EPHRAIM THE SYRIAN
Ephraim the Syrian, Isaac the Syrian, Bishop of Ninevah, James the Righteous, Palladios the Hermit of Antioch, Theodosius of Totma, Grace the Martyr
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS 5:22-26; 6:1-2
Brethren, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
At that time, Jesus stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came forth from him and healed them all. And he lifted up his eyes on His disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.”
Venerable Ephraim the Syrian
Saint Ephraim the Syrian, a teacher of repentance, was born at the beginning of the fourth century in the city of Nisibis (Mesopotamia) into the family of impoverished toilers of the soil. His parents raised their son in piety, but from his childhood he was known for his quick temper and impetuous character. He often had fights, acted thoughtlessly, and even doubted God’s Providence. He finally recovered his senses by the grace of God, and embarked on the path of repentance and salvation.
Once, he was unjustly accused of stealing a sheep and was thrown into prison. He heard a voice in a dream calling him to repent and correct his life. After this, he was acquitted of the charges and set free.
The young man ran off to the mountains to join the hermits. This form of Christian asceticism had been introduced by a disciple of Saint Anthony the Great, the Egyptian desert dweller Eugenius.
Saint James of Nisibis (January 13) was a noted ascetic, a preacher of Christianity and denouncer of the Arians. Saint Ephraim became one of his disciples. Under the direction of the holy hierarch, Saint Ephraim attained Christian meekness, humility, submission to God’s will, and the strength to undergo various temptations without complaint.
Saint James transformed the wayward youth into a humble and conrite monk. Realizing the great worth of his disciple, he made use of his talents. He trusted him to preach sermons, to instruct children in school, and he took Ephraim with him to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea (in the year 325). Saint Ephraim was in obedience to Saint James for fourteen years, until the bishop’s death in 338.
After the capture of Nisibis by the Persians in 363, Saint Ephraim went to a monastery near the city of Edessa. Here he saw many great ascetics, passing their lives in prayer and psalmody. Their caves were solitary shelters, and they fed themselves with a certain plant.
He became especially close to the ascetic Julian (October 18), who was of one mind with him. Saint Ephraim combined asceticism with a ceaseless study of the Word of God, taking from it both solace and wisdom for his soul. The Lord gave him a gift of teaching, and people began to come to him, wanting to hear his counsel, which produced compunction in the soul, since he began with self-accusation. Both verbally and in writing, Saint Ephraim instructed everyone in repentance, faith and piety, and he denounced the Arian heresy, which at that time was causing great turmoil. Pagans who heard the preaching of the saint were converted to Christianity.
He also wrote the first Syriac commentary on the Pentateuch (i.e. “Five Books”) of Moses. He wrote many prayers and hymns, thereby enriching the Church’s liturgical services. Famous prayers of Saint Ephraim are to the Most Holy Trinity, to the Son of God, and to the Most Holy Theotokos. He composed hymns for the Twelve Great Feasts of the Lord (the Nativity of Christ, the Baptism, the Resurrection), and funeral hymns. Saint Ephraim’s Prayer of Repentance, “O Lord and Master of my life…”, is recited during Great Lent, and it summons Christians to spiritual renewal.
From ancient times the Church has valued the works of Saint Ephraim. His works were read publicly in certain churches after the Holy Scripture, as Saint Jerome tells us. At present, the Church Typikon prescribes certain of his instructions to be read on the days of Lent. Among the prophets, Saint David is the preeminent psalmodist; among the Fathers of the Church, Saint Ephraim the Syrian is the preeminent man of prayer. His spiritual experience made him a guide for monastics and a help to the pastors of Edessa. Saint Ephraim wrote in Syriac, but his works were very early translated into Greek and Armenian. Translations into Latin and Slavonic were made from the Greek text.
In many of Saint Ephraim’s works we catch glimpses of the life of the Syrian ascetics, which was centered on prayer and working in various obediences for the common good of the brethren. The outlook of all the Syrian ascetics was the same. The monks believed that the goal of their efforts was communion with God and the acquisition of divine grace. For them, the present life was a time of tears, fasting and toil.
