ST. EPHRAIM OF SYRIA
Epistle to a Disciple
Translated by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge
St. Ephraim of Syria, Mesopotamian Christian poet, monastic, and theologian, (IV Century): Advice on the monastic life. From Coptic papyrus. Known only from a Coptic version (Brit. Mus. MS. Oriental, No. 6783).
THE EPISTLE WHICH APA EPHRAIM WROTE TO A BELOVED DISCIPLE
My beloved in the Lord, before every other thing set humility in thy mouth when thou art ready to make answer, for, forgive me, thou knowest that by humility all the power of the Enemy is brought to naught. And thou knowest the goodness of thy Master, Whom they blasphemed, and how He became humble, and obedient, even unto death. And do thou thyself, my son, set thy humility in thy mouth, and in thy heart, and in thy neck, for there is a commandment which inculcateth humility. Consider David, who boasted himself of his humility, and said, `Because I humbled myself the Lord delivered me, and He did good unto me.' [cf. Ps. 29(30): 8-12] My son, array thyself in humility, and thou shalt make the virtues of God be with thee. And if, my son, thou art in a state of humility, no passion whatsoever shall have power to draw nigh thee. There is no measure (or, limit) to the beauty of the man who is humble. No passion whatsoever shall be able to draw nigh unto the man who is humble, and there is no measure to his beauty. The humble man is a sacrifice of God. With him that is humble the hearts of God and His angels rest. Moreover, when the angels glorify him, there is the excuse for him that hath produced in himself all virtues; but for him that hath produced humility in himself thou wilt find no excuse whatsoever needed, besides that he hath become humble. My son, these are the virtues of humility. My son, hold thy peace, for it is written, `He who is wise at that time will hold his peace.' [Amos 5:13] Hold thy peace until thou art asked a question. When they ask thee a question speak, and use humble words, and a humble manner. Do not be wholly mournful. If it (i.e. the question) be too great for thee sit down. Speak not when others are speaking words of depreciation; compel thyself, thou shalt not forget, [and let] thy thoughts [be] 'I have not heard [them].' To all words wherin is profit give thy most earnest attention. For it is written, `If [thou art] a doer of the word and not a hearer thereof thou deceivest thyself, my son, in the Lord.' [2 Tim 3:15] I give thee commandments in thy beginning, do thou keep them in thy youth. Observe what Paul spake. He said, `Besides, from the time when thou wast a child thou didst know the Holy Scriptures, which have the power to save thee.' Learn thou the whole code of rules of the profession of the monk, and make thyself to be greatly beloved in all thy works. If thou goest to the desert to take up a place therein, thou being a youth, and thou settlest thyself on one which is too great for thee, and God is therein, do not leave it in thy discontent and depart to another. Let that desert whereon thou hast settled be sufficient for thee, lest thou make Him angry. For it is written, `It is not a little thing against you to provoke men to wrath.' In the desert wherein thou art observe this course of action, and flee not from place to place. Do not cry into [the abode of] a man because of thy belief, nor because of the desire of thy bowels. Have no companionship with a restless and troublesome man, and make thou thyself to continue in thy quiet life, and thou shalt not be in the mouth[s] of the brethren. I beseech thee, my beloved in the Lord, to let thy chief aim be to learn; to hearken (or, obey) will give thee rest. For it is written, `The profit of instruction is not silver.' Guard thou thyself against the habit of not listening (i.e. disobedience), that the word of Saul be not fulfilled on thee and his generation, for God is more easily persuaded by obedience than by sacrifice. [1 Sam 15:22] These then are the rules of the profession of the monk. Thou shalt eat with the brethren. Lift not up thy face until thou hast finished eating. Perform thy eating in the apparel wherein thou appearest in public. If thou shouldst happen to be the last man served say not, `Bring it here, where there sitteth a greater than thou.' When thou wishest to drink from the water-bottle do not let thy throat make a gurgling noise like a layman. When thou art sitting in the midst of the brethren, and phlegm riseth up in thee do not eject it in the midst of them, but go some distance away, and eject it there. When thou art sleeping in any place with the brethren let not thy person approach