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. J. B. (John Brandl) Morris, M. A.
(Late) Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford.
Translated from Thomas Joseph Lamy, S. Ephraemi Syri Opera Syriaca (Rome, 1743)
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. 234-237.
The Rhythms of Saint Ephrem the Syrian on the Nativity
Rhythm The Fourth
This is the month which brings all manner of joy; it is the freedom of the bondsmen, the pride of the free, the crown of the gates, the soothing of the body, that also in its love put purple upon us as upon kings.
This is the month that brings all manner of victories; it frees the spirit; it subdues the body; it brings forth life among mortals; it caused, in its love, Godhead, to dwell in Manhood.
In this day the Lord exchanged glory for shame, as being humble; because Adam changed the truth for unrighteousness as being a rebel: the Good One had mercy on him, justified and set right them that had turned aside.
Let every man chase away his weariness, since that Majesty was not wearied with being in the womb nine months for us, and in being thirty years in Sodom among the madmen.1
Because the Good One saw that the race of man was poor and humbled, He made feasts as a treasure-house, and opened them to the slothful, that the feast might stir up the slothful one to rise and be rich.
Lo! The First-born has opened unto us His feast as a treasure-house. This one day in the whole year alone opens that treasure-house: come, let us make gain, let us grow rich from it, ere they shut it up.
Blessed be the watchful, that have taken by force2 from it the spoil of Life. It is a great disgrace, when a man sees his neighbor take and carry out treasure, and himself sits in the treasure-house slumbering, so as to come forth empty.
In this feast, let each one of us crown the gates of his heart. The Holy Spirit longs for the gates thereof, that He may enter in and dwell there, and sanctify it, and He goes round about to all the gates to see where He may enter.
In this feast, the gates are glad before the gates,3 and the Holy One rejoices in the holy temple, and the voice resounds in the mouth of children, and Christ rejoices in His own feast as a mighty man.
At the Birth of the Son the king was enrolling all men for the tribute-money, that they might be debtors to Him: the King came forth to us Who blotted out our bills,4 and wrote another bill in His own Name that He might be our debtor. The sun gave longer light, and foreshadowed the mystery by the degrees which it had gone up.5 It was twelve days since it had gone up, and to-day is the thirteenth day: a type exact of the Son's birth6 and of His Twelve.
Moses shut up a lamb in the month Nisan on the tenth day; a type this of the Son that came into the womb and shut Himself up therein on the tenth day.7 He came forth from the womb in this month in which the sun gives longer light.
The darkness was overcome, that it might proclaim that Satan was overcome; and the sun gave longer light, that it might triumph, because the First-born was victorious. Along with the darkness the dark one was overcome, and with the greater light our Light conquered!
Joseph caressed the Son as a Babe; he ministered to Him as God. He rejoiced in Him as in the Good One, and he was awe-struck at Him as the Just One, greatly bewildered.
"Who hath given me the Son of the Most High to be a Son to me? I was jealous of Thy Mother, and I thought to put her away, and I knew not that in her womb was hidden a mighty treasure, that should suddenly enrich my poor estate. David the king sprang of my race, and wore the crown: and I have come to a very low estate, who instead of a king am a carpenter. Yet a crown hath come to me, for in my bosom is the Lord of crowns!"
With rival words Mary burned, yea she lulled Him, [saying,] Who hath given me, the barren, that I should conceive and bring forth this One, that is manifold; a little One, that is great; for that He is wholly with me, and wholly everywhere?
The day that Gabriel came in unto my low estate, he made me free instead of a handmaid, of a sudden: for I was the handmaid of Thy Divine Nature, and am also the Mother of Thy human Nature, O Lord and Son!
Of a sudden the handmaid became the King's daughter in Thee, Thou Son of the King. Lo, the meanest in the house of David, by reason of Thee, Thou Son of David, lo, a daughter of earth hath attained unto Heaven by the Heavenly One!
How am I astonied that there is laid before me a Child, older than all things! His eye is gazing unceasingly upon Heaven. As for the stammering of His mouth, to my seeming it betokens, that with God its silence speaks.
Who ever saw a Child the whole of Whom beholdeth every place? His look is like one that orders all creatures that are above and that are below! His visage is like that Commander that commandeth all.
How shall I open the fountain of milk to Thee, O Fountain? Or how shall I give nourishment to Thee that nourishest all from Thy Table? How shall I bring to swaddling clothes One wrapped round with rays of glory?
My mouth knows not how I shall call Thee, O Thou Child of the Living One: for to venture to call Thee as the Child of Joseph, I tremble, since Thou art not his seed: and I am fearful of denying the name of him to whom they have betrothed me.
While Thou art the Son of One, then should I be calling Thee the Son of many. For ten thousand names would not suffice Thee, since Thou art the Son of God and also the Son of man, yea, David's Son and Mary's Lord.
Who hath made the Lord of mouths to be without a mouth? For my pure conception of Thee wicked men have slandered me. Be, O Thou Holy One, a Speaker for Thy Mother. Show a miracle that they may be persuaded, from Whom it is that I conceived Thee!
For Thy sake too I am hated, Thou Lover of all. Lo! I am persecuted who have conceived and brought forth One House of refuge for men. Adam will rejoice, for Thou art the Key of Paradise.
Lo, the sea raged against Thy mother as against Jonah. Lo, Herod, that raging wave, sought to drown the Lord of the seas. Whither I shall flee Thou shalt teach me, O Lord of Thy Mother.