“If the Son of God is within you, then His Kingdom is also within you. Thus, the Kingdom of God is within you, a sinner. Enter into yourself, search diligently and without toil you shall find it. Outside of you is death, and the door to it is sin. Enter into yourself, dwell within your heart, for God is there.”
Constant spiritual sobriety, the developing of good within man’s soul gives him the possibility to take upon himself a task like blessedness, and a self-constraint like sanctity. The requital is presupposed in the earthly life of man, it is an undertaking of spiritual perfection by degrees. Whoever grows himself wings upon the earth, says Saint Ephraim, is one who soars up into the heights; whoever purifies his mind here below, there glimpses the Glory of God. In whatever measure each one loves God, he is, by God’s love, satiated to fullness according to that measure. Man, cleansing himself and attaining the grace of the Holy Spirit while still here on earth, has a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven. To attain to life eternal, in the teachings of Saint Ephraim, does not mean to pass over from one realm of being into another, but rather to discover “the heavenly,” spiritual condition of being. Eternal life is not bestown on man through God’s one-sided efforts, but rather, it constantly grows like a seed within him by his efforts, toils and struggles.
The pledge within us of “theosis” (or “deification”) is the Baptism of Christ, and the main force that drives the Christian life is repentance. Saint Ephraim was a great teacher of repentance. The forgiveness of sins in the Mystery of Repentance, according to his teaching, is not an external exoneration, not a forgetting of the sins, but rather their complete undoing, their annihilation. The tears of repentance wash away and burn away the sin. Moreover, they (i.e. the tears) enliven, they transfigure sinful nature, they give the strength “to walk in the way of the the Lord’s commandments,” encouraging hope in God. In the fiery font of repentance, the saint wrote, “you sail yourself across, O sinner, you resurrect yourself from the dead.”
Saint Ephraim, accounting himself as the least and worst of all, went to Egypt at the end of his life to see the efforts of the great ascetics. He was accepted there as a welcome guest and received great solace from conversing with them. On his return journey he visited at Caesarea in Cappadocia with Saint Basil the Great (January 1), who wanted to ordain him a priest, but he considered himself unworthy of the priesthood. At the insistence of Saint Basil, he consented only to be ordained as a deacon, in which rank he remained until his death. Later on, Saint Basil invited Saint Ephraim to accept a bishop’s throne, but the saint feigned madness in order to avoid this honor, humbly regarding himself as unworthy of it.
After his return to his own Edessa wilderness, Saint Ephraim hoped to spend the rest of his life in solitude, but divine Providence again summoned him to serve his neighbor. The inhabitants of Edessa were suffering from a devastating famine. By the influence of his word, the saint persuaded the wealthy to render aid to those in need. From the offerings of believers he built a poor-house for the poor and sick. Saint Ephraim then withdrew to a cave near Edessa, where he remained to the end of his days.
Venerable Theodosius, Abbot of Totma, Vologda
Saint Theodosius of Totma was born at Vologda about the year 1530. In his youth he was raised in a spirit of Christian piety and the fear of God. At the insistence of his parents he married, but family life did not turn him away from God. He went fervently to church and prayed at home, particularly at night. After the death of his parents and his wife, he withdrew to the Priluki monastery not far from Vologda.
At the monastery Theodosius passed through the various obediences: he carried water, chopped fire-wood, milled flour and baked bread. He went to Totma on the igumen’s orders to search for a salt-works for the monastery. He sought the permission of Tsar Ivan Vasilevich and the blessing of Archbishop Nicander to found a monastery at Totma. Theodosius was appointed head of this newly-formed Totma monastery, which in a grant of 1554 was declared free of taxation.
The saint founded the Totma Ephraimov wilderness monastery and brought brethren into it. Eventually becoming the head of two monasteries, Theodosius continued to lead an ascetic life. He wore down his body by wearing chains and a hairshirt, and beneath his monastic cowl he wore an iron cap. Fond of spiritual reading, he acquired many books for the monastery. Saint Theodosius reposed in the year 1568 and was buried in the monastery he founded, and miracles occurred at his grave.
