A Medieval Latin Image of St. Ephrem

Although the manuscript in its entirety is not digitized, one cannot resist sharing this lovely image of St. Ephrem the Syrian (Effrem Diaconus) in a Latin manuscript of the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal in Paris (which today forms part of the Bibliothèque nationale de France).

Paris, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal 233

The manuscript (codex 233) originated in the Benedictine monastery of St. Albans (sic) in Hertfordshire, England, between 1170 and 1190. It is written in Protogothic miniscule, a Western script of the 12th century.*

As you can see from the image, the figure of St. Ephrem occupies a capital D, which forms the first letter of the incipit: Dolor me compellit dicere et iniquitas. This incipit, together with the title (Here begins the First Book of the Blessed Effrem the Deacon of the City of Edessa) are in green and red majuscules, before transitioning to the black miniscule of the remainder of the text.

The work presented here is the Sermo asceticus (ed. Phrantzolas 1:122-184). This is an influential sermon that circulated widely in Latin translation. It begins, “Pain compels me to speak, but my unworthiness urges me to keep silence.” The writings of Ephrem take up folios 1r-50v. But because I have not been able to see the manuscript in its entirety, I am not sure whether all of these pages are devoted to the Sermo asceticus. The original sermon is rather long in the original (62 pages in the printed edition), and could certainly fill the fifty folios. Still, the desinit in the manuscript (given on the library’s website) does not match the ending of the Sermo asceticus in Greek. In the original, the Sermo asceticus ends with a doxology: “…and glory to the all-holy Spirit who renews us, unto all the ages of ages. Amen.” The Latin text, on the other hand, ends with the words, ut omnis anima que hic meditatur trahatur ad vitam eternam. Amen. This is a phrase that appears in another work, the De iudicio et compunctione, though even here it does not form the closing lines of the text.** Thus, without being able to examine the manuscript, it is not clear exactly what these fifty folios of St. Ephrem contain.

In addition to the Ephremic material which opens the codex, the manuscript also contains some sermons of St. Augustine and the Adversus Manichaeos (51r-146v). Indeed, if you did not know that the illumination in question was of St. Ephrem, you might very well think that the person in this image, pictured in Western garb with a Roman tonsure, was not St. Ephrem the Syrian but St. Augustine himself. May both saints, whether praying in Syriac, in Greek, or in Latin, grant us their blessing and their intercession.

Public Image -- Color

The images presented here have been borrowed, with gratitude, from the Index of Medieval Art.

* You can find more information on the manuscripts of St. Alban’s in Rodney M. Thomson, Manuscripts from St. Albans Abbey, 1066-1235, (Suffolk, D.S. Brewer, 1982).

** ἵνα πᾶσα ψυχὴ μελῳδοῦσα αὐτά,γλυκανθεῖσα ἑλκυσθῇ εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον. Ἀμήν.

Identifying the Greek Texts of St. Theophan’s Spiritual Psalter

sppsalterIf you know the Spiritual Psalter of St. Theophan the Recluse (St. John of Kronstadt Press, 1997), you know that this is a collection of 150 Ephremic texts arranged into a collection of prayers to be prayed like the psalms. Like the rest of the corpus of St. Ephrem, these prayers are deeply penitential and profoundly moving.

As far as I know, no one has gone to the trouble, so far, of tracking down the Greek texts behind St. Theophan’s translations (see the bibliography page for the Slavonic and Russian translations of Ephrem Graecus). But we have been able to pinpoint, for now, the source of Psalm 122.

That prayer begins with the call,

Take an interest, at last, in your salvation, O sinner. Seclude yourself, collect your thoughts and say to yourself: how much time have you spent feeding the lusts of your flesh and imagination, and what benefit has it brought you; what have you attained by doing this?

And it ends with an appeal to turn to the Lord in repentance, culminating in the following lines:

Approach with faith and He will cleanse you straightway as He cleansed the leper, lift you from your bed as He lifted the paralytic, and raise you from the dead as He raised Lazarus.

This exhortation, it turns out, corresponds to about eighty lines from the forty-second of the fifty Exhortations to the Monks of Egypt (ed. Phrantzolas 3:36-294). It is a paraenesis To A Monk Who Has Fallen, with the subtitle, On Repentance. The exhortation begins with the words,

The Enemy attacks those who are subject to a spiritual father, saying….

