Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ephrem's Hymns




The Pope spoke about St Ephrem the Syrian, Amy hast posted some of his hymns, they are deeply theological and even in translation stunningly beautiful:

“The Lord came to you
to become a servant.
The Word came to you
to be still in your womb.
Lightning came to you
without making any noise.
The Shepherd came to you -
and becomes the newborn Lamb
with his submissive plaint.

The womb of Mary
has changed the roles:
He who created all things
took possession in poverty.
The Highest came to you (Mary)
but he entered with humility.
Splendor came to you,
but dressed in humble rags.
He who makes all things grow
knew hunger.
He who waters everything
knew thirst.
Bare and stripped, he came from you,
he who clothes everything in beauty.”
(Hymn “De Nativitate”11, 6-8).

To express the mystery of Christ, Ephrem used a great diversity of expressions and images. In one of his hymns, he effectively links Adam in Paradise with Christ in the Eucharist:

“It was the cherubim spade
that closed the path
to the Tree of Life.
But for the people,
the Lord of this tree
gave himself as food -
he himself as offering (Eucharistic).

The trees of Eden
were given as food
to the first Adam.
For us, the Gardener in person
has made himself food for our souls.

Indeed we all left Paradise with Adam,
who left it all behind.
Now that the sword has been taken away,
there (on the Cross), we find it again
in the lance that pierced.
(Hymn, 49,9-11).

To speak of the Eucharist, Ephrem used two images: the ember or burning coal, and the pearl. The ember comes from Isaiah (6.6), in the image of the seraphin who picks up an ember with tongs and simply brushes it across the lips of the prophet in order to purify it. The Christian, on the other hand, takes and swallows the Ember, who is Christ himself.

“In your Bread is hidden the Spirit
which cannot be consumed.
In your wine is the fire
which cannot be drunk.
The Spirit in the bread,
the fire in your wine:
behold the wonder
that we welcome to our lips.

The seraphin could not, with his fingers, touch the ember
which he could only bring close to Isaiah’s mouth.
The fingers did not hold it, nor did the mouth ingest it.
But the Lord has conceded both to us.

Fire descends with ire to destroy sinners
but the fire of grace descends on the bread and stays.
Instead of the fire which destroyed people,
we have eastern the fire in the bread
and we have been revived.
(Hymn “De Fide”10,8-10).

Finally, a last example of St. Ephrem’s hymns, where he describes the pearl as a symbol of the richness and beauty of the faith:

“I place the pearl, my brothers,
in the palm of my hand to examine it.
I look at it from one side, then the other -
and it looks the same from every side.

So it is with our search
for the inscrutable Son -
because he is all light.

In its limpidity, I see the Limpid
which does not become opaque.
In its purity, I see the symbol
of the pure Body of our Lord.
And in its indivisibility, I see
the truth which is indivisible.
(Hymn “Sulla Perla” 1, 2-3).

2 comments:

John Fitzpatrick said...

I think that thse hymns are brethtakingly beautiful. Is there a book of them?

On the side of the angels said...

I spent hours last night trying to do the same thing - but got so engrossed in the imagery - sure a lot of it was devil and death and the antiphons seemed a little 'out there' [God as our mirror polisher just didn't seem to work in English] but it was amazing stuff - and I had never heard of him !