St Ephrem the Syrian

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Today the Church honors the memory of the Venerable Ephrem the Syrian (373-379). Ephrem is especially known for his many theological poems. In one he mentions the cold, long nights of January. St Ephrem lived at a time when the Church did not have one uniform date for Christmas. Ephrem and the Church in Syria celebrated the birth of Christ on January 6 (which is not related to the “Old Calendar” Christmas on January 7) and so he mentions Christ’s Nativity as an event in January.

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In January when the nights are long,

daytime without limit shone forth to us.

In winter when the whole creation is gloomy

the beauty that gladdened all of creation emerged.

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In winter that made the earth barren,

virginity learned to give birth.

In January that’s still the birth pangs of the earth,

the birth pangs of virginity came.

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No one sees the young lamb

at first except the shepherds.

At the moment of his birth the good tidings

of the True Lamb also rushed to the shepherds.

(HYMNS, pp 98-99)

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[Christianity showed a great deal of diversity in pious customs in its early years. Through the centuries various Christian bishops were uncomfortable with this diversity in Christian practices and began imposing uniformity and conformity on the Church throughout the world. There may have been good pastoral intentions in doing so, but it also caused church leaders to demand ever more conformity and obedience throughout the Church, demanding that Church unity be based not in love for one another but in obedience to various rules and to hierarchs. The demand for uniformity actually hardened some divisions in the Church, especially between different ‘ethnic’ Christians such as the Latins, Greeks, Copts and Syrians.]