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INTRODUCTION

This is first of two sermons on this subject, the second of which is considerably longer and appears to have been delivered on a Sunday. Both are written in heptasyllabic verse, called in Syriac the ‘Metre of Mar Ephrem’. The latter is followed by two short sermons, which are described in their titles as being in verse. The first of these, which the Greek editor Phrantzolas, not having realised that the first two sermons are also in verse, describes as a metrical extension of the second sermon On The Fathers Who Have Completed Their Course, is tetrasyllabic, the second heptasyllabic. It is not possible to divide the poem into regular stanzas, and it is not unlikely that the text is corrupt, but there is as yet no critical edition. The paragraph divisions in the following translation are simply to assist the reader. Each line of the translation represents two seven syllable lines of the original, divided by a caesura in the middle. In one or places I have started a new sense paragraph at the caesura. Translated from the Greek text edited by K. Phrantzolas [Thessaloniki 1989. Volume 2 pp. 9-16]

SERMON
ON THE FATHERS
WHO HAVE COMPLETED THEIR COURSE

My heart is in pain. Have compassion for me, brethren.
Blessed servants, come, listen to me.
My soul is grieved, my nerves are in pain.

Where are tears, where compunction,
that I may wash my body with tears and groans?

Who will remove me to an uninhabited place,
where there is no hubbub which cuts off tears,
no confusion which prevents weeping?

I raised my voice and wept to God
with bitter tears, and I said with groans,

‘Heal me, Lord, that I may be healed,
because my heart is in grievous pain
and its groans do not allow me to take
a moment’s rest.

For I see, Master,
that like choice gold you take your saints
from this vain world to the repose of life.

Like a wise farmer with understanding,
when he sees the fruits have ripened well,
harvests them at once, that they may not be spoiled
by any harmful damage, so you, O Saviour,
gather in your elect who have toiled in holiness.

But we the idle, slack by choice,
have remained so in our hardness,
and our fruit has always remained unripe,

for we have not had any firm intent to ripen well
by good works and to be harvested in holiness
into the granary of life.

Our fruit
has no tears to ripen it,
no compunction to make it blossom
from the breeze of tears, no humility
to shade it from above
against the burning heat, no non-possessiveness,
so that it is not weighed down by enemies,

no love of God, the mighty root
which bears fruit, no non-anxiety
for earthly things, no vigil,
no watchful mind, alert in prayer.

Instead of all these fair and excellent virtues,
it has the opposite: fierce anger and rage
which buffets the fruit and makes it useless;
love of possessions which weighs it down heavily;
great despondency.

All these defects,
how can they allow the fruit to ripen in holiness,
so that it is of use to its own Master,
the heavenly husbandman? Alas, alas, my soul,
cry out and weep, so speedily deprived
of perfect fathers and venerable ascetics.

Where are the fathers? Where are the saints?
Where are the watchers? Where the alert?

Where the humble? And where are the meek?
Where the still? Where the self-controlled?

Where the devout? Where the non-possessors?
Where the repentant, well-pleasing to God?

It was they who stood in pure prayer
in the presence of God, like angels of God,
almost watering the earth with the sweet tears
and compunction.

Where are God’s friends,
filled with the love of God? Possessing nothing
corruptible on earth, but constantly taking
up their cross they followed the Saviour,

walking safely by the narrow road,
taking absolute care not to fall into ravines
in an untrodden desert, waterless and dark,

but on the even road of the truth
of God’s commands, ever full of the light
of Christ’s orders, journeying in a fair
way of life and fervently serving God,
willingly afflicted in this vain life.

And therefore God loved them dearly
and gathered them into the haven of life
and into eternal joy, that they might be glad there,
and in the Paradise of pleasure and the heavenly bridal chamber
they might take their delight in the immortal Bridegroom
with the greatest joy.

