“As for Ephraem’s own attitude to the scriptures and their interpretation, there is a passage in the commentary on the Diatessaron which, even if it may not have come from his pen, is nevertheless an apt expression of his point of view. The text says,
Many are the perspectives of his word, just as many are the perspectives of those who study it. [God] has fashioned his word with many beautiful forms, so that each one who studies it may consider what he likes. He has hidden in his word all kinds of treasures so that each one of us, wherever we meditate, may be enriched by it. His utterance is a tree of life, which offers you blessed fruit from every side. It is like that rock which burst forth in the desert, becoming spiritual drink to everyone from all places. [They ate] spiritual food and drank spiritual drink. (1 Cor. 10:3-4)
Therefore, whoever encounters one of its riches must not think that that alone which he has found is all that is in it, but [rather] that it is this alone that he is capable of finding from the many things in it. Enriched by it, let him not think that he has impoverished it. But rather let him give thanks for its greatness, he that is unequal to it. Rejoice that you have been satiated, and do not be upset that it is richer than you…Give thanks for what you have taken away, and do not murmur over what remains and is in excess. That which you have taken and gone away with is your portion and that which is left over is also your heritage.”
But [the Lord] in his turn vanquished death through his great cry when he had gone up on the cross. Whereas death was binding one person on the cross, all those who had been bound in Sheol were being delivered because of the chains of one person…his hands, which delivered us from the bonds of death, were transfixed by nails, his hands which broke our chains and tied those which were binding us.
It was an amazing thing that the dead were killing the living one, [whereas] the slain one was raising the dead to life. The directed their fury more intensely towards heaven, whereas he humbled his greatness even further down into the depths…
[Death] stole him, took him away and put him in the tomb while he was asleep, but, on awaking and standing up, he stole his stealer. This is the cross which crucifies those who crucified [the Lord], and this is the captive who leads into captivity those who had led him into captivity. The cross, through your death, has become a fountain of life for our mortal life…death used his body to takest and devour the life hidden in mortal bodies What it had hastened to gulp down while famished it was forced to restore very quickly…he commanded the stones and they were split in two. [He commanded] death and it did not prevent the just from going forth at his voice. He trained the lower regions to his voice to prepare them for hearing it on the last day, when this voice will empty [the lower regions].
St. Ephrem the Syrian in one of his poems takes us on a tour from Paradise to earth. Paradise is superlatively better than earth, and yet humans cling to the earth and don’t want to leave it. He compares our attitude to death to that of the infant in the mother’s womb – both the dying person and the unborn infant are reluctant to leave the world they know, even if they are entering into an even greater experience or life.
St. Ephrem the Syrian composed the following poetry as he reflected on the meaning of the Feast of Theophany. He focuses on part of the prayer of the Feast for the Blessing of Water in which we ask the Holy Spirit to come upon the water and be present in it just as the Spirit was present at the baptism of Christ in the Jordan River.
The imagery of the Robe of Glory, deeply embedded in the Syriac tradition, is used to describe the various stages of salvation history: Adam and Eve are originally clothed in it in Paradise, but lose it at the Fall; Christ, the Divine Word who “put on the body,” deposits humanity’s lost Robe of Glory in the River Jordan at his baptism, and at each Christian baptism it is received in potential from the Font (often described both as the Jordan and as a womb; …); finally, at the Last Judgement, it becomes the clothing of the Righteous in reality ….
Since Christ’s presence in the Jordan makes the Robe of Glory available again to humanity, his presence in Mary’s womb is understood as constituting her baptism, thus providing her with her Robe of Glory …. Mary’s giving Christ “a body as a tiny garment” and receiving in return a “Robe of Glory” is one of the ways in which Ephrem brings out the idea of exchanged involved in the incarnation; this is expressed in … epigrammatic form: “He gave us divinity, we gave Him humanity” (Sebastian P. Brock & George A. Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, p. 51).
In a previous post, When Death Wept, I mentioned that early Christian writers were far more interested in how Death reacted to Christ then they were in what it is like to be dead or to traverse through the place of the dead. Their interest in Hades was because it is a place Christ has conquered and filled – it is a place where we will meet Jesus Christ our Lord, not be separated from Him.
These same writers were also very interested in what Paradise, the garden God prepared for His first human creatures, must have been like. This was of greater interest to these early writers than taking a sojourn through circles of hell or through purgatory or toll houses. They focused often on where God is, which turns out to be everywhere including Hades, rather than in concocting places where God is not. St. Ephrem of Syria (d. 373AD) poetically describes Paradise in his volumes of poems.
Perhaps that blessed tree,
the Tree of Life,
is, by its rays,
the sun of Paradise;
its leaves glisten
and on them are impressed
the spiritual graces
of that Garden.
In the breezes the other trees
bow down in worship
before that sovereign
and leader of the trees.
In the very midst He planted
the Tree of Knowledge
endowing it with awe,
hedging it in with dread,
so that it might straightaway serve
as a boundary to the inner region of Paradise.
St. Ephrem describes Paradise to be God’s temple, like the Temple in Jerusalem. Or rather, as we know, the Temple in Jerusalem was built based upon the Temple which was revealed to Moses (Exodus 25:9, 26:30; Numbers 8:4; Acts 7:44). Paradise had different regions according to St. Ephrem which had boundaries marking that some regions were even more holy than other regions. Those who could enter each region were limited, which is the pattern which the Jerusalem Temple followed with its outer courts and the inner Holy of Holies.
Two things did Adam hear
in that single decree:
that they should not eat of it
and that, by shrinking from it,
they should perceive that it was not lawful
to penetrate further, beyond that Tree.
While Genesis portrays the Tree being in the middle of the Garden, St. Ephrem sees the Tree as a boundary which Adam was not permitted to trespass beyond. The serpent was not even allowed in the Garden, but craftily learned about the inner structure of the Garden by inquiring about it from Eve. To talk to the serpent, Eve and Adam had to intentionally leave the inner sanctuary. The serpent didn’t really have Eve and Adam’s ear – they had to go out of their way to listen to the serpent, according to St. Ephrem.
The serpent could not
for neither animal
was permitted to approach
the outer region of Paradise,
and Adam had to go out
to meet them,
so the serpent cunningly learned
through questioning Eve,
the character of Paradise
what it was and how it was arranged.
According to St. Ephrem, the serpent’s goal all along was to learn about the design of the Garden – of God’s Temple. His discussion in Genesis 3 with Eve is really his crafty way to learn the layout of the Temple. The serpent wanted to know what was in the midst of the Garden. Once the serpent had that knowledge he hatched his plan to get Adam and Eve to turn away from God.
The serpent couldn’t harm Adam or Eve, but he was able to figure out a fatal flaw in them! Once he surmised that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was the key, the serpent suggested to Eve that there would be no harm in eating the fruit, that the fruit like everything in the garden was good to be had. Wisdom says there is a time for everything. It was not yet Eve and Adam’s time to partake of the fruit, but they bit on the serpent’s temptation, and the rest is history, so to speak.