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INTRODUCTION

This sermon on the Passion is one of the metrical texts in Greek attributed to St Ephrem the Syrian, which are discussed briefly in the general introduction to these translations. It is written in heptasyllabics, known in Syriac as the metre of St Ephrem. I have used the text published in Thessaloniki by K.G Phrantzolas in 1988. The Greek editor, not realising that the text is metrical, has from time to time emended to text, usually to improve the Greek. Most of these changes are unmetrical and I have disregarded them. In one or two places I have myself emended that text in order to restore the metre.

The text displays a number of interesting linguistic features, including one word that appears to attested nowhere else in Greek.

One of the most interesting passages in the poem is that which describes the Holy Spirit as having come forth in the form of a dove and rent the veil of the Temple at the moment of the Lord‘s death. I have never met this idea before and any help on identifying the source will be gratefully received.

So far as I am aware this text has never before been translated into English.

The Russian Typikon prescribes that a sermon by St Ephrem ‘On the Passion of the Saviour‘ be read be read after the Gospel at Matins on Great Friday. It may be that this is the one it has in mind.


Discourse On the Passion of the Saviour
by Our Venerable Father Ephrem the Syrian

I am afraid to speak
and touch with my tongue
this fearful narrative
concerning the Saviour.
For truly it is fearful
to narrate all this.

Our Lord
was given up today
into the hands of sinners!

For what reason then
was one who is holy
and without sin given up?

For having done no sin
he was given up today.

Come, let us examine closely
why Christ our Saviour
was given up.

For us, the ungodly,
the Master was given up.

Who would not marvel?
Who would not give glory?

When the slaves had sinned
the Master was given up.

The sons of perdition
and the children of darkness
went out in the darkness
to arrest the sun
who had the power
to consume them in an instant.

But the Master, knowing
their effrontery
and the force of their anger,
with gentleness,
by his own authority,
gave himself up
into the hands of the ungodly.

And lawless men, having bound
the most pure Master,
mocked the one
who had bound the strong one
with unbreakable bonds,
and set us free
from the bonds of sins.

They plaited a crown
of their own thorns,
the fruit borne
by the vine of the Jews.

In mockery
they called him ‘King’.
The lawless spat
in the face of the most pure,
at whose glance
all the Powers of heaven
and the ranks of Angels
quake with fear.

See, once again grief and tears
grip hold of my heart,
as I contemplate the Master
enduring outrage and insults,
scourgings, spitting
from slaves, and blows.

Come, observe well
the abundance of compassion,
the forbearance and mercy
of our sweet Master.

He had a useful slave
in the Paradise of delight,
and when he sinned
he was given to the torturers.

But when the Good One
saw his weakness of soul
he took compassion on the slave
and had mercy on him
and presented himself
to be scourged by him.

I wished to remain silent
because my mind
was utterly amazed;
but then again I was afraid
lest I reject
by my silence
my Saviour’s grace.
For my bones tremble
when I think of it.

The fashioner of all things,
our Lord himself,
was today arraigned
before Caiaphas,
like one of the condemned;
and one of the servants
struck him a blow.

My heart trembles
as I think on these things:
the slave is seated,
the Master stands,
and one full of iniquities
passes sentence
on the one who is sinless.

The heavens trembled,
earth’s foundations shuddered;
Angels and Archangels
all quailed with terror.
Gabriel and Michael
covered their faces
with their wings.

The Cherubim at the throne
were hidden beneath the wheels;
The Seraphim struck their wings
one with the other
at that moment,
when a servant gave
a blow to the Master.

How did earth’s foundations
endure the earthquake
and the tremor
at that moment,
when the Master was outraged?

I observe and I tremble
and again I am stunned,
when I see the long-suffering
of the loving Master.

For see my inward parts
tremble as I speak,
because the Creator,
who by grace fashioned
humanity from dust,
he the Fashioner is struck.

