Thursday, June 9, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we remember Ephram of Syria and his place in Syriac Christianity.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 9th of June 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Today we head back to the 4th century to remember Ephram the Syrian- an often overlooked character in church history as his tradition of Syriac Christianity. Let’s do a little introduction today to that church by way of its most famous doctor.

First: Syriac refers to a group of Semitic languages, including Aramaic. Syriac Christianity, therefore, spoke a language very similar to that of Jesus. We have a record of this language and these Christians from the 1st century- and in the first few centuries of the church, we have some of the earliest liturgical writings in Syriac, which will impact the Eastern churches in particular, but the western church as well. A chief author of these liturgies were Ephram the Syrian- a deacon and composer of over 1,000 writings. He was known as the Harp of the Holy Spirit and the Deacon of Edessa.

Edessa, in modern-day Turkey, was once one of the centers of the Christian church. According to one source, it was the “intellectual capital in the Christian Orient.” Unlike Western Roman Christians and Eastern Greek Christians, there was no empire to protect this church. His hometown was ceded to the Persians by the Romans during Ephram's life, and Ephram became an exile.

As a member of the Syriac church, he has also been overlooked in the Western church as part of the Eastern Church that wasn’t Greek and rejected some of the categories used at the council of Ephesus and Chalcedon. These churches lived a nomadic existence across the Middle East and spread to India. Some of them might be referred to as “monophysites” or Nestorian, but these Christians do not use these terms for themselves.

Ephram the Syrian is the premier voice for this broad tradition. He has been recognized in the Roman Catholic Church as a doctor of the church- which is significant as many of the churches he influenced are not in communion with Rome. He was born, most likely, in 306. He served as a deacon but rejected the monastic life and the role of a Bishop (one source claims he feigned madness to escape being made Bishop). His poetry held his theology and would shape the liturgical traditions of many Eastern churches. He would write even some his polemical works in meter. His hymns were significant for their inclusion of female voices (well… had there been more women in the church, it might have gone better for the young men when their voices started to change…).

Ephram was so esteemed that many of his followers gave him the ultimate honor, an honor by the way which stinks for historians, that is, they wrote all kinds of works and attributed them to him. This never helps us except to show that everyone wanted to be like Ephram.

Furthermore, his works are significant for their use of symbolism inspired by Persian thought. Living in the near east, Syriac Christians didn’t have an exclusive place in culture as was more common in Constantinople and Rome- thus, we see in Ephram and others more of a propensity to interact with, and borrow from, other traditions.

The Deacon of Edessa, the Harp of the Holy Spirit Ephram the Syrian, died on this day in 373. He is celebrated across communions East, West, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant.

The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary, from Ephesians.

17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God known to you. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, 19 and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of June 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who, fully intact, can hit the high notes. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who would also feign madness to escape being made a Bishop; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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