In the Orthodox Christian tradition, every day we celebrate the memory of numerous saints. For example, look at the calendar for the upcoming Sunday. You will notice that we commemorate at least 14 different saints, or group of saints, or events. This is understandable considering that Christianity is 2000 years old, and our liturgical tradition has been developing and evolving all these years.
All of us are called to holiness, we are meant to be in the choir of the saints in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, not everyone desires holiness, but we believe that our Lord, in His infinite mercy and love, saves all those who do desire it and live up to this holiness, best way they can.
Our list of people who have been recognized as saints is not exhaustive. We celebrate those saints who have stood out the most, if you will. We can be sure that there are a lot more saints who currently intercede for us.
For each Sunday I will choose one saint our of the many for that day, and look at his/her life and discuss how he/she is an example of faith to us, those who are still on the path to holiness.
Saint Ephraim the Syrian was born in the beginning of the fourth century (exact year of his birth is unknown) in the city of Ninevah in Mesopotamia in a Christian family. He is called the Syrian because in Ephraim's time Mesopotamia was part of Syria. His parents raised him in piety and faith, but that did not prevent him from being stubborn and irritable, and questioning God. Once, as an adolescent, Ephraim was falsely accused of theft and was arrested. While in prison, he heard a voice in a dream, calling him to repentance. He woke up with a desire to drastically change his life. After being acquitted, Ephraim went into the wilderness and became a hermit.
In 325, St Ephraim participated in the First Ecumenical Council. After his home-town was overtaken by the Persians, Ephraim left for a monastery near Edessa (present day south Turkey). Along with the ascetic labors, he focused on reading and studying the Word of God, drawing from it wisdom for his soul. The Lord blessed him with the gift of teaching and people began flocking to him, hoping to hear his instructions. St Ephraim taught everyone about repentance, faith, and righteousness. Pagans, hearing his sermons, converted to Christianity.
St Ephraim wrote many commentaries on the Holy Scripture, as well many prayers and hymns that are used liturgical to this day. One of the most famous prayers is recited by the Orthodox Christians every Great Lent:
O Lord and Master of my life, give me not the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Your servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother and sister, for You are blessed, unto ages of ages. Amen.
"If the Son of God is inside you, then His Kingdom is also in you. Behold, the Kingdom of God is inside you! Enter inside yourself and search hard and you will easily find it. Outside of yourself there is death, and the door to death is sin. Enter yourself and dwell in your heart, for there is God" - is one of the examples of what St Ephraim taught.
Ephraim was a great teacher of repentance. The forgiveness of sins that we receive in the Sacrament of Confession, according to him, is not simply an external justification, disregard of sins, but full obliteration of them. The tears of repentance wash away sin.
Towards the end of his life, St Ephraim visited Caesarea in Cappadocia (present day central Turkey) to meet with the local bishop - St Basil the Great. Basil wanted to ordain Ephraim into priesthood, but in his humility Ephraim considered himself unworthy of being a priest, and at the insistence of Basil accepted only the rank of a deacon. Later on Basil proposed to ordain Ephraim a bishop, but again he declined.
Upon returning to Edessa, Ephraim was called by God to help its citizens one last time. Fierce famine overtook the region. He was able to convince the rich to show mercy and help the poor. With their donations St Ephraim built a care-house for the poor and the sick . After this, he withdrew into the wilderness to his cave one last time, where he passed away from this temporal life into life eternal.
Through the prayers of Your venerable Saint Ephraim, O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Amen.
By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile, and your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance. By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe! Our Father Ephraim, pray to Christ God to save our souls!
Ever anticipating the hour of Judgment, you lamented bitterly, O venerable Ephraim. Through your deeds you were a teacher by example; therefore, O universal Father, you rouse the slothful to repentance.
Example worthy of imitation:
No matter our upbringing, no matter where or how we grew, God always calls us to Himself. It's no surprise really - we are His image, and as an image we will always strive back to the Prototype - the Lord. Usually it is a very specific call, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). These are the exact words Jesus Christ used when He began His public ministry.
St Ephraim shows us that if we answer this call and try our best to follow it, we will discover Christ in our heart and we will be driven to share His love with those around us.
Pay attention to your thoughts and to your actions. Repent of those that are not befitting of a Christian life. And strive for holiness every day of your life.
Yours in Christ,