With Thee I will flee, that I may gain in Thee Life in every place. The prison with Thee is no prison, for in Thee man goes up unto Heaven: the grave with Thee is no grave, for Thou art the Resurrection!8
A star of light which was not nature, shone forth suddenly; less than the sun and greater than the sun, less than it in its visible light, but greater than it in its hidden might, by reason of its mystery.
The Morning Star cast its bright beams among the darknesses, and led them as blind men, and they came and received a great light: they gave offerings and received life, and they worshipped and returned.
In the height and the depth two preachers were there to the Son: the bright star shouted above; John also preached below, two preachers, an earthly and a heavenly.
That above showed His Nature to be from the Majesty, and that below too showed his Nature to be from mankind. O great marvel, that His Godhead and His Manhood each was preached by them.
Whoso thought Him earthly, the bright star convinced him that He was heavenly; and whoso thought Him spiritual, John convinced him that He was also corporeal.
In the Holy temple Simeon carried Him, and lulled Him, [saying,] "Thou art come, O Merciful One, showing mercy on my old age, making my bones to go into the grave in peace. In Thee shall I be raised from the grave into Paradise!"
Anna embraced Him, and put her mouth to His lips, and the Spirit dwelt upon her own lips. As when Isaiah's mouth was silent, the coal9 which approached his lips opened his mouth; so Anna burned with the Spirit of His mouth, yea, she lulled Him, [saying,] "Son of the Kingdom, Son of the lowliness, that hearest and art still, that seest and art hidden, that knowest and art unknown, God, Son of Man, glory be unto Thy Name."
The barren also heard, ran, and came with their provisions: the Magi came with their treasures, the barren came with their provisions. Provisions and riches were suddenly heaped up in the house of the poor.
The barren woman cried out, as at that which she looked not for, Who hath granted me this sight of thy Babe, O Blessed One, by whom the heaven and earth are filled! Blessed be thy Fruit, which made the barren vine to bear a cluster.
Zacharias came and opened his venerable mouth and cried, "Where is the King, for whose sake I have begotten the Voice that is to preach before His face? Hail, Son of the King, to whom also our Priesthood shall be given up!"
John approached with his parents and worshipped the Son, and He shed glory upon his countenance; and he was not moved as when in the womb! Mighty miracle, that here he was worshipping, there he leaped.
Herod also, that base fox, that stalked about like a lion, as a fox crouched down, and howled, when he heard the roaring of the Lion, who came to sit in the kingdom according to the Scriptures. The fox heard that the Lion was a whelp, and as a suckling; and he sharpened His teeth, that while He was yet a child the fox might lie in wait and devour the Lion ere He had grown up, and the breath of His mouth should destroy him.
The whole creation became mouths to Him, and cried concerning Him. The Magi cried by their offerings! the barren cried with their children, the star of light cried in that air, lo! the Son of the King!
The Heavens were opened, the waters were calmed, the Dove glorified Him, the voice of the Father, louder than thunder, was instant and said, This is my beloved Son. The Angels proclaim Him, the children shout to Him with their Hosannas.
These voices above and below proclaim Him and cry aloud. The slumber of Sion was not dispersed by the voice of the thunders, but she was offended, stood up, and slew Him because He aroused her.
These footnotes are from the source identified above, and may include some footnotes from the original publication of Hymns 1 through 13, inclusive, which was by Rev. Edward B. Pusey, et al., eds., Rhythms of Saint Ephrem The Syrian / Select Works of S. Ephrem the Syrian. Trans. Rev. J. B. (John Brandl) Morris, from A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Anterior to the Division of the East and West. Volume 41. (Oxford: John Henry Parker; London: F. and J. Rivington, 1847), pp. 1-60.
Text from the Holy Bible was not originally included in these texts, and has been added by an editor for The Hymns and Carols of Christmas. All quotations are from the Revised Version, Standard American Edition of the Bible, more commonly known as the American Standard Version (ASV), which was the most recent translation at the time of publication of these poems. The American Standard Version has been termed “the bedrock translation” due to its fidelity to ancient sources known to exist at that time.
1 Is. 1. 10. "Hear the word of Jehovah, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah." Rev. 11. 8. "And their dead bodies lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified." Return
2 Mat. 11. 12. "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and men of violence take it by force. 13For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John." Return
3 I. e., the gates of the heart, before the gates of the Church. Return
4 Col. 2. 14. [Editor's Note: Verses 13-15 given in order to see the context, but verse 14 italicized as that was the verse cited in the footnote.] "13And you, being dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, you, I say , did he make alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses; 14having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out that way, nailing it to the cross; 15having despoiled the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." Return
5 The increase of light at the time of the Nativity is meant. Return
6 Exod. 12. 3. "Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household." Return
7 Of Nisan. So St. E. writes on Exod. xii. 3. "The Lamb is a type of our Lord, who on the tenth of Nisan entered into the womb; for from the tenth day of the seventh month when Zachary received the message of John's birth, even to the tenth day of the first month when Mary received the message from the Angel, are six months." Return
8 John 11. 25. "Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live;" Return
9 Isai 6. 1In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. 2Above him stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. 3And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. 4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. 5Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts.
6Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: 7and he touched my mouth with it, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin forgiven. 8And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here am I; send me. 9And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. 10Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they sea with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed. 11Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until cities be waste without inhabitant, and houses without man, and the land become utterly waste, 12and Jehovah have removed men far away, and the forsaken places be many in the midst of the land. 13And if there be yet a tenth in it, it also shall in turn be eaten up: as a terebinth, and as an oak, whose stock remaineth, when they are felled; so the holy seed is the stock thereof. Return
Additional Editor's Notes:
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.
If you would like to help support Hymns and Carols of Christmas, please click on the button below and make a donation.