SOR Logo
  Overview · Patriarchs of Antioch · Saints & Fathers · Fathers of Malankara
Mor Ephrem the Syrian (306-373)

Source: From a painting in Amid, AD 1218

Mor Ephrem the Syrian, the great poet saint of the Syriac Church, was born in c. A.D. 306 in Nisibis (North-west of Mosul, Iraq). While some late sources claim that his father was a heathen priest who worshiped an idol called Abnil, his own writings affirm that he was raised in a Christian family. (Adv. Haereses, XXVI. "I was born in the way of truth: though my boyhood understood not the greatness of the benefit, I knew it when trial came." Again more explicitly, if we may trust a Confession which is extant only in Greek, "I had been early taught about Christ by my parents; they who begat me after the flesh, had trained me in the fear of the Lord... My parents were confessors before the judge: yea, I am the kindred of martyrs.")

He was ordained deacon in c. A.D. 338 and served the Bishop of Nisibis, Mor Ya`qub, who participated in the Synod of Nicaea (AD 325). He lived as a solitary and apparently never entered into priesthood. After the cession of Nisibis to Persia in AD 363, Ephrem withdrew into the Roman Empire and settled at Edessa where he composed the hymns that survive to this day. Though in the ecclesiastical hirearchy he was just a deacon, he is remembered as a great doctor of the universal Church.

Ephrem wrote exclusively in Syriac, the Edessene dialect of Aramaic, but his works were translated into Armenian and Greek, and via the latter into Latin and Slavonic. Many works in these languages attributed to him are, however, not genuine. Much of Ephrem's exegetical, dogmatic and ascetic works are in verse form. He wrote several polemical works refuting the heresies of Marcion, Bardaisan, Mani, the Arians and the Anomoeans. He wrote widely regarded biblical commentaries on Genesis and the Diatesseron. His writings extensively employ typology and symbolism. Over 500 genuine hymns survive, of great beauty and insight. His poetry is in two genres: madrãshe (hymns) and memre (verse homilies). After his death, the hymns were arranged into hymn cycles, the most famous of which are those on Faith (including the five 'On the Pearl'), on Paradise and on Nisibis (the second half of which is on the Descent of Christ into Hell). His liturgical poetry had a great influence on Syriac and Greek hymnography. Syriac churches honor him as 'the lyre of the Holy Spirit'.

Mor Ephrem departed to his heavenly abode on 9th of June, A.D. 373. His memory is commemorated in the Syriac Orthodox Church on the first Saturday of the Great Lent.

Testament of Mor Ephrem


I Ephrem am dying and writing my Testament,
To be a witness for the pupils who come after me:
Be constantly praying, day and night;
As a ploughman who ploughs again and again,
Whose work is admirable.
Do not be like the lazy ones in whose fields thorns grow.
Be constantly praying, for he who adores prayer
Will find help in both worlds.

Source: Poster published by Dayro d-Mor Ephrem, Glane

For Further Reading:

Copyright © Syriac Orthodox Resources. All Rights Reserved.
Last Update: January 1, 2002