The Eucharistic Theology in The Thought of Ephrem the Syrian
Written By: Tenny Thomas on Jan 14th, 2011 and filed under Articles, We Believe, Youth And Faith.
Part 1 – Ephrem and the Liturgy
Life of Ephrem
In this paper, I will analyze Ephrem’s most important madrashe (teaching) on the liturgy, “The Mysteries of the Eucharist,” along with his madrashe on Faith, Pearls, Church, Unleavened Bread and Nativity where Ephrem considers the Holy Eucharist. Ephrem the Syrian, known as ‘Harp of the Holy Spirit’ is undoubtedly the greatest poet and theologian that the Syrian Church ever produced. He is described as ‘the greatest poet of the patristic age and perhaps the only theologian-poet to rank beside Dante.’ Ephrem was not only a well-known figure in the Syriac-speaking world but also had a great reputation in the Greek East as well as the Latin West. Within the patristic age itself Ephrem’s reputation as a holy man, poet and a theologian was widely known far beyond his Syrian homeland. Less than fifty years after Ephrem’s death Palladius included him among the ascetic saints whose memory he celebrated in the Lausiac History. Sozomen the historian celebrated Ephrem’s memory as a popular ecclesiastical writer, some of whose works had been translated into Greek even during his lifetime.
For Ephrem, the sacred is a dimension that does not submit to analytical investigation by the faculties of reason; only the more fluid logic of scriptural imagery is subtle and allusive enough to evoke it. As Sebastian Brock, a leading authority on early Syriac – speaking Christianity, has eloquently put it: “So astounding is the nature of the Christian mystery — God not just becoming Man, but becoming the very Bread for man to eat — that it is often more meaningful to describe this paradox in the language of poetry, where parable, myth and symbol can perhaps approximate to spiritual reality rather more successfully than straightforward theological description”.
Although Ephrem wrote biblical commentary, prose refutations of the teachings of those whose views he regarded as false, prose meditations, dialogue poems and metrical homilies (memre), there can be no doubt that his preferred genre was the “teaching song” (madrosho). Translators have often called these songs “hymns”, but since they are not primarily songs of praise, the term is not really apt. Rather, they are “teaching songs” (madroshe); they were to be chanted to the accompaniment of the lyre (kennoro), on the model of David, the Psalmist. Perhaps the closest analogue to the madrosho is the Hebrew Piyyut, a genre of liturgical poetry that was sung or chanted during Jewish religious services. Popular in Palestine from the eighth century on, the Piyuut featured biblical themes and literary devices strikingly similar to those employed by Ephrem.
Ephrem composed his “teaching songs” for the liturgy. According to Jerome, Ephrem composed his “teaching songs” for the Divine Liturgy and were to be recited after the scripture lessons. Madroshe would eventually find a place in the liturgy of the hours in the Syriac speaking churches from the earliest periods for which textual witnesses remain. These madroshe consisted of meditations on the symbols that God distributed in nature and scripture. These symbols, which Ephrem often called roze (sing, rozo) in Syriac, which in turn, by God’s grace, discloses to the human mind those aspects of the hidden reality that are within the range of human intelligence.
There are several symbols that Ephrem uses to explain the Eucharist that I will analyze, notably, the Eucharist as “Food”, “Living Coal”, “Pearl” and “Medicine of Life.” In his madrashe on Faith, Ephrem explains that if John the Baptist held even Christ’s sandal straps in awe, how can he hope to approach Christ’s very body? Ephrem takes refuge in the example of the woman who gained healing just through touching Christ’s garment – which in another sense is indeed his body, being the garment of his divinity. The hidden power that lay in Christ’s garment is also present in the Bread and the Wine, consecrated by the fire of the Spirit.
Qurbono (Ephrem's term for Eucharist)
Ephrem views the Eucharistic body of Christ in dynamic continuity with the actual body of the historical Jesus. As the body of Christ, the Eucharist partakes of the entire historical and eternal reality of Christ in all its complexity — divine and human, corporeal and incorporeal, exalted and earthbound, and, of course, body and blood. In other words, for Ephrem the Eucharist is nothing less than the entire eschatological mystery of Christ taking place here and now in history:
Your bread killed insatiable death which had made us its bread. Your cup put an end to death which gulped us down. Lord, we have eaten and drunk you, not to exhaust you, but to have life in you.
