See how with the image of the king
Every coin is struck.
But a great general is unable
To stamp a penny with his image.
When someone stamps the image of the king,
One who stamps it in secret,
He is either burned or cut off.
How indeed he has dared, the one who
Stamped the image of himself of that of our Lord!
Response: Blessed is the one who stamps us with his name!
– St. Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns Against Heresies, Hymn 9H
In 299 Rome signed a peace treaty with the Sassanian Empire (the last Persian Empire) and acquired the city of Nisibis (now Nusaybin, Turkey). The second bishop of Nisibis, Jacob, was appointed as shepherd of a growing Christian community there in 308, the year Ephrem was born. Ephrem grew up in the church, became a deacon, and a prolific song writer, over 400 of which survive to today. These hymns were of practical theology and spoke to the troubled times and circumstances that the Christian community faced locally, regionally, and throughout the empire. After Constantine I died in 337 Shapur II besieged Nisibis three times unsuccessfully. Finally in 363 Nisibis was ceded back to Persia and Ephrem was exiled along with the entire Christian population. A true anomaly, Ephrem was an urbanite, deeply involved in supporting his community, who lived a common, ascetic life among certain members who agreed to give themselves to God in this specialized form of service…a photo-monastic, urban community. St. Ephrem was a signatory of the first Nicene Council, the official documents of which he put to lyrics and used to defend the church against the heresies of his day.
I am the wheat of Christ.
Origin reflectively linked martyrdom with the sacraments. With the end of formal persecution of Christianity within the Roman Empire the ascetic life and its accompanying contemplative requirement to live reflectively came to prominence, even in cities, even among the non-cloistered, as was Ephrem.
The martyrs gave witness during the day,
the ascetics bear witness during their vigils…
Crucify your body all night long in prayer…
If you do not yield to sleep,
count yourself among the martyrs.
Be a martyr in vigils
and may this martyrdom be a matter
between you and God alone.
– St. Ephrem
…harp of the spirit, deacon, confessor, Doctor of the Church, Venerable Father…de. 9 June, 373 of plague contracted from those to whom he sought to care.