Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven. — Saint Ephraem
The greatest Syriac Father and most renowned Patristic poet, Ephraem the deacon is an example of liturgical fidelity and charitable service to all. Perhaps more well known in the Eastern Churches, St. Ephraem’s Feast Day is today. Over here at First Communion Stories, we strive to honor the Eucharist and Holy Mass. St. Ephraem used beautiful language and imagery when speaking about the Eucharist.
To speak of the Eucharist, Ephrem used two images, embers or burning coal and the pearl. The burning coal theme was taken from the Prophet Isaiah (cf. 6:6). It is the image of one of the seraphim who picks up a burning coal with tongs and simply touches the lips of the Prophet with it in order to purify them; the Christian, other hand, touches and consumes the Burning Coal which is Christ himself:
“In your bread hides the Spirit who cannot he consumed; in your wine is the fire that cannot he swallowed. The Spirit in your bread, fire in your wine: behold a wonder heard from our lips.
“The seraph could not bring himself to touch the glowing coal with his fingers, it was Isaiah’s mouth alone that it touched; neither did the fingers grasp it nor the mouth swallow it; but the Lord has granted us to do both these things.
“The fire came down with anger to destroy sinners, but the fire of grace descends on the bread and settles in it. Instead of the fire that destroyed man, we have consumed the fire in the bread and have been invigorated” (Hymn De Fide 10:8-10).
Here again is a final example of St. Ephrem’s hymns, where he speaks of the pearl as a symbol of the riches and beauty of faith:
“I placed (the pearl), my brothers, on the palm of my hand, to be able to examine it. I began to look at it from one side and from the other: it looked the same from all sides. (Thus) is the search for the Son inscrutable, because it is all light. In its clarity I saw the Clear One who does not grow opaque; and in his purity, the great symbol of the Body of Our Lord, which is pure. In his indivisibility I saw the truth which is indivisible” (Hymn On the Pearl 1:2-3).
Both Benedict the XV and Benedict the XVI highly praised St. Ephraem.
“O Lord, we cannot go to the pool of Siloe to which you sent the blind man. But we have the chalice of Your Precious Blood, filled with life and light. The purer we are, the more we receive.”– St Ephrem