Although Ephrem never used the Greek word “Eucharist,” he had much to say about the Body and the Blood of the Lord in the bread and wine of the church’s daily sacrificial offering to God. For his thoughts on the Body and Blood of the Lord, and their place in the life of the church, one must survey the wide range of his madroshe, searching for the verses in which he instructs the faith of the Christians in attendance at the sacred mysteries.
Qurbono is the Syriac word Ephrem used for the liturgical action we call the Eucharist. It has the sense of “sacrificial offering”, and, as it occurs in the madroshe, refers both to the sacrificial offering associated with the Jewish Passover and to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In Ephrem’s world, Christians offered the holy qurbono not only at Easter, Sundays and major feast days, but every day.
This is clearly implicated in one of Ephrem’s madroshe, On Paradise:
The assembly of the saints is on the type of Paradise. In it the fruit of the Enlivener of All is plucked each day. In it, my brothers, are squeezed the grapes of the Enlivener of All.
Ephrem refers to the daily qurbono as “the breaking of the bread and the cup of salvation,” often speaking of our Lord’s “breaking his own body”, at the Passover supper, an obvious evocation of the close connection in his mind between Calvary and the Last Supper. Ephrem says of this particular event:
He broke the bread with his own hands in token of the sacrifice of his body. He mixed the cup with his own hands, in token of the sacrifice of his blood. He offered up himself in sacrifice, the priest of our atonement.
For Ephrem, “the Last Supper and its table symbolizes the first church and the first altar, and by extension, representative of all churches and all altars”. Therefore, in his madroshe, Ephrem often calls attention to the prefigurations of the Eucharist in the New Testament and the numerous types and symbols of it in the narratives of the Old Testament. In his estimation, they all find their ultimate focus in the Last Supper and in its consummation on the cross, when blood and water flowed from the pierced side of Christ (John 19:34). This represents the sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism respectively, and thereby inaugurating the era of the church. Ephrem’s thought on this subject is particularly rich in symbolism, involving a typological connection between the Cherubim’s sword that guarded the way to the tree of life in paradise after Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:24), and the lance which opened Christ’s side on the tree of the cross, thus providing a new entry to glory for the new Adam’s progeny:
Ephrem’s symbolic interpretation of the piercing of Christ’s side is particularly complicated. Christ is the second Adam, from whose side is born the second Eve, the Church; yet through that opening we enter paradise, to come again to the Tree of Life, which is sometimes the Cross but also sometimes Christ himself.
1. Sebastian Brock, “The Harp of the Spirit”. Studies Supplementary to Sobornost, No. 4 (1983) pp. 5.
2. Robert Murray S.J., Symbols of Church and Kingdom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1975), pp. 31.
3. C. Butler, The Lausiac History of Palladius (2 vols., Texts and Studies, 6; Cambridge, 1898 & 1904), vol. II, pp. 126-127.
4. J. Bidez & G. H. Hansen (eds.), Sozomenus, Kirchengeschichte (Griechische Christliche Schriftsteller, no. 5.; Berlin, 1960), pp. 127-130. Glenn Chesnut, The First Christian Histories: Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, and Evagrius. Paris: Éditions Beauchesne, 1977.
5. Sebastian Brock, “The Harp of the Spirit”. Studies Supplementary to Sobornost, No. 4 (1983) pp. 5.
6. Sidney Griffith, “Images of Ephrem: the Syrian Holy Man and his Church”, Traditio (1989-1990), pp. 7-33. Sidney H. Griffith, “Spirit in the Bread; Fire in the Wine: The Eucharist as Living Medicine in the Thought of Ephraem the Syrian,” Modern Theology 15.2 (1999), pp. 225-246.
7. Koonammakkal Thoma Kathanar, “Changing Views on Ephrem”, Christian Orient 14 (1993), pp. 113-130. Also refer to Andrew Palmer, “A Lyre without a Voice, the Poetics and the Politics of Ephrem the Syrian”, ARAM 5 (1993), pp. 371-399.
8. Sebastian Brock, “The Poetic Artistry of St. Ephrem: an Analysis of H. Azym. III”, Parole de l’Orient 6 & 7 (1975-1976), pp. 21-28. Also see J Schumann, “Hebrew Liturgical Poetry and Christian Hymnology”, The Jewsh Quarterly Review, n. s. 44 (1953-1954), pp. 123. They are also comparable to the Byzantine Kontakion.
9. Pierre Yousif, L’Eucharistie chez Saint Ephrem de Nisibe. OCA 224 (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Orientale 1984).