It is concerned largely with the details of monastic endurance. But large portions of it also apply to Christian strugglers in general. The portion excerpted by St. Theophan begins at line 114 of the paraenesis (already quoted above):

Σχόλαζε τοιγαροῦντῇ ἑαυτοῦ σωτηρίᾳ, ἀγαπητὲ ἀδελφέ, καὶ καθίσας ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ, ἐπισυνάγαγέ σου τοὺς λογισμοὺς καὶ εἰπὸν ἐν σεαυτῷ· Ἄνθρωπε, τοσοῦτον χρόνον ἔχειςποιῶν τὰς ἐπιθυμίας τῆς σαρκὸς καὶ τῶν διανοιῶν σου. Τί ὠφελήθης καὶ τίἐκέρδησας τὰ τοιαῦτα ἐπιτελῶν;

And it ends at line 192:

Καὶ τῷ λεπρῷ εἶπε· θέλω, καθαρίσθητι· καὶ εὐθέως ἐκαθαρίσθη αὐτοῦ ἡ λέπρα. Τὸν δὲ Λάζαρον τεταρταῖον ἤγειρεν ὁ Κύριος ἐκνεκρῶν.

The excerpt appears in the edition of Phrantzolas, vol. 3, pp. 228-233, though naturally, there are some variations in the translation. The Greek text goes on for another two pages (about thirty lines more). So, in total, St. Theophan’s Psalm 122 is about 1/3 of the entire text. The original paraenesis, as we said, is about monastic perseverance. But St. Theophan has wisely excerpted this portion which is of extreme relevance to every sinful human soul.

I would encourage everyone to obtain a copy of the Spiritual Psalter and make frequent use of it, as it is among the very, very few translations we have of the Greek Ephrem; and these are exceptionally edifying and compunctive prayers.



More Greek Ephrem in Translation

EphrSA1We recently came across an amended reprint of some hymns and sermons of St. Ephrem the Syrian published by St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, Arizona. Entitled Eschatological Hymns and Homilies, it contains seven texts (or groups of texts) on the end times, a theme that is very prominent in the Greek corpus as well the Syrian. This collection led us, in turn, to the work by M.F. Toal, Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, 4 vols. (London, 1955-1963), which contains translations from the Greek writings attributed to St. Ephrem, translated mainly from Vossius (1616 ed.). Toal’s work, a systematic collation of patristic and medieval sermons, is worth obtaining for its own sake. But the fact that it contains otherwise untranslated sermons of Ephraem Graecus makes the collection especially valuable. In addition to the two works reproduced in the Eschatological Hymns, it contains five other works of the Greek Ephrem.

Since the volume from St. Anthony’s does not contain references to the original works that it reproduces, we list here the cross-references that we were able to find to the original translations (with translations from the Greek marked by an asterisk). Below this is a list of the works translated in Toal. We will also add the citations of Toal, and other relevant bibliographical information, to the list of available translations here on this site.

Eschatological Hymns and Homilies on Repentance, the Antichrist, the End of the World, the Lord’s Second Coming, the Resurrection, and the Last Judgement (Florence, AZ: St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, 2019).

*1. On Repentance, pp. 3-24: this translation of the Compunctive Discourse (CPG 3908) is readily found on the internet without attribution; it possibly derives from A Spiritual Psalter (SJKP, 2004).

2. Thirty metrical hymns on death, the life thereafter, and the Resurrection, pp. 25-88 =Henry Burgess, Select Metrical Hymns and Homilies of Ephraem Syrus (London, 1853), 1-93.
On the Death of Children: Their Blessedness
On the Death of Children: The Sorrow it Produces, The Sources of Consolation
On the Death of Youth
On the Death of a Spiritual Son
On the Death of Persons in All Walks of Life
On Death and the Resurrection
On the Death of a Servant of God
On the Death of a Bishop
On the Death of a Priestmonk
A Prayer in the Prospect of Death
On the Death of a Private Person
The Parting of Body and Soul
On the Death of a King and a Beggar
Christ the Companion of the Disembodied Soul
On the Death of a Monk
On the Death of a Woman
On the Death of an Aged Man
On the Death of a Priest
Necessity for Preparation for Death
On the Death of a Priest
For a Time of Plague
A Prayer in the Prospect of Judgement
Hymn on the Resurrection
A Morning Hymn
Hymn for Pascha
Hymn for the Lord’s Day
A Hymn of the Whole Church
For the Whole Church at the Resurrection
In Praise of God and His Most Pure Mother
Description of Paradise: The Revelations of God adapted to Man’s Nous

*3. On Various Places of Torment and on the Judgement, pp. 89-106 =M.F. Toal, The Sunday Sermons of the Church Fathers, vol. 3 (London, 1960), pp. 302-311 [CPG 3944, 3969].

