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St. Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns On Paradise Paperback – March 1, 1997
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There is seldom a moral goad to sinners in these Hymns as one discovers in Dante, another Christian allegorist centuries later. Rather, if a goad exists at all in Hymns of Paradise, it is desire and delight to shed the cloak of slavery and return to freedom. Disobedience has led to slavery; obedience returns one to freedom.
Thereby, obedient "people behold themselves in glory and wonder at themselves...; " Blessed is He who, with His keys, has opened up the Garden of Life" (Hymn VII, v. 12 and Response).
Shedding a moral cloak may be impossible for some Greek/Slavonic or Latin-Christian descendants to digest. However, for this Syriac saint of the fourth Christian century, every aspect of his life interpreted the "Nature" that inspired his hymns from the Genesis texts. To say, therefore, that Ephrem breathed and ate Genesis would reflect his experience of air and sustenance.
Hebraic meter is obtuse in translation. Certainly any translation of the Psalms faces a similar struggle. Brock rose to the challenge far better than most anyone might expect. Brock's translation is excellent in my opinion. But translation alone was not the only gift of this publication. In addition, Brock added a treasure trove to discover in his Introduction of 69 pages length (total pages of text: 227 plus bibliography and references; translated Hymns consist of 111 pages).
These Hymns of Paradise ought to be read aloud, memorized, set in memorable tunes or chants, and digested slowly in obedience to the vision of paradise. Brock's translation is approachable alone in reading, but even better appreciated in harmony with other created beings. For "blessed is He who came and invited both worlds to His Paradise" (Response of Book XV).
Finally, my last allusion may strike you as stretching on my part. I ask you to compare the Response of Book XV to John Donne's metaphoric link of the "first" Adam in Genesis to the "second" Adam, who is Christ: "Look, Lord, and see both Adams met in me..." ("Hymn to God my God in my Sickness"). Your effort in comparison may yield rewards by keeping the vision of Eden before you. It does so for me.
The introduction is very interesting and helpful. The part I found most helpful to my own understanding was the explanation of St. Ephrem's view of the geography of Paradise. It is a conical mountain that sits above the earth. However, it is clear that Ephrem did not take this in a literal, physical sense. Rather, as Brock puts it, "he is deliberately drawing our attention to the distinction between sacred space (and time) and ordinary space (and time)." Further, "Ephrem was deliberately going against some much more literalist views of Paradise that were current in the early Christian period..." The felicitous result of this is that "precisely because he locates Paradise outside geographical space, his views are left unaffected by modern advances in scientific knowledge." (All quotes from pp. 54-55.)
Take a plunge into a very different, but very biblically based, world by reading this lucid translation of one of the most skilled exponents it has ever had: Deacon Ephrem of Nisibis.
Since Saint Ephrem came from the Syriac Christian tradition, his style and way of expressing himself are very different from the Greek and Latin Fathers of the Church. In spite of the differences, his poetic and less philosophical approach beautifully compliments other patristic writers. Above all, Saint Ephrem's holistic method of interpreting the Bible is very refreshing, deeply insightful and thoroughly enjoyable.
In this book, Sebastian Brock has also provided a very detailed introduction and excellent explanatory notes, making it enjoyable both for those new to Saint Ephrem and those already familiar with him.
I would highly recommend this book. Learn why this Deacon of Edessa became known as the Harp of the Spirit and was proclaimed by Pope Benedixt XV as a Doctor of the Church.
The Introduction section is also well-worth a read to not only better understand St Ephrem's poetry, but his life as well.