10. Sebastian Brock, “From Ephrem to Romanos”, in E. A. Livingstone (ed.), Studia Patristica (vol. XX; Leuven: Peeters, 1989), pp. 139-151.
11. All the translations given in this paper are taken from Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz edited, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, Sebastian Brock’s, Harp of the Spirit, Kathleen McVey’s, Ephrem the Syrian and Rodrigues Pereira’s, Studies in Aramaic Poetry.
12. Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, (Brigham Young University Press, Provo, 2006), pp. 200 – 221.
13. Sidney Griffith, “Setting Right the Church of Syria: Saint Ephrem’s Hymns against Heresies”, in William E. Klingshirn & Mark Vessey (Ed.s), The Limits of Ancient Christianity: Essays on Late Antique Thought and Culture in Honor of R.A. Markus, (University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1999).
14. Sebastian Brock, “The Harp of the Spirit”. Studies Supplementary to Sobornost, No. 4 (1983) pp. 21 – 26. Also refer to Edmund Beck, Des heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Hymnen de Paradiso und Contra Juhanum (CSCO, vols 174 & 175, Louvain Peeters, 1957), VI 8.
15. Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, (Brigham Young University Press, Provo, 2006), pp. 96 – 111. See also Edmund Beck, Des heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Hymnen contra Haereses (CSCO, vols 169 & 170, Louvam Peeters, 1957), XXVII 3.
16. Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, (Brigham Young University Press, Provo, 2006), pp. 112 – 121. Edmund Beck, Paschahymnen, De Azymis, XII 5.
17. Ibid., Beck, Paschahymnen, De Azymis, II 7.
18. Edmund Beck, “Die Eucharistie bei Ephram”, Oriens Christianus 38 (1954), pp. 50.
19. Pierre Yousif, L’Eucharistie chez Saint Ephrem de Nisibe. OCA 224 (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Orientale 1984), pp. 31 – 107.
20. Robert Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom, pp. 126. See also R Murray, “The Lance Which Reopened Paradise, a Mysterious Reading in the Early Syriac Fathers”, Orientalia Christiana Periodica 39 (1973), pp. 224 – 234,. S. Brock, “The Mysteries Hidden m the Side of Christ”, in S. Brock, Studies in Syriac Spirituality (The Syrian Churches Series, Vol. 13, Poona Anita Printers, 1988), pp. 62
The Eucharistic Theology in The Thought of Ephrem the Syrian Written By: Tenny Thomas on Jan 22nd, 2011 and filed under Articles, We Believe, Youth And Faith.
Part II – Eucharistic Symbolism in Ephrem
Eucharist as “Food”
In Ephrem’s writings, the Eucharist emerges as a complex reality that can never be reduced or exclusively equated with any one of its aspects such as, the Eucharist as “food”. Rather, a flexible and often complex exchange of images allows the Eucharist to be viewed from seemingly paradoxical vantage points simultaneously. By merging the scriptural identification of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and with the scriptural identification of Jesus as Bread, Ephrem arrives at a composite image which includes both elements: “The Shepherd has become the food for his sheep” (Madrosho on the Church 3, 21). The same dynamic process is at work in the following chain of images that focus on a single reality, but is viewed from different perspectives:
Blessed is the Shepherd who became a lamb for our atonement. Blessed is the Vine that became a chalice for our salvation. And blessed is the Farmer who became the Wheat that was planted, and the Sheaf that was harvested. (Madrosho on the Nativity 3, 15)
Eucharist as The Power to Forgive Sin
References to the Eucharist in its capacity to forgive sins abound in Ephrem’s writings, and as the following excerpts illustrate, his discussion draws from a variety of biblically inspired images:
"I am astonished by our will; though strong, it has let itself be conquered; though a ruler, it has let itself be enslaved; victorious, it desired defeat. See, the foolish scribe has signed his own bill of debts. Blessed is the one who granted us freedom with his bread, and erased the bill of our debts with his chalice." (Madrosho on the Church 32, 2)
Just as Adam killed life in his own body, in this very same way, in the body of the one who perfects all, See, the just were perfected, and sinners have found forgiveness. (Madrosho on Unleavened Bread)
In Ephrem, Fire represents an image of the divine presence and takes on the added dimension of purifying and cleansing when it is viewed in a Eucharistic context. In the Eucharist, fire’s potential to destroy gives way to its ability to vivify and save those who receive it:
The Fire of mercy has come down to dwell in bread. Instead of the Fire that consumed people, you have eaten Fire in the bread, and have found life. (Madrosho on Faith 10, 12)
Eucharist as “Burning Coals”
Fire imagery figures in a number of expressions used in reference to the Eucharist in Syriac texts. For example, particles of the Eucharistic bread are often called “embers” or “burning coals” (gmurotho), usually with reference to the passage in Isaiah 6:6-7, where the prophet speaks of the Seraphim who touched his mouth with a burning coal from the altar of the temple. In an image of the Eucharist as cleansing and purifying, Ephrem links the divine fire of God’s presence to the image of Isaiah’s purification with a fiery coal. Ephrem makes this connection in his madrosho on Faith. He says,
The Seraph could not touch the fire’s coal with his fingers, the coal only just touched Isaiah’s mouth: the Seraph did not hold it, Isaiah did not consume it, but us our Lord has allowed to do both! To the angels who are spiritual Abraham brought food for the body and they ate. The new miracle is that our mighty Lord has given to bodily man Fire and Spirit to eat and to drink.
