June 9, 2016

Saint Ephrem's Epistle to a Disciple

St. Ephrem

Pope Benedict XVI noted that Saint Ephrem of Syria, poet, monastic, and theologian, through his hymns and writings, praised God "in an unparalleled way" and "with rare skill." On this his feast day, here is St. Ephrem's letter to a disciple on living the monastic life.
I was born in the way of truth: though my childhood was unaware of the greatness of the benefit, I knew it when trial came. — St. Ephrem

My beloved in the Lord, before every other thing set humility in thy mouth when thou art ready to make answer, for, forgive me, thou knowest that by humility all the power of the Enemy is brought to naught. And thou knowest the goodness of thy Master, Whom they blasphemed, and how He became humble, and obedient, even unto death. And do thou thyself, my son, set thy humility in thy mouth, and in thy heart, and in thy neck, for there is a commandment which inculcateth humility. Consider David, who boasted himself of his humility, and said, `Because I humbled myself the Lord delivered me, and He did good unto me.' [cf. Ps. 29(30): 8-12] My son, array thyself in humility, and thou shalt make the virtues of God be with thee. And if, my son, thou art in a state of humility, no passion whatsoever shall have power to draw nigh thee.

There is no measure (or, limit) to the beauty of the man who is humble. No passion whatsoever shall be able to draw nigh unto the man who is humble, and there is no measure to his beauty. The humble man is a sacrifice of God. With him that is humble the hearts of God and His angels rest. Moreover, when the angels glorify him, there is the excuse for him that hath produced in himself all virtues; but for him that hath produced humility in himself thou wilt find no excuse whatsoever needed, besides that he hath become humble.

My son, these are the virtues of humility. My son, hold thy peace, for it is written, `He who is wise at that time will hold his peace.' [Amos 5:13] Hold thy peace until thou art asked a question. When they ask thee a question speak, and use humble words, and a humble manner. Do not be wholly mournful. If it (i.e. the question) be too great for thee sit down. Speak not when others are speaking words of depreciation; compel thyself, thou shalt not forget, [and let] thy thoughts [be] 'I have not heard [them].' To all words wherin is profit give thy most earnest attention. For it is written, `If [thou art] a doer of the word and not a hearer thereof thou deceivest thyself, my son, in the Lord.' [2 Tim 3:15] I give thee commandments in thy beginning, do thou keep them in thy youth. Observe what Paul spake. He said, `Besides, from the time when thou wast a child thou didst know the Holy Scriptures, which have the power to save thee.'

Learn thou the whole code of rules of the profession of the monk, and make thyself to be greatly beloved in all thy works. If thou goest to the desert to take up a place therein, thou being a youth, and thou settlest thyself on one which is too great for thee, and God is therein, do not leave it in thy discontent and depart to another. Let that desert whereon thou hast settled be sufficient for thee, lest thou make Him angry. For it is written, `It is not a little thing against you to provoke men to wrath.' Continue reading...

Translated by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge. This work is in the public domain. For more writings by St. Ephrem go here.

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