Friday, April 19, 2013

The Harp of the Holy Spirit

The second reading in this mornings Office of Readings is from a sermon on Our Lord by Ephrem of Syria. After being--what?--moved, delighted, enchanted, thrilled by this reading, I looked Ephrem up in Witness of the Saints by Milton Walsh  (fantastic reference on Church Fathers/Doctors represented in the Office of Readings).  It wasn't a surprise to learn that he was considered the "greatest poet of the patristic era and has been called 'The Harp of the Holy Spirit'."  He actually composed most of his theological writings and sermons in verse.  The sermon from which today's reading is taken is one of the few prose examples we have from Ephrem, but it' pretty poetic prose, if you ask me. The imagery is glorious. Here's a little bit, but the best thing to do is go to the ibreviary widget on the right and read the whole thing:

Death trampled our Lord underfoot, but he in his turn treated death as a highroad for his own feet. He submitted to it, enduring it willingly, because by this means he would be able to destroy death in spite of itself. Death had its own way when our Lord went out from Jerusalem carrying his cross; but when by a loud cry from that cross he summoned the dead from the underworld, death was powerless to prevent it.

Death slew him by means of the body which he had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. Concealed beneath the cloak of his manhood, his godhead engaged death in combat; but in slaying our Lord, death itself was slain. It was able to kill natural human life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of man.

Isn't that gorgeous?  I know some people don't like combat imagery in spiritual writing, but I find it glorious. Energizing.

Next post: book winner announced. Check back this afternoon.


  1. Perhaps you've encountered the prayer of St Ephrem? It's often used during Lent, especially by Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox.

    O Lord and Master of my life, give me not the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust for power and idle talk.

    But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love.

    Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brother. For blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.

  2. Oh yes I absolutely loved this one. I'm a huge fan of martial imagery. I love the image of his godhead hidden under the cloak of his manhood. But I think my favorite is in the paragraph after the bit you excerpt here about Christ riding the chariot of his body into hell.

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