The First Year Wherein, Our Saviour Was Born
Words: Saint Ephream of Syria
Born at Nisibis, then under Roman rule, early in the fourth century; died June, 373.
Translated into Prose by Rev. A. Edward Johnston
Music: Not Stated
Source: John Gwynn, ed., Hymns and Homilies of Ephraim The Syrian, Trans. A. Edward Johnston, from Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Second Series, Volume 13, Part 2. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905), pp. 261-262.
The Rhythms of Saint Ephrem the Syrian on the Nativity
Rhythm The Nineteen
Resp.—Blessed be thy Birth that gladdens all creatures!
1. The first year wherein, our Saviour was born,—is source of blessing, and ground of life;—for by it are borne,—manifold triumphs, the sum of all help:—as the first day of “the beginning,”—the great pillar of all creatures,—bears the building of Creation;—so the year of the Firstborn bears help for man.
2. In the second year, of our Saviour’s Birth,—the Magi exult, the Pharisees mourn:—treasures are opened,—kings are hastening, and infants are slain.—For in it are offered in Bethlehem,—oblations precious and terrible;—for while love made offering of gold,—hatred offered infants by the sword.
3. The day of the All-Lightening, exults in His birth;—a pillar of radiance, which drives away, by its beams—the works of darkness. After the type of that day, wherein light was created,—and sundered the darkness that spread—over the fair beauty of Creation;—the radiance of our Saviour’s birth—came in to sunder the darkness that was on the heart.
4. The first day the source and the beginning,—orders the roots, to make all things grow.—Our Saviour’s day—is praised far above it, a tree planted in the world.—For His Death is as the root in the earth; His Resurrection as the head in heaven; on all sides His words reach as boughs; likewise His Body as fruit for the eaters.
5. Let the second day, sing praise to the Birth—of the second Son, and His voice which first—commanded the firmament and it was made,—divided the waters that were above, and gathered the seas that were under.—He Who divided waters from waters, divided Himself from the Watchers and came down to man.—For the waters which at His command were gathered.—He cleft the fountain of life and gave drink.
6. Let the third day weave with divers hymns—the crown of psalms and with one voice present it—for His Birth who gave growth—of buds and flowers, on the third day.—But now He the All-giver of growth,—has come down and become the All-holy Flower; from the thirsting earth has sprang forth and gone up,—that he may decorate and crown the conquerors.
7. Let the fourth day praise, first among the four,—His Birth Who created as the fourth day—the two lightgivers,—which fools worship, and are sightless and blind.—The Lord of Lightgivers has come down,—and from the womb has shone on us as the Sun.—His splendours have opened the eyes of the blind:—His rays have given light to the wandering.
8. Let the fifth day laud Him Who created—on the fifth day creeping things and Dragons—of whose kind is the serpent.—He deceived with guile our mother, a maid void of counsel.—The deceiver who had mocked the maid,—by the Dove was exposed as false,—which from a virgin bosom sprang, and came forth—the Wise that trod down the crafty.
9. Let the sixth day laud Him who created—on Vesper-day Adam, whom Satan envied; as a feigned friend—cheered him in offering poison in his food.—The medicine of life reached them both,—put on a body and came near to both.—The mortal tasted Him and lived through Him;—the devourer who ate Him was left void.
10. Let the seventh day hallow the Holy One,—Who halloweth the Sabbath, and gave rest to all that live.—The Blessed One Who wearied not—has care for mankind, and has care for the beasts.—When Freedom fell under the yoke,—He came to the Birth and became bond to make it free:—He was smitten on the face by servants in the judgment hall;—He broke the yoke that was on the free, as Lord.
11. Let the eighth day, which circumcised the Hebrews,—praise Him Who commanded his namesake Joshua—to circumcise with a flint—the people circumcised in body, while the heart was profane within.—Lo! as the eighth day, as a Babe,—to circumcision He came Who circumcises all.—Though the sign of Abraham is on His Flesh,—the blind daughter of Sion had defiled it.
12. Let the tenth day sing, praises in its turn.—For God the first letter of Jesus (goodly name!), is ten in numbering.—He Who is as a lamb, turns back the numbers.—For when the number goes up to ten, it is turned back to begin again from one. O great mystery of that which is in Jesus, Whose might turns all creation back again!
13. The All-Purifier Firstborn in the day of His purifying,—purified the purification of the firstborn and was offered in the Temple:—the Lord of offering needed offerings,—to make offering of birds.—In His Birth were fulfilled the types,—in His purification and circumcision the allegories.—He came and paid over debts in His coming down;—in His Resurrection He went up and sent down treasures.
St. Ephraem of Syria was also the author of Fifteen Hymns of the Epiphany, as well as other hymns of the Christmas-tide, hymns against heresies, hymns for the faith, etc.
See generally Christmas-tide Hymns from the Eastern Churches.
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