Education and St. Ephraim the Syrian

St. Ephraim the Syrian, was one of the most eloquent and profound of the saints whose ability to express his emotions and thoughts avoided narcissism and pointed towards reliance on Christ.  He’s one of the Church’s most brilliant poets: of the same line as King David and St. Nicolai of South Canaan.  His hymns cover a wealth of topics, and seem rather timeless.  Consider for instance, this hymn about education, written in the 4th century.

LXXXIV

Those who educate by blinding rather than by enlightening –what will You do with them, O Lord?

They turn Your children away from You, and prevent them from approaching Your Grace, for they say: “‘The Lord’ is an archaic term of your dead grandparents. It is an old amulet, which your grandparents used to wear but they have died off. We shall teach you how to till the earth, how to fatten the body, and how to dig for gold, which shines more brilliantly than the dead Lord.” What will You do with these corrupters of Your children, O Lord?

“I shall do nothing to them, for they have done everything to curse their own seed and breed. Truly, they have prepared a worse judgment for themselves and their people than the scribes and Sadducees. For they had the example of these latter, and failed to learn from it.

“In their old age, they will hear sabers rattling at their threshold, and will be dying of hunger, bald and gaunt, and they will not dare to poke their heads out of their door to warn their students. How will they warn them, when My name has been expelled from their brigand hearts? What will they even say to warn them, since they prepared their students for this in their own abysmal stupidity, which accompanies everyone whom I do not accompany?” What will happen to them, O Lord?

“It will be worse for them than for the Babylonians, when in their might they used to worship blood and gold, and used to teach their children to worship them also.

“First will come hunger, such as even Babylon never knew. And then war, for the sake of plundering bread, from which they will return defeated. And then an internecine slaughter and burning of cities and towns. And then diseases, which the hands of physicians will not dare to touch. And the teachers will be flogged with whips and goaded to be the gravediggers of their students, whose stenchful corpses fill all the road-ways.”

Those who lead the people are not leading the people, but are misleading the people — what will You do with them, O my Lord? “They are leading the people astray for the sake of their own profit, and once the people arise and rise up, these leaders will step down from power and consume their ill-gotten gains in peace. They accuse their adversaries, and yet follow in their steps. Their clamor prevents a wise man from getting a word in edgeways.

“They flatter idiots and bullies just to attain the first places. They write books daily and expose the wickedness of their kinsmen, in order to conceal their own wickedness.

“They do not teach the people the truth, but feed them lies the year round.

“They are incapable of doing the people justice, so instead they intimidate them by scaring them with a worse injustice of times past.

“They pillage for themselves and their friends, for they know that they are not long for this world.”

What will You do with them, O righteous Lord?

“They have done everything themselves, and I have nothing to do, except to leave them to themselves. Truly, they will not consume their gains in peace, but will spend it on the funeral feasts of their relatives.

“They will be impoverished, and mice will scurry through their torn shirts. They will dream of rebellions by those who have been deluded and looted, and they will arise at midnight, terrified and soaked with sweat. Their life will be long, so that their punishment may be longer.

“They will live to see their house in flames, and will flee their own land, hungry and sickly, and will not dare to utter their own names in the presence of anyone.

“They will see foreigners in their land, and will beg them for a piece of bread.

“It will be worse for their country than it was for the Roman Empire. For they had Rome for an example, and did not learn from it.

“It will be worse for their nation which was born of them, than it was for the Jewish nation. For they had the example of the Jewish nation, and did not learn from it.

“They will hear their names being cursed, and will not dare to poke their heads out the window.

“They will see their people, being led away bound in columns, and will be afraid for themselves.

“And they will hear, both when asleep and when awake, their name being cursed, and they will shiver — they will shiver but will be unable to die.”

O Great and Fearful Lord, all Your ways are grace and truth. What will You do with those who were blinded, misled, deceived and despoiled?

“I wait, to see who will cry out to Me — and I will respond.

“As long as there is crying out on earth, there will also be an echo in heaven.

“I am the One who is closest to everyone on earth. I give Myself to everyone who desires Me; I withdraw Myself from everyone who does not acknowledge Me. Without Me the world is a pile of ashes. And without Me people are feebler than ashes.”

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