Nick named the Harp of the holy spirit due to his musical creativity and elegant speech Ephrem Syrus wrote a wide variety of hymns, poems, and sermons in verse, as well as prose. His sermons had the metrical beat of music and his theological treatises have been described as poetic. Ephrem introduced the extensive use of hymns into public worship for both praise and teaching.
Another Syriac father, Jacob of Serugh, wrote that Ephrem rehearsed all-female choirs to sing his hymns set to Syriac folk tunes. Over four hundred hymns composed by Ephrem still exist.
He composed in three distinct styles, the most important of his works are his lyric, teaching hymns or madrāšê. These hymns are full of rich, poetic imagery drawn from biblical sources, folk tradition, and other religions and philosophies. The madrāšê are written in stanzas of syllabic verse, and employ over fifty different metrical schemes.
He also wrote verse homilies or mêmrê. These sermons in poetry are far fewer in number than the madrāšê. The mêmrê are written in couplets (pairs of lines of seven syllables each).
The third category of Ephrem's writings is his prose work. He wrote biblical commentaries on the on Genesis Exodus, the Acts of the apostles and Paul's Epistles.
His poetry in particular showed an acute sensitivity toward the human condition.
Ephrem's works witness to an early form of Christianity in which western ideas take little part. He has been called the most significant of all of the fathers of the Syriac (Syrian)-speaking church tradition.
He was in his 60's when he died, while in Egypt after succumbing to the plague while distributing food, money and medical relief to the poor.
graphics: top left,Icon of St. Ephrem.
bottom right, Newly excavated Church of Saint Jacob in nisbis, where Ephrem taught and ministered.