In February 2013 I attended a study day on Church Fathers at the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge, dedicated to St Ephrem the Syrian by Dr Sebastian Brock, probably the world’s foremost expert on Syriac Christianity. In the morning Dr Brock introduced St Ephrem’s life and his times, and in the afternoon we had a chance to consider some of his profound and moving writings which are available in English translations, in particular by Dr Brock. It is interesting to note that St Ephrem wrote in the Syriac language, which is a descendant of Aramaic language spoken by Jesus. One often hears that it is not just what is taught but also who teaches it that matters – and Dr Brock’s lecture was a proof of how a dedicated scholar who deeply cares about the subject of his studies makes a huge difference.
I have found particularly interesting the context of St Ephrem’s life and work: although he was born in Nisibis he had to move to Edessa, which at that time was full of different religions, philosophies and sects. In this multicultural and perhaps “cosmopolitan” city he wrote his hymns and other works in defence of Nicene Christianity which were soon appreciated by churches even far away from Edessa. His writings tell us of a deeply spiritual and intelligent, larger than life man, and were so influential and popular that a large body of pseudepigrapha attributed to him and hagiography about him exist. He went on to be to recognised as a saint by both Eastern and Western churches and in 1920 was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XV. Dr Brock’s The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual World Vision of Saint Ephrem is a good introduction to St Ephrem’s outstanding works by an outstanding scholar.
You can watch Dr Brock’s lecture on Vimeo.