They have gone from here
to God, the holy, with them they have
their lamps all prepared. Their virtue
is not found among us now. Their ascetic practice
is not found among us now. Their self-mastery
is not found among us now. Their piety
is not found among us now. Their meekness
is not found among us now. Their non-possessiveness
is not found among us now. Their keeping vigil
is not found among us now. Nor is love for God
found among us now. Christ’s compassion
is not found among us now. Nor is sympathy for his members
found among us. But we are all
savage, untamed and quite unable
to endure one another. Hour by hour our tongues
are fiery darts directed against one another.

We all seek honour, we all love glory,
we all love possessions, we are all slackers,

we are all slumberers. We are all crooked,
full of energy for gossip, sluggish for prayer,

resolute for roving, feeble at stillness,
all too eager for pleasure, sullen at self-mastery,

cold at loving and hot at hating,
sluggish at good deeds, eager for wicked.

Who would not lament and who would not weep
at our disposition, so full of slackness?

Those fathers, who before us became
pleasing to the Lord and saved themselves,
were not slack like this. The perfect did not have
two thoughts, but only one:
how they might be saved. They were a pure mirror
for all who saw them. One of them was able
to intercede with God for many people.

Again two of them had strength to stand
in the presence of God with holy prayers,
to implore with holiness the God who loves mankind
on behalf of thousands. Alas, alas, my soul,
in what sort of time are we? Alas, my beloved brothers,
what dregs of wickedness have we now reached?

Wilfully we do not know. Because the eye of the soul
is not alert through great blindness
and vain distractions, for this reason we are
unable to perceive the tribulation upon us.

See, the holy and just are even now being chosen
and gathered into the harbour of life,

that they may not see the tribulation and scandals
which are coming upon us through our sins.

They are being chosen, and we are nodding off.
They are being snatched away, and we are being dragged off
towards the vain world. They are being assembled,
and we are asleep. They are going
with boldness towards God,
and we are distracted upon earth. The Lord’s coming
is at the doors, and we doubt.

The heavenly trumpet is ready to sound
at God’s command, and the universe to shake
at its dread call, that it may rouse the dead
and that each may be rewarded in accordance with their deeds.

The powers of heaven stand ready
in their ranks to advance with fear
before the Bridegroom as he comes in glory
on the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead;
and we do not believe. What then will come
upon us in that hour, brethren?

How may we there defend ourselves to God
for our negligence of our salvation?

If we do not now hasten and weep unrestrainedly,
repenting fully in humility of soul
and great meekness, how each one of us is going
to lament at the tribulation! Changing our ways,
let each one of us say with bitter tears,
‘Woe is me, a sinner! What has happened of a sudden?

How has my life of slackness passed away?
Thoughtless, I do not know how my time has
been stolen from me. Where are those days
of stillness, which I spent
in distractions, that I may repent
in sackcloth and ashes? And nothing has been gained
from many words.’

When we see the saints
again in glory, flying in light
on the clouds of the air to meet Christ,
the King of Glory, but see ourselves
in the great tribulation, who will be able to bear
that shame and that dread reproach?

Let us be alert, my brethren, let us be alert, beloved,
let us be alert, friends of God, beloved children
of God the Father, let us come to ourselves,

and let gather our thoughts a little
from this empty life. Let us fall down before God
with many tears, let us beseech him
with zeal unrestrainedly, that he may deliver us
from the unquenchable fire and bitter punishment.

May we not be separated from him, the sweet Master,
who loved us and gave himself
for us on the Cross. I, unworthy
and a sinner, beg you all
and implore you all, in your prayer
and pure supplication, pour out tears
also for me, the slacker, that I may feel compunction
and weep with you; that my blind heart
may be a little enlightened
and that I may seek God, the holy Saviour,
so that he grant me perfect zeal
to repent with speed, until there is time
for my tears to be accepted, and with you, my brethren,
I too, though unworthy of life, shall be saved.

I beg you, beloved, accept the entreaty
of the sinner Ephrem, your slack brother.

And let us all earnestly endeavour to make the holy God
merciful while we have time.
For see, the Lord is standing at the door
to bring to an end this vain age.

This translation by Archimandrite Ephrem 1997. 


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Archimandrite Ephrem

This page was last updated on 03 November 2008