June 9, 2013

Syrian Singer

Pour out on us, O Lord, that same Spirit by which your deacon Ephrem rejoiced to proclaim in sacred song the mysteries of faith; and so gladden our hearts that we, like him, may be devoted to you alone; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Ephrem was a deacon and a poet. It is said that he never smiled, but perhaps a smile would be too weak to capture the cosmic joy he celebrated. One of my favorite hymns in the Hymnal 1982 is based on the work of Ephrem. I always find myself choked up on the last verse, with its powerful avalanche of paradoxes.

From God Christ's deity came forth,
His manhood from humanity;
his priesthood from Melchizedek,
his royalty from David's tree:
praised be his Oneness.

He joined with guests at wedding feast,
Yet in the wilderness did fast;
he taught within the temple's gates;
his people saw him die at last:
praised be his teaching.

The dissolute he did not scorn,
Nor turn from those who were in sin;
he for the righteous did rejoice
but bade the fallen to come in:
praised be his mercy.

He did not disregard the sick;
To simple ones his word was given;
and he descended to the earth
and, his work done, went up to heaven:
praised be his coming.

Who then, my Lord, compares to you?
The Watcher slept, the Great was small,
the Pure baptized, the Life who died,
the King abased to honor all:
praised be your glory.

Hymn 443, translated by John Howard Rhys, Adapted and altered by F Bland Tucker

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

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