Let us fear, my brethren
and not simply listen.
The Saviour endured
all these things for us.

Wretched servant,
tell us why
you struck the Master?

All servants,
when they are set free,
receive a blow,
that they may obtain
freedom that perishes;
but you, miserable wretch,
unjustly gave a blow
to the liberator of all.

Did you perhaps expect
to receive from Caiaphas
a reward for your blow?

Had you perhaps not heard,
had you perhaps not learned
that Jesus is
the heavenly Master?

You gave a blow
to the Master of all things,
but became slave of slaves
to age on age,
a disgrace and abomination,
and condemned for ever
in unquenchable fire.

A great marvel, brethren,
it is to see the gentleness
of Christ the King!
Struck by a slave
he answered patiently,
with gentleness
and all reverence.

A servant is indignant,
the Master endures;
a servant is enraged,
the Master is kind.

At a time of anger,
who could endure
rage and disturbance?
But our Lord
submitted to all this
by his goodness.

Who can express
your long-suffering,
Master?

You that are longed for
and loved by Christ,
draw near, with compunction
and longing for the Saviour.

Come, let us learn
what took place today
in Sion, David’s city.

The longed-for and chosen
offspring of Abraham,
what did they do today?

They gave up to death
the most pure Master
on this day.

Christ our Saviour
was unjustly hanged
on the tree of the Cross
through lawless hands.

Come, let us all
wash our bodies
with tears and groans,
because our Lord,
the King of glory,
for us ungodly people
was given up to death.

If someone suddenly hears
of one truly beloved
having died,
or again, suddenly sees
the beloved himself
lying a dead corpse
before their eyes,
their appearance is altered,
and the brightness
of their sight is darkened.

So, in heaven’s height,
when it saw
the outrage to the Master
on the tree of the Cross,
the bright sun’s
appearance was altered;
it withdrew the rays
of its own brightness,
and unable to look on
the outrage to the Master,
clothed itself
in grief and darkness.

Likewise the Holy Spirit,
who is in the Father,
when he saw
the beloved Son
on the tree of the Cross,
rending the veil,
the temple’s adornment,
suddenly came forth
in the form of a dove.

All creation was
in fear and trembling
when the King of heaven,
the Saviour suffered;
while we sinners
for whom the only immortal
was given up
ever treat this with contempt.

We laugh each day
when we hear of the Saviour’s
sufferings and outrage.

We enjoy ourselves daily
filled with great zeal
to deck ourselves in fine clothing.

The sun in the sky
because of the outrage to its Master
changed its radiance
into darkness,
so that we, when we saw it,
might follow its example.

The Master on the Cross
was outraged for your sake,
while you, miserable wretch,
ever deck yourself
in splendid raiment.

Does your heart not tremble,
does your mind not quail,
when you hear such things?

The One who alone is sinless
was for you given over
to a shameful death,
to outrages and revilings,
while you hear all this
with lofty indifference.

The whole rational flock
should look intently
on its shepherd,
and ever long for him
and respect him,
because for its sake
he suffered, he
the dispassionate and all pure.

Nor should it deck itself
in corruptible garments,
nor yet indulge in pleasure
and worldly nourishment,
but should give its Maker pleasure
by ascesis and true reverence.

Let us not become
imitators of the Jews;
a people harsh and disobedient
and that ever rejects the blessings
and benefactions of God.

God Most High
for the sake of Abraham
and his covenant
from the beginning bore
the stubbornness of the people.

From heaven he gave
them Manna to eat;
but they, the unworthy,
longed for garlic,
evil-smelling foods.

Again, he gave them water
from the rock in the desert,
while they in place of these
gave him vinegar
when they hanged him on a Cross.

Let us be careful, brethren,
not to be found
as fellows of the Jews
who crucified the Master,
their own Creator.

Let us always be fearful,
keeping before our eyes
the Saviour’s sufferings.