On September 2, 1796 during the reconstruction of the Ascension church, his relics were found incorrupt, and their glorification took place on January 28, 1798, on the day of his repose.
Venerable Ephraim the Wonderworker, Abbot of Novy Torg
Saint Ephraim of Novy Torg, founder of the Saints Boris and Gleb monastery in the city of Novy Torg, was a native of Hungary. Together with his brothers, Saint Moses the Hungarian (July 26) and Saint George (in Hungarian “Sandor,” pronounced “Shandor”), he quit his native land, possibly because he was Orthodox.
Having come to Russia, all three brothers entered into the service of the Rostov prince Saint Boris, son of Saint Vladimir (July 15). Saint Ephraim’s brother George also perished in the year 1015 at the River Alta, with holy Prince Boris. The murderers cut off his head, and took the gold medallion which he had received from Saint Boris. Moses managed to save himself by flight, and became a monk at the Kiev Caves monastery.
Saint Ephraim, evidently in Rostov at this time, and arriving at the place of the murder, found the head of his brother and took it with him. Forsaking service at the princely court, Saint Ephraim withdrew to the River Tvertsa in order to lead a solitary monastic life.
After several other monks settled near him, he founded a monastery in honor of the holy Passion-Bearers Boris and Gleb in the year 1038. The brethren chose him to lead them. Near the monastery, not far from a merchant’s road to Novgorod, a wanderer’s home was built, where the poor and travelers stayed for free. Saint Ephraim died in old age. His body was buried at the monastery he founded. The head of his brother, Saint George was also placed in the grave, in accordance with his last wishes. The relics of Saint Ephraim were uncovered in the year 1572.
Saint Ephraim, Bishop of Pereyaslavl, Kiev Caves, Far Caves
Saint Ephraim of the Caves, Bishop of Pereyaslavl, before his tonsure into monasticism, was treasurer and steward of household affairs at the court of the Kiev Great Prince Izyaslav (Demetrius) Yaroslavich (1054-1068). Weighed down by this noisy and bustling life and wishing to become a monk, he was accepted by Saint Anthony of the Kiev Caves and was tonsured by Saint Nikon (March 23).
The enraged prince demanded that Ephraim return, threatening to lock him up in prison and to destroy the Monastery of the Caves. Saint Anthony and the brethren left the monastery and decided to go to another place. Izyaslav, however, feared the wrath of God. He took his wife’s advice and withdrew his forces from the monastery in disgrace.
Saint Ephraim wished to go on pilgrimage to the holy places abroad. With the blessing of Saint Anthony, he journeyed to Constantinople and settled there in one of the monasteries. While in Constantinople, Saint Ephraim made a copy of the Studite monastic Rule, and took it to Kiev at the request of Saint Theodosius. As soon as he received the Rule, Saint Theodosius implemented it in his monastery.
After the year 1072 Ephraim was made bishop in Pereyaslavl, with the title of Metropolitan. He adorned Pereyaslavl with many beautiful churches and public buildings, and he built stone walls around the city in the Greek manner. He built free hospices for the poor and travelers, and constructed several public bath-houses.
In the year 1091, Saint Ephraim participated in the opening and solemn transfer of the relics of Saint Theodosius. A Life of Saint Ephraim existed in former times, but it has not survived. We find an account of him both in the Life of Saint Theodosius, and in the Russian Chronicles. A tale and encomium for Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker is ascribed to Saint Ephraim.
Saint Ephraim died in the year 1098. He was buried in the Antoniev (Far) Caves of the Kiev Caves monastery.
His memory is also celebrated on September 28 and on the second Sunday of Great Lent.
Venerable Palladius the Hermit, of Antioch
Saint Palladius the Desert Dweller led an ascetical life in a certain mountain cave near Syrian Antioch. Because of his struggles, he received from the Lord a gift of wonderworking. Once, a merchant was found murdered by robbers near his cave. People accused Saint Palladius of the murder, but through the prayer of the saint, the dead man rose up and named his murderers. The saint died at the end of the fourth century, leaving behind several edifying works.