Ephrem’s liturgical theology had a profound and lasting influence on the development of Syriac liturgy, where the image of the Eucharist as a purifying fire is commonplace. The power of the Eucharist to forgive sin assumes a prominent liturgical role in the Eucharistic prayers of Syriac speaking Churches. After the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer we find a virtual rite of communal penance that includes an imposition of hands over the congregation by the priest and an accompanying prayer, which speaks of the remission of “unconscious” as well as “conscious sins.” Immediately following this rite, the celebrant announces to the congregation, which he now addresses as “Holy,” with the invitation: “Holy things for the Holy.”
In the following verses, preserved only in an Armenian translation, Ephrem speaks of that “moment” in the liturgy when the Eucharistic bread is broken. The mosaic of images depicts the Eucharist reaching beyond the grave to refresh the dead, while on earth, it forgives the sins of the living:
With awe and discernment; let our hearts revere his death, and our souls yearn for his Mystery. The people of Israel glorified in that manna that even the uncircumcised ate; how much more should we then exalt in this Bread of Life, which not even watchers [i.e., angels] attain. Water poured out of the rock for the [Israelite] people; they drank and were strengthened; but a fountain poured out from a tree on Golgotha, for [all] people. Eden’s other trees were there for the first Adam to eat; but for us, the very planter of the garden has become food for our souls. This moment, more than any others, should be esteemed in your minds; the Son has descended to hover over [Gen 1:2] the forgiving altar. The bones of the dead in Sheol drink the dew of life as they are remembered before God at this moment. Now if the dead receive such benefit now, how much more shall the living receive forgiveness; Blessed is the one who was sacrificed by one people for the life of all people. (Armenian Madrosho 49)
Eucharist as “Pearls”
There is a fire-related image seen in the writings of Ephrem when speaking of the Eucharistic elements as “pearls”. For in the Syrian conception, the pearl is born when lightning strikes the mussel that produces it in the sea. Similarly, according to the Syrian fathers, Christ was conceived in the womb of Mary when Fire and Spirit came within her. Bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ due to the action of Fire and the Spirit. Accordingly, it is not surprising to find Ephrem often using the popular symbol of the pearl for Christ himself and for the Eucharistic elements. In one place Ephrem says, “Christ gave us pearls, his Body and Blood”. Ephrem, in a passage referring to the holy Qurbono, says, It is not the priest who is authorized to sacrifice the Only-Begotten or to raise up that sacrifice for sinners to the Father’s presence: rather, the Holy Spirit goes forth from the Father and descends, overshadows and resides in the bread, making it the Body, and making it treasured pearls to adorn the souls that are betrothed by him.
In another madrosho, Ephrem gives this advice to would be communicants in attendance at the holy liturgy: The Body and the Blood are living pearls; let them not be demeaned in soul and body that are unclean vessels. Heaven and earth are in the incomparable pearl; do not receive your Lord’s holiness in an unclean vessel.
Eucharist as “Medicine of Life”
In Ephrem’s writings another constant epithet for the Eucharist is “living medicine” or “medicine of life” (sam hayye). The Body and the Blood of the Lord are thought to bring healing to the faithful Christian. Addressing Christ, Ephrem in one of his madrosho On Faith says, "Your Bread slays the greedy one who has made us his bread, your Cup destroys death who had swallowed us up; we have eaten you, Lord, we have drunken you; not that we will consume you up, but through you we shall have life."