Let us always keep in mind
his sufferings,
because it was for us he suffered,
the dispassionate Master;
for us he was crucified,
the only sinless One.

What return can we make
for all this, brethren?

Let us be attentive to ourselves
and not despise his sufferings.

Draw near all of you,
children of the Church,
bought with the precious
and holy blood
of the most pure Master.

Come, let us meditate
on his sufferings with tears,
thinking on fear,
meditating with trembling,
saying to ourselves,
‘Christ our Saviour
for us the impious
was given over to death’.

Learn well, brother,
what it is you hear:
God who is without sin,
Son of the Most High,
for you was given up.

Open your heart,
learn in detail
his sufferings
and say to yourself:
God who is without sin
today was given up,
today was mocked,
today was abused,
today was struck,
today was scourged,
today wore
a crown of thorns,
today was crucified,
he, the heavenly Lamb.

Your heart will tremble,
your soul will shudder.

Shed tears every day
by this meditation
on the Master’s sufferings.

Tears become sweet,
the soul is enlightened
that always meditates
on Christ’s sufferings.

Always meditating thus,
shedding tears every day,
giving thanks to the Master
for the sufferings
that he suffered for you,
so that in the day
of his Coming
your tears may become
your boast and exaltation
before the judgement seat.

Endure as you meditate
on the loving Master’s
sufferings,
endure temptations,
give thanks from your soul.

Blessed is the one
who has before his eyes
the heavenly Master
and his sufferings,
and has crucified himself
from all the passions
and earthly deeds,
who has become an imitator
of his own Master.

This is understanding,
this is the attitude
of servants who love God,
when they become ever
imitators of their Master
by good works.

Shameless man, do you watch
the most pure Master
hanging on the Cross,
while you pass the time
that you have to live on earth
in pleasure and laughter?

Don’t you know, miserable wretch,
that the crucified Lord
will demand an account
of all your disdainful deeds,
for which, when you hear of them, you show no concern,
and as you take your pleasure
you laugh
and enjoy yourself with indifference?

The day will come,
that fearful day,
for you to weep unceasingly
and cry out in the fire
from your pains,
and there will be no one at all
to answer
and have mercy on your soul.

I worship you, Master,
I bless you, O Good One,
I entreat you, O Holy One,
I fall down before you, Lover of humankind,
and I glorify you, O Christ,
because you, only-begotten
Master of all,
alone without sin,
for me the unworthy sinner
were given over to death,
death on a Cross,
that you might free
the sinner’s soul
from the bonds of sins.

And what shall I give you
in return for this, Master?

Glory to you, Lover of humankind!
Glory to you, O Merciful!
Glory to you, O Long-suffering!
Glory to you, who pardon
every fault!
Glory to you, who came down
to save our souls!
Glory to you, incarnate
in the Virgin’s womb!
Glory to you, who were bound!
Glory to you, who were scourged!
Glory to you, who were crucified!
Glory to you, who were buried!
Glory to you, who were raised!
Glory to you, who were proclaimed!
Glory to you, who were believed!
Glory to you, who were taken up!
Glory to you, who were enthroned
with great glory
at the Father’s right hand,
and are coming again
with the glory of the Father
and the holy Angels
to judge every soul
that has despised
your holy sufferings
in that dread
and fearful hour,
when the powers of heaven
will be shaken;
when Angels, Archangels,
Cherubim and Seraphim
will come all together
with fear and trembling
before your glory;
when all the foundations
of the earth will tremble,
and everything that has breath
will shudder at your great
and unendurable glory.

In that hour
your hand will hide me
under its wings
and my soul be delivered
from the fearful fire,
the gnashing of teeth,
the outer darkness
and unending weeping,
that blessing you, I may say,
‘Glory to the One, who wished
to save the sinner
through the many acts of pity
of his compassion.


All texts and translations on this page are copyright to
Archimandrite Ephrem

This page was last updated on 03 November 2008