Saint Isaac the Syrian, Bishop of Nineveh
Saint Isaac the Syrian, Bishop of Ninevah, lived during the sixth century. He and his brother entered the monastery of Mar Matthew near Ninevah and received the monastic tonsure. His learning, virtue, and ascetic manner of life attracted the notice of the brethren, and they proposed that he head the monastery. Saint Issac did not want this burden, preferring a life of silence, so he left the monastery to live alone in the desert.
His brother urged him more than once to return to the monastery, but he would not agree. However, when the fame of Saint Isaac’s holy life had spread, he was made Bishop of Ninevah. Seeing the crude manners and disobedience of the inhabitants of the city, the saint felt that it was beyond his ability to guide them, and moreover, he yearned for solitude.
Once, two Christians came to him, asking him to settle a dispute. One man acknowledged that he owed money to the other, but asked for a short extension. The lender threatened to bring his debtor to court to force him to pay. Saint Isaac, citing the Gospel, asked him to be merciful and give the debtor more time to pay. The man said, “Leave your Gospel out of this!” Saint Isaac replied, “If you will not submit to Lord’s commandments in the Gospel, then what remains for me to do here?” After only five months as bishop, Saint Isaac resigned his office and went into the mountains to live with the hermits. Later, he went to the monastery of Rabban Shabur, where he lived until his death, attaining a high degree of spiritual perfection.
From the early eighth century until the beginning of the eighteenth century, nothing was known about Saint Isaac of Syria in Europe except for his name and works. Only in 1719 was a biography of the saint published at Rome, compiled by an anonymous Arab author. In 1896, more information on Saint Isaac came to light. The learned French soteriologist Abbot Chabot published some eighth century works on Syrian history by Iezudena, bishop of Barsa, where the account of Saint Isaac the Syrian was found.
Totemsk-Sumorin Icon of the Mother of God
The city of Tot'ma is located in the Vologda gubernia. Saint Theodosios contested nearby during the XVI century, and the spot was named Totemsk, after the place of his ascetical exploits. The residents of Tot'ma treated the aged Elder with reverence and helped him from their own means. When Venerable Theodosios wanted to build a monastery, they wrote to Tsar Ivan the Terrible petitioning him to allow Elder Theodosios to build a monastery in their city. Their request was granted, and in 1554 Archbishop Nikander of Rostov gave Elder Theodosios a charter to build a church and everything necessary for its consecration. At the same time, the Igoumen of the Savior-Priluki Monastery blessed Father Theodosios with an Icon of the Mother of God for his successful completion of the new monastery. The holy Elder brought this Icon to Tot'ma.
After the Saint's repose in 1568, the wonderworking Icon was placed in a kiosk before his shrine in the Monastery's Ascension Church. In 1919, the Savior-Sumorin Monastery was closed. The Icon disappeared, and the relics of Saint Theodosios were confiscated by the Soviet authorities and placed in a storeroom of the Vologda Museum. Since 1998 his relics have been kept in the church of the Nativity of Christ at Tot'ma, since the Savior-Sumorin Monastery was in a dilapidated state. Iconographers restored the Totemsk-Sumorin Icon, and on May 10, 2002, the holy Icon was returned to Tot'ma. The church of the Nativity of Christ was consecrated on the same day.
The wonderworking Icon is not only called Totemsk, but also Sumorin. The latter name is borrowed from the surname of Saint Theodosios — Sumorin. Both names are often combined and so the Icon is called the Totemsk-Sumorin Icon of the Mother of God, or even Savior-Sumorin.
This Icon of the Mother of God is renowned for its numerous miracles. Sometimes, in answer to their prayers, Saint Theodosios appears to sick people, holding the holy Icon in his hands, and healing them.
The Totemsk-Sumorin Icon is commemorated on January 28, and also on June 29.
Saints Archilius and Luarsaab
No information available at this time.