To express the fullness of the mystery that is Christ, Ephrem juxtaposes images of the actual body of the historical Jesus with allusions to the Eucharistic body of Christ until the images merge and resolve into a single, integrated whole. Ephrem views the Eucharist as part of a wider manifestation of the divine presence (Fire) and power (Spirit) already revealed at the baptism of Jesus.
Like the woman who was afraid but took heart and was healed (Luke 8:40) heal me of my flight from fear that I may take heart in you. I will progress from your clothes to your body to speak of you as best I can.
Lord, your clothes are a fountain of cures; your invisible power dwells in your visible clothing. A little saliva from your mouth (John 9:6), and again, a great wonder: Light from mud.
In your bread is hidden Spirit which cannot be eaten. In your wine dwells a Fire which cannot be drunk. Spirit in your bread, Fire in your wine, Clearly a wonder, which our lips receive.
When our Lord came down to earth among mortals he made them a new creation — like watchers [i.e., angels]; for he mixed Fire and Spirit in them so they would invisibly become Fire and Spirit.
See, Fire and Spirit in the womb of her who bore him; see, Fire and Spirit in the river where you were baptized. Fire and Spirit are in the baptismal font. And in the bread and the cup — Fire, and the Holy Spirit. (Madrosho on Faith 10)
Ephrem draws insistent attention to the physical reality of Christ’s body which he calls the “Treasury of Healing.” Since, as the Gospels record, contact with the physical body of Jesus, and even with his clothing, was able to effect cures, Ephrem speaks of the Eucharistic body of Christ as able to cure and restore those who receive it.
Medical science with its cures does not suffice for the world; but the all-sufficient Physician saw the world and took pity. He took his body and applied it to its pain, and he healed our suffering with his body and blood. And he cured our sickness. Praise be the Medicine of Life, for he is sufficient, and he healed our pain with his teaching. (Madrosho on Nisibis 34, 10).
In Ephrem’s view, the forgiveness of sins flows directly from the Eucharist. He contrasts the willfulness of the sinner with the gratuity of God’s forgiveness. He says, I am amazed at our will: while it is strong, see it brought low; while it is a lord, see it enslaved; while it is a victor, it wills to succumb; free, it surrenders its mouth like a slave, and sets its own hand on the bill of sale. See the foolish scribe, who is the one setting his own hand to the statement of his debts! Blessed is the one who has given us emancipation in his Bread, and in his Cup has erased the statement of our debts.
For Ephrem participating in the Eucharist leads to the indwelling of Christ and the believer becoming the temple of God. Ephrem says: "Let the Qurbono build your own minds and bodies into temples suitable for God. If the Lord dwells in your house, honor will come to your door. How much your ‘honor’ will increase if God dwells within you. Be a sanctuary for him, even a priest, and serve him within your temple. Just as for your sake he became High priest, sacrifice, and libation; you, for his sake, become temple, priest, and sacrificial offering. Since your mind will become a temple, do not leave any filth in it; do not leave in God’s house anything hateful to God. Let us be adorned as God’s house with what is attractive to God."
1. Sebastian Brock, The Harp of the Spirit: Eighteen Poems of Saint Ephrem, (London: Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, 1983).
2. Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, (Brigham Young University Press, Provo, 2006), pp. 39 – 61.
3. Ibid., pp. 39 – 61.
4. Ibid., pp. 112 – 121.
5. Sebastian Brock, “The Harp of the Spirit”. Studies Supplementary to Sobornost, No. 4 (1983) pp. 83 – 85.
6. Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, (Brigham Young University Press, Provo, 2006), pp. 200 – 221.
7. L. Ligier, “Penitence et Eucharistie en Orient/’ OCP 29 (1963) 5-78. Also see Alphonse Raes, “Un Rite Penitentiel avant la communion dans les liturgies Syriennes”, OS 10:1 (1965) pp. 107 – 122.
8. Sebastian Brock, “The Harp of the Spirit”. Studies Supplementary to Sobornost, No. 4 (1983) pp. 80 – 82.
9. Sebastian Brock, “The Harp of the Spirit”. Studies Supplementary to Sobornost, No. 4 (1983) pp. 80 – 82. Rodrigues Pereira, Studies in Aramaic Poetry, (Van Gorcum Publishers, Assen, 1997), pp. 237 – 271.
10. Sebastian Brock, Holy Spirit in the Syrian Baptismal Tradition, pp. 17. Andrew Palmer, “The Merchant of Nisibis, Saint Ephrem and his Faithful Quest for Union in Numbers”, J Den Boeft & A Hilhorst (eds), Early Christian Poetry A Collection of Essays (Supplements to Vigilae Christianae, vol 22, Leiden E J Brill, 1993), pp. 167 – 233.
11. Edmund Beck, Des heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Sermones, II (CSCO, vols 311 & 312, Louvain Peeters, 1970), IV 9
12. Kathleen E McVey (trans ), Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns (The Classics of Western Spirituality, Mahwah, NJ Paulist Press, 1989), pp. 149-150.
13. Kathleen E McVey (trans ), Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns (The Classics of Western Spirituality, Mahwah, NJ Paulist Press, 1989), pp. 149-150.
14. Beck, Hymnen de Fide, Χ 18 The English translation is from Sebastian Brock, St Ephrem A Hymn on the Eucharist (Hymns on Faith, no 10) Lancaster, UK, J F Coakley, Dept of Religious Studies, University of Lancaster, 1986). Also see Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, (Brigham Young University Press, Provo, 2006), pp. 200 – 221.
15. All the above exerts are from the madrashe on Faith. Beck, Hymnen de Fide, Χ 18 The English translation is from Sebastian Brock, St Ephrem A Hymn on the Eucharist (Hymns on Faith, no 10) Lancaster, UK, J F Coakley, Dept of Religious Studies, University of Lancaster, 1986). Also see Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, (Brigham Young University Press, Provo, 2006), pp. 200 – 221.
16. Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, (Brigham Young University Press, Provo, 2006), pp. 222 – 245. Sebastian Brock, The Harp of the Spirit: Eighteen Poems of Saint Ephrem, (London: Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, 1983), pp. 39 – 45 and 70 – 72.
17. Robert Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom; a Study in Early Syriac Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. 45 – 55. Kathleen E McVey (trans ), Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns (The Classics of Western Spirituality, Mahwah, NJ Paulist Press, 1989), pp. 100 – 105.
18. E. Beck, Des heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Sermones IV (CSCO, vols. 334 & 335; Louvain: Secrétariat du Corpus, 1973), vol. 335, pp. xi-xiv.
The School of Nisibis (Classical Syriac:ܐܣܟܘܠܐ ܕܢܨܝܒܝܢ), for a time absorbed into the School of Edessa, was an educational establishment in Nisibis, modern-day Turkey. It was an important spiritual center of the early Syriac Orthodox Church, and like Gundeshapur, is sometimes referred to as the world's first university. The School had three primary departments teaching, Theology, Philosophy, and Medicine. The most famous of the School's teachers was Ephrem the Syrian.
The School was originally founded in 350 in Nisibis. In 363, when Nisibis fell to the Persians, St. Ephrem accompanied by a number of teachers left the school. They went to the School of Edessa, where St. Ephrem took over the directorship of the school there. It had been founded as long ago as the 2nd century by the kings of the Abgar dynasty. When St. Ephrem took over the school, its importance grew still further. After the Nestorian Schism, when the Byzantine emperor Zeno ordered the school closed for its teachings of Nestorian doctrine, deemed heretical by Chalcedonian Christianity, the School moved back to Nisibis.
Syriac or Syrian Christianity (Syriac: ܡܫܝܚܝܘܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ, mšiḥāiūṯā suryāiṯā), the Syriac-speaking Christians of Mesopotamia, comprises multiple Christian traditions of Eastern Christianity. With a history going back to the 1st Century AD, in modern times it is represented by denominations primarily in the Middle East and in Kerala, India. Christianity began in the middle east in Israel amongAramaic speaking Semitic peoples. It quickly spread to Sassanid-ruled Mesopotamia & Assyria, Roman-ruled Syria (ancient Aramea), Phoenicia,India, and Egypt. From there it spread to Asia Minor, Greece, Armenia, Georgia and the Caucasus region.
Services in this tradition tend to feature liturgical use of ancient Syriac, a dialect of Middle Aramaic that is of direct relation to the Aramaic of Jesus.
Syriac Christianity is divided into two major traditions: Eastern Rite, historically centered in Assyria/Mesopotamia, and West Syrian, centered in Antioch. The Eastern Rite tradition was historically associated with the Church of the East, and is currently employed by the Middle Eastern churches that descend from it, the Assyrian Church of the East, Ancient Church of the East, and the Chaldean Catholic Church, (the members of these churches usually consider themselves to be ethnic Assyrians) as well as by the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church of India. The West Syrian tradition is used by the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Maronite Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, and churches that descend from them, as well as by the Malankara churches of the Saint Thomas Christian tradition in India.
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