*4. On the Second Coming and the Last Judgement, pp. 107-115 =M.F. Toal, The Sunday Sermons of the Church Fathers, vol. 1 (London, 1960), pp. 10-14 [CPG 4693].

*5. On the Antichrist, pp. 117-129: this translation of the ‘Sermon on the Coming of the Lord, and on the Consummation of the Age, and on the Coming of Antichrist’ (CPG 3946) appeared, verbatim, in an issue of Orthodox Life 3 (1970): 20-27, but I am unaware at the moment of its provenance, or if this reprint derives directly from that issue).

6. On the Antichrist and the Consummation, pp. 131-142 =M.F. Toal, The Sunday Sermons of the Church Fathers, vol. 4 (London, 1960), pp. 352-358.

7. Prayer for the Future Life, pp. 143-152 =M.F. Toal, The Sunday Sermons of the Church Fathers, vol. 4 (London, 1960), pp. 347-352.

IMAG2169 (2)

M.F. Toal, Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, 4 vols. (London, 1955-1963).

  • Vol. 1:10-14, On Patience, the Second Coming, and the Last Judgement (CPG 4693); reprinted in Eschatological Hymns and Homilies, 107-115.
  • Vol. 2:44-51, On the Transfiguration of Our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ (CPG 3939)
  • Vol. 3:121-23, The Mystery of the Eucharist (excerpted from the sermon On Those Who Scrutinize the Nature of the Son of God) (CPG 4054)
  • Vol. 3:233-37, Charity and Forgiveness (CPG 3980)
  • 302-11, On the Various Places of Torment and on the Judgement (excerpted from the Sermon on the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (CPG 3944) or, alternatively, Questions and Responses (CPG 3969); reprinted in Eschatological Hymns and Homilies, 89-106.
  • Vol. 4:10-18, On the Evil of the Tongue and Similar Vices (CPG 3950)
  • Vol. 4:406-7, Prayer for the Judgement (CPG 4088 latine)



Mother of the Light: Prayers to the Theotokos

Mother_Light_Product_07d37f8d-2ace-4793-8706-fe1d7b869b58_960xMother of the Light: Prayers to the Theotokos (Newrome Press, 2019) translated by the V. Rev. Archimandrite Maximos Constas, is a collection of 13 prayers and 3 canons to the Mother of God. The prayers, originally written in Greek, are ascribed to St Ephraim the Syrian. The canons are the works of St Theodore the Studite, St Methodios of Constantinople, and St John of Euchaita (Mauropous). The prayers and canons are united by their spirit of compunction, praises of the Theotokos, and entreaties for her intercessions and deliverance.

A brief, but powerful, introduction accompanies the translation that addresses the place of the Theotokos within the Orthodox Church, and the spiritual and historical importance of the translated prayers and canons.

Beautifully manufactured, Mother of the Light, is a round back hardcover, sewn bound, and offset printed on 100gsm Munken paper. It features a beautifully debossed cover, decorative endpapers, two page marker ribbons, and original artwork.

Click here to buy the book. Click here to read the Introduction.


A Variant of the Prayer of St. Ephrem

header2Among the works attributed to St. Ephrem the Syrian in Greek, the lengthy treatise In Imitation of Proverbs (On the Fear of God), contains a short prayer that excerpts the longer Prayer of St. Ephrem. It reads,

Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, meddling, and love of power give me not. Rather, a spirit of chastity and patience grant to your servant.

Click here to read the relevant section of the text In Imitation of Proverbs.

St. Ephrem in Romanian

On a recent trip to Iași, Romania, we picked up this wonderful little volume of “Prayers of St. Ephrem the Syrian.” This is a modern reprint* of the 1818 edition published at Neamţ Monastery. and a witness to the living tradition of Greek (or rather, Byzantine) Ephrem in the Orthodox Church.




* Bucharest: Editura Cartea Ortodoxă, 2009.