them within a cubit. If the work be of a quiet character do not sleep upon a mat, but fold it up, for thou are a young man. Do not sleep stretched out, nor upon thy back, in order that thou mayest not be disturbed by dreams. When thou art walking with the brethren keep some distance from them, for when thou walkest with a brother thou makest thy heart to be idle. If thou art wearing sandals on thy feet, and he who is walking with thee hath none, take off thy sandals, and walk as he is doing, for it is written, `Suffer.' Do the work of the preacher. Do diligently whilst thou art in thy habitation. Eat not whilst the sun is outside (i.e. on the horizon). Light not a fire for thyself alone, [or] thou wilt become luxurious. But when thou art invited to warm thyself call some poor and miserable man who is with thee in the desert, [send him m in thy stead], and thou shalt cause thyself to be praised, saying, `I could not eat my bread by myself.' If thou art on a mountain, or in a place wherein there is a sick brother, visit him twice daily: in the morning before thou beginnest to work with thy hands and in the evening. For it is written, my beloved in the Lord, `I was sick and ye visited Me.' [Matt 25:36, 43] When a brother dieth on the mountain whereon thou art do not sit in thy cell then thou hearest thereof, but go and sit with him, and weep over him. For it is written `Weep over a dead man, and walk forth with him until he hath been buried.'; for this is the last duty which a man can perform for his brother. Salute his body compassionately, saying, `Remember me before the Lord.' My son, do thy utmost to observe the things which I have written down for thee, for they all are the rules of the profession of the monk. Let death draw nigh unto thee by day and by night, for thou knowest that him whom thou knowest is he who shall speak unto thee, saying, `I have never placed it in my heart. My feet are on the threshold, I shall live until I am beyond the threshold of the door.' My son, set thou thy whole mind before God at all times, and let not all these infirm thoughts lead thee out of thy course. Keep always before thy sight the punishments which are to come. Make thyself to resemble God whilst thou art in thy habitation. If a brother comes to thee rejoice with him. Salute him. Set water for his feet. Forget not this. Let him pray. Do thou sit down. Salute his hands and his feet. Do not put questions to him saying, `Whence comest thou?' For it is written, `In this way some have received angels in their abode without knowing it.' [Heb 12:2] Believe him that cometh unto thee, even as thou wouldst God. If he be a greater man than thou say unto him very often, `Let [thy] favour be unto me,' that is to say, `I regard thee as my master.' Put away thy food, and eat with him. And if thou art in the bond of fasting break it, for it is written, `My son, I have always shewn myself glad to accompany the man who wished to walk.' Thou shalt rejoice with him, and be glad. Do thine utmost to make him bless thee three times, so that the blessing of the angel who walketh with him may come upon thee. And as regards the Faith itself of the Catholic Church, do not let thyself backslide therein, neither do thou put thyself outside it. We believe in the One God, the Father the Almighty, and in His only-begotten Son, Jesus the Christ, our Lord, through Whom the Universe came into being, and in the Holy Spirit, that is to say, in the Blessed Trinity, which is the complete Godhead. He is God, He was in God, He is the Light which came out of Light, He is the Lord out of the Lord. He was produced and was not a creation. He was produced like a man. He was not a created thing, but God. He was produced by the Holy Virgin Mary, the woman who produced God. He took the flesh of men for our sakes, [He came down] to the earth, He rose up therefrom. He chose for Himself preachers, that is to say, the Holy Apostles, whose voices, according to that which is written, have gone forth into all the earth [Ps. 18(19):4]. They crucified Him. They pierced Him with a spear. There came out our salvation, Water and Blood, that is to say, the baptism and the glorious Blood, for unless thou receivest the Blood thou art not baptized. Do thou, my son, keep this faith, and the God of peace shall be with thee, and shall save thee, and deliver thee, and thou shalt be at rest all thy days. Salvation is in the Lord, my beloved son, in the Lord. Remember me, O my beloved one in the Lord, through Jesus the Christ, our Lord, unto Whom belong glory and might for ever and ever! Amen.
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