making Sense of Scripture: An Early Attempt by St Ephraem the Syrian”, Communio:International Catholic Review 28/1 (2001), 171-201.

R. Murray, Symbols of the Church and Kingdom: a study in early Syrian Tradition, London 2006.

G. Florovsky, Oι Ανατολικοί Πατέρες του τετάρτου αιώνα [The Eastern Fathers of the fourth century], transl. P. K. Pallis, Thessaloniki 1991 421-434.

U. Possekel, Evidence of Greek Philosophical Concepts in the Writings of Ephrem the Syrian, Louvain 1999.