Infants Were Slain Because Of Thy Birth
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. 257-259.
The Rhythms of Saint Ephrem the Syrian on the Nativity
Rhythm The Seventeenth
Resp., Praise to Thee from every mouth on this Day of Thy Birth!
1. Infants were slain because of Thy Birth, Thou Giver of life to all—But
because He Who was slain was a King, our Lord the Lord of Kingdoms,—the tyrant
in subtlety, gave for Him slain hostages,—clad in the mysteries of His slaying:
the ranks of heaven received,—the hostages that they of earth offered.
R., Blessed be the King who magnified Him!
2. All the Kings of the house of David, transmitted and hauled on each to
each,—the throne and crown of the Son of David, as guardian of a deposit.—In one
they reached their bound and limit, when He came, the Lord of all things,—and
took away from them all things, and cut off the transmission of all things.…
R., Blessed be He Who is clad in that which is His!
3. The doves moaned in Bethlehem, that the serpent destroyed their
offspring.—The eagle betook himself to Egypt, to go down and receive the
promises.—Egypt rejoiced in Him that there came, abundance for payment of
debts,—which had failed the sons of Joseph. Among the sons of Joseph He laboured
and paid—the debts of the sons of Joseph.
R., Blessed is He Who called Him out of Egypt!
4. The Scribes read daily, that the Star arises out of Jacob.—For the People
were the Voice and the reading, for the nations the rising of the Star and the
interpretation:—for them were the Books and for us the facts; for them boughs
and for us fruits.—The Scribes read in things written; the Magi saw in things
done, the outshining of that which was read.
R., Blessed be He Who added to us their books!
5. Who is able to tell, of the withdrawal and the appearings,—of the shining
star that went, before the bearers of the offerings?—It appeared and proclaimed
the crown; it was hid and concealed His Body.—It was for the Son in twofold
wise, herald and guardian;—it guarded His Body, it proclaimed His Crown.
R., Blessed is He Who has given wisdom to them that proclaim Him!
6. The tyrant gazed on the Magi, as they asked “Where is the son of the
King?”—While his heart was gloomy, he sought for himself a cheerful
countenance.—With the sheep he sent wolves, that should kill the Lamb of
God.—The Lamb went down to Egypt, that thence He might judge them,—whence He had
R., Blessed be He Who yet again subdued them.
7. The Magi declared to the tyrant, “When thy servants joined us,—the bright
star withdrew itself, yea the paths hid themselves.”—The blessed ones knew not,
that the king had sent bitter foes,—murderers as if worshippers, to destroy the
sweet fruit,—whereof the bitter eat and are made sweet.
R., To Thee be glory, Medicine of life!
8. When there the Magi received, commandment to go and seek Him.—it is
written of them that they saw, that bright star and rejoiced.—Thus it is known
that it had been withdrawn; therefore rejoiced they at its aspect.—It was hid
and hindered the murderers, it arose and called the worshippers;—it overthrew a
part and it called a part.
R., Blessed be He Who has triumphed in both parts!
9. The abhorred one who slew the children, how did he overlook the
Child?—Justice hindered him that he thought, the Magi would return to him.—While
he stayed waiting to seize, the Worshipped and His worshippers,—everything
escaped his hands, the offerings and the worshippers took flight,—from the
tyrant to the Son of the King.
R., Glory to Him who knows all counsels!
10. The blameless Magi as they slept, meditated on their beds:—sleep became a
mirror, and a dream rose on it as light.—The murderer they saw and trembled, as
his guile and his sword flashed forth.—He taught the men guile, he sharpened the
sword to sharpness:—the Watcher taught the sleepers.
R., Blessed is He who gives prudence to the simple!
11. The simple who believe have known, two Comings of Christ:—but the foolish
scribes have not even perceived one Coming.—Yet the nations have life in the
first, and shall rise again there in the second.—The People whose mind is
blinded, the first Coming has dispersed;—the second shall blot out their memory.
R., Blessed be the King Who is come and is to come!
12. When the Saviour arose as the blind, the Sun showed forth his beams,—and
they were clothed in darkness: the Brightness sent forth his light,—and He
brought the sons of the stars, to make manifest the sons of darkness.—For lo!
among you is the star, but on your eyes the veil.
R., To Thee be glory, newborn Sun!
13. Prophets declared concerning His Birth, but they made not plain the time
thereof.—He sent the Magi, and they came and showed of its time.—Yet the Magi
who made known the time, made not plain who the Child should be.—A star of
splendid light, in its course showed who the Child was,—how splendid was His
R., Blessed be He Who by them all was pointed out!
14. They scorned the trumpet of Isaiah, which sounded forth His pure
Conception,—they silenced the lute of the Psalms, which sang of His
Priesthood;—the harp of the Spirit they hushed, which sang again of His
Kingdom;—under deep silence they closed up, the great Birth that joined the
cry—of them above with them below.
R., Blessed be He Who appeared in the midst of silence!
15. His voice was the secret key that opened the mouths of the Magi.—Whereas
preachers were silent in Judah, they made their voice sound through
creation;—and the Gospel which those had scorned, these who came from far took
and departed.—The scorners began to hear their own orders from strangers, who
cried out the name of the Son of David.
R., Blessed be He Who by our voice has put them to silence!
16. Whereas the People scorned offerings, and brought them not to Him the Son
of the King,—He sent His herald to the nations, and caused them to come with
their offerings:—yet not all of them caused He to come, for it could not suffice
for them,—the narrow bosom of Bethlehem; but the bosom of Holy Church,—enlarged
itself and contained her children.
R., Blessed be He Who has made the barren fruitful!
17. The slayers of Bethlehem mowed down the tender flowers that among
them—should perish the tender seedling, wherein was hidden the Bread of
life.—But the ear of corn that has life had escaped, that it should come to the
sheaves in harvest:—the grape that escaped when young, gave itself to the
treading,—that its wine might give life to souls.
R., Glory to Thee, Treasury of life!
18. The murderers went into a paradise, full of tender fruits:—they shook off
the flowers from the bough, blossoms and buds they destroyed,—unblemished
oblations he offered, the persecutor unwittingly.—To him woe, but to them
blessing! Bethlehem was first to give, virgin fruits to the Holy One.
R., Blessed is He Who receives the first fruits!
19. The Scribes were silenced in envy, the Pharisees in jealousy.—Men of
stone cried out and gave praise, who had a heart of stone.—They applauded in
presence of the Stone, the rejected that has become the Head.—Stones were made
flesh by that Stone, and obtained mouths to speak; stones cried out through that
R., Blessed be Thy Birth that has caused stones to cry out!
20. The Star that is written in Scripture, the nations beheld from afar,—that
the People might be shamed which is near; O People instructed and puffed up!
which by the nations hast been in turn instructed, how and where they saw,—that
vision whereof Balaam spake; a stranger he who spread abroad concerning
it,—strangers they who saw it.
R., Blessed is He Who has provoked to jealousy them of His own house!
21. Let my supplication draw nigh to Thy Door, yea my poverty to Thy
Treasury!—Give to me my Lord without measure, as God unto man!—And though Thou
increase gifts as Son of the Blessed, and though Thou add to them as Son of the
King;—though I be thankless as are all creatures of dust, as Adam so is the son
of Adam,—and as the Blessed so too is the Son of the Blessed.
R., Praise be to Thee Who art like unto